Managing your online reputation is an essential part of running a successful business. Consumers often turn to the Internet now as their primary source of information when trying a new product or service, before things like the phone book, and appearing trustworthy and worth a consumers time and business is absolutely paramount. On top of appearing on their radar at all, which can be challenging enough in and of itself, you must make a strong first impression to potential customers, because when they search for whatever service it is you provide, not only do you ideally pop out at them, but so does a laundry list of your competitors. When first impressions and your public reputation both matter as much as they do when marketing online, doing a little (or a lot of) reputation management is nothing but a wise practice.
The first step to managing your online reputation is, of course, understanding it. It’s hard to have the effect you want on a situation you don’t understand, that’s universally true. To be able to affect they way people think about you, you must first know how that is. The easiest and fastest way to do that is to buckle down and do some investigating. Search for your company as if you were a prospective consumer yourself, looking to try whatever your product is. Search your company name, along with a few popular misspellings, into the major three search engines [Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.] Then search a little more generally, for instance; let’s say you run Tims Garden and Landscaping, out of Houston, TX. After running your name outright, search for “Gardening Services Houston,” “Landscaping Houston,” “Yard Renovation Houston,” and so on. This will serve you well in more ways than one, in that it should allow you to see relevant discussions and reviews about your company (or hopefully at least your content, depending on how far along you are with your SEO) and that it should also allow you to see the same for your competitors. Next search for yourself on popular review aggregation sites, places like Yelp. A lot of industries have niche equivalents, Urbanspoon being one for restaurants and bars, find out which of these sites apply to you and run yourself through them all. These are the steps your consumers will likely take before considering typing their credit card number anywhere near your site, and you want to be aware of what they see every step of the way.
Once you feel you have a solid understanding of how the Internet feels about you, you’ve read reviews and user reports about your service, and you generally feel like you know what your standing is, search your competitors in the same exhaustive way you searched yourself. It is a competitive edge to know exactly what you’re up against, and doubly so when you get free market experimentation with no risk by observing them. Pay attentions to what promotions they run that are well received, and which that are not. Watch their social pages to see what topics garner discussion and interaction amongst their customer base, and generally just observe the content they create, and the effect it has on how they’re perceived. Knowing what your demographic likes makes it substantially easier to pander to their wants and needs.
Now that you have a feel for your niche, and where you stand in it in contrast with your competitors, you’re able to start taking that perception into your own hands. First you must triage, if your situation calls for it. If there are glaring negatives about you out there, do what you can to combat them. Bad Review on Yelp? If the poster isn’t stark raging mad and clearly unwilling to listen to reason, perhaps make an outreach there. Apologize for their unsatisfactory experience and propose a way to correct the situation. Now when a user sees that terrible review, they also see that the company cares, and are willing to go above and beyond to see to it a customer falls asleep happy. Did your business partner get arrested for being caught with an unsavory substance in some questionable company? Get him to expunge any charges he may have picked up along the way, have his record sealed, have his mugshots taken down, and generally do what you can to minimize the incident. Do what you can to mitigate the damage out there that’s already done to your reputation, and your attempts at building yourself in a positive light will be much better received.
The observations you made earlier should really come in handy here as you start by generating solid content that your user base and potential user base will find helpful, relevant, or enjoyable, and hopefully some combination of the three. Make sure you’re updating your social channels regularly, checking your Facebook for posts by users who have had either good or bad experiences and dealing with them appropriately. Post threads that you think will inspire discussion and be shared, Tweet factoids or deals your user base will enjoy, these sorts of things. If your site has a blog, make sure you also update that regularly. Try not to impose and be too heavy handed on sales posts, consumers have a nose for it and they don’t like the way it smells, but don’t be afraid to plug your products without stuffing them and post good relevant information to your industry/niche.
If you’ve done your due diligence, you should know where your online reputation stands, you should have taken any essential steps to mitigate any damage already done to it, and you should be creating content your users find relevant and useful, and utilizing the plethora of fun and resourceful ways to reach out to them and inspire a community around your company. Once these steps are taken, you’re well underway to having a positive web presence, public reputation, and just general rapport with your consumer base.