Online Reputation Management Guide: 10 Reputation Management Rules To Follow At All Costs
Learn how to take charge of the conversation about your company online with a strategic approach to the good – and the bad – comments that come with working in a trade, contractor or service industry.
What are people saying about your business when you’re not in the room?
It’s time to evaluate what people think of your company and how it looks online. Reputation – and coming across as trustworthy on the internet – can make or break your success.
Think you don’t have to worry about reputation management since you’re a local business? Think again.
The numbers are staggering when it comes to local search – 97% of consumers learn about local businesses online. And they’re using that information to make purchase decisions. This applies to everything from roofers to landscapers, plumbers and every service business in between.
Pride yourself on stellar customer service? A few bad reviews can dampen how that looks on the internet in a matter of minutes.
Offer bulk discounts or packages for recurring services? That won’t matter if no one can find your info in the first place.
No matter how big or small your business is, it can benefit from an online reputation management strategy. You can’t control everything people say online, but you can learn to be aware of it, respond to it, and lessen or maximize the impact accordingly.
Tackling your internet persona may seem like a chore, but it doesn’t have to be.
It also doesn’t have to be time-consuming or overly expensive. Read on to discover how to tackle online reputation management, why it matters, and unlock 10 online reputation management strategies you can use to your advantage.
4 reasons you need to manage your online reputation
Get the majority of your business from repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals? Excellent!
Those are both fantastic ways to maintain and manage a book of business.
But just imagine how big your business (and evenue) could be if you captured a small piece of the potential customers lurking and searching the internet for services.
The results could be astronomically good…or bad.
People want answers, and they want them fast. The days of the Yellow Pages are over, and Google is king when it comes to quick info for locals with ever-decreasing attention spans.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Imagine their grass is a foot high and their lawn care service just cancelled on them because their schedule was packed. They need a new landscaper – and fast. Or, maybe it’s summer, it’s blazing hot, and they want their new ceiling fans wired and installed in the kids’ bedrooms.
These folks – and others – are taking to Google to find “electricians near me” or “best lawn care service within 5 miles” and scanning the top results to find someone with a good track record, clear information, and easy contact info.
In fact, 80% of people are using the internet to find local contractors and information.
And what these locals find when they search your industry, specialty, or company name can make or break new sales and your potential business growth. After all, you’re probably not the only plumbing service or pest exterminator in town. People have choices and are making those choices at lighting speed.
This is where reputation management comes into play.
#1 – Your reputation impacts buying decisions
People search for solutions and they search (usually) with intent.
This could be intent to learn or intent to buy – either way, people want to make choices and move forward. Buying decisions are no different in service industries. A search for “water heater repair” is a cry for help and typically reflects someone ready to make a purchase. That person needs a plumber, and fast.
But if your business doesn’t have enough of a reputation, that homeowner is going to choose another vendor.
You simply won’t come up high enough in the search results without a Google My Business listing showing accurate information about your company. And if you have little to no activity in the form of reviews, people will skip over you to choose someone more engaged with their community (and likely to be responsive to their problem).
Everyone’s a critic.
And with the internet, it’s easier than ever for customers to leave their feedback. You typically can’t remove a negative review from listings or review sites, but you can use them as an opportunity to show your professionalism. That is, if you know about them in the first place.
If you establish an online reputation management process, you can be aware of feedback – good and bad – in real-time and engage with customers of all kinds.
- Positive review? Make sure you thank them (and reach out for referrals!)
- Unhappy customer? Respond and share your feedback in a timely, professional manner
#3 – You can learn about your customer’s interests and tastes
You probably think you know why people chose your business (i.e. you offer the latest in lawn care machinery).
But when you understand what customers love about your services or what prompted their purchase, you can use this to drive repeat sales (you might be surprised by their motivations).
Learning about your customers can also help you work on what isn’t working and put resources, time, or money into what is. For example, run more promotional offers, scale back underused services, and advertise the features that seem to be bringing in business.
#4 – Increase credibility and trust
These days, online listings and websites aren’t an option for local businesses. They’re expected by consumers – 30% of customers will skip over a business if it doesn’t have a website.
If you don’t have a website, but your competitors do, who do you think a potential customer is likely to go with?
Managing your image across your website, social media, citation listings, and other web platforms will give your company credibility with customers.
What is online reputation management?
Before you start Googling your business, stop and consider what reputation management means.
Your reputation is all about perception: how people view your business, services, support – the total package (whether it aligns with your own view or not). These perceptions come from a number of different places, from your website to listings to reviews and more.
Reputation management is the process of actively monitoring what people are saying about your company and responding to that content.
Not much of an online presence to speak of? You can start managing your reputation by building your Google My Business listing or directory listings with accurate, consistent info.
Finding a lot of conversation on social media about your services? Join in! Engaging with customers or sharing services and expertise can enhance trust and show you’re responsive. And if the feedback is less than a perfect score, you can reply to customers or share content that counters their negativity.
Where to manage your online image
Overwhelmed? We get it. The internet is a vast place, but that doesn’t make online reputation management impossible.
Before you can create a strategy, start with an understanding of where online you may find yourself mentioned.
Would you know if the local newspaper ran a feature about spring clean-up and mentioned your lawn care business (along with 3 of your competitors)?
Subscription publications like community magazines will mention local businesses to create their own content. Being aware of this – or reaching out to see if they’d like to write a feature – can help you get ahead of the conversation.
Okay – go ahead and Google your company. What are the first few results that come up? Are you surprised by them? Didn’t know you were listed on Yelp, did you?
Companies get listed on all kinds of citation sites and directories. Customers take to these platforms to chat about experiences. With a reputation management plan, you can keep an eye out for these (and even claim that rogue Yelp listing you never knew about).
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are where many conversations take place. Whether you’re starting the chat or customers are taking the initiative, you need to know where and what they are saying.
Don’t have these profiles set up? Take control of your brand and spend a few minutes creating the profiles for your company. Make sure to post regularly and engage with your followers. Setting up a Facebook account can help with exposure but isn’t an acceptable substitute for a full-blown website.
Yes, your website counts toward your online reputation.
Having a website in the first place earns major points with consumers and helps them find you in their searches. Make sure your site is always up to date and reflects available services, availability, and pricing.
If you include a chat bot or forms to collect user information, make sure you follow up on every request.
Having a modern, easy-to-navigate website earns bonus points on bonus points. Since you own this digital real estate, visitors expect the content to reflect your brand – from your offerings, to the tone of voice, to the quality of the site itself.
What online reputation management involves
So, how do you go about creating a strategy to manage your digital word of mouth?
You can break it down into a few general categories and tackle them step-by-step.
Respond to reviews (no matter what they say)
Reviews are a huge piece of the reputation management puzzle.
As the feedback rolls in, you need to be aware of it (see above: get software!!!) and to be responsive to it.
Negative reviews are bound to happen, and with 92% of people likely to skip over a company with negative reviews, how you respond is important.
Ask happy customers to recommend you
Make review and referral requests part of your reputation strategy.
This can go a long way to encouraging others curious about your business to feel confident about reaching out. They can also help counter some of the complaints that are lingering on your listings.
Referral incentives can also encourage happy customers to recommend you to friends, family, and neighbors.
10 proven strategies to maintain your reputation online
To put these online reputation strategies into practice, make a game plan that’s practical for you and your company. The best online reputation management isn’t complicated or costly, but it is strategic and actionable.
We’ve broken the process down so you can join – or take control of – the conversation around your company online.
#1: Define your strategy
What makes sense for one company or trade may not make sense for another. Spend a little time considering what your goals are.
If you’re established, do you need to get a sense of what people are saying online?
If you’re new, do you need to start asking for reviews or watching out for less-than-awesome feedback?
Knowing what you need to accomplish can help you define your action items or groundwork you’ll need to do. This can often include:
- Decide in advance how you want to handle urgent requests.
- Create response templates for positive and negative reviews.
- Make email templates to ask customers to leave feedback.
- Consider offering referral programs or discounts to increase sales.
- Choose who will be responsible for monitoring and responding to questions and reviews.
- Determine whether online reputation management software would help.
- Look at what competitors are doing to see what works and what doesn’t.
#2: Monitor brand mentions
You know how you’ll respond; now you have to find the feedback as it rolls in. You can monitor your brand mentions with reputation management software.
There are also web tools from Google, Mention, and TalkWalker that will alert you when your keywords (or company name) come up.
Sometimes, social media can feel like a runaway train.
You can (for the most part) help drive the conversations by creating your accounts, establishing a regular posting schedule, and remaining involved when people leave comments. You can even use easy (and sometimes free!) software like Hootsuite or Buffer to plan, schedule, and manage your social posts.
The goal here is to decide how you want to increase engagement and showcase how you are different from the competition. Consider which topics click best with your customers’ interests. And take a look at what your competitors are doing.
#4: Brand yourself with a blog
Creating a blog also builds your reputation. Articles that answer common questions or demonstrate your expertise in your industry will show customers that you are knowledgeable.
Choose strong and engaging headlines that make people want to keep reading. Incorporate keywords that people may be searching for (i.e. ‘should I fertilize my lawn in spring’) and then write helpful content that gives thoughtful, detailed answers. Make sure you include images to increase engagement and interest.
#5: Respond to reviews
Monitor and engage with reviews regularly to get the most out of positive feedback and address any negativity as it happens.
Use tools or online reputation software to monitor for new reviews, identify fake reviews if you’re certain that feedback is targeting you unfairly, and even encourage customers to leave more feedback online with requests and promotions.
For negative reviews, no matter how inappropriate or incorrect, keep your professionalism a priority. Promptly respond as politely as possible. Share your side of the story, and apologize if you are in the wrong. Point out that you acknowledge their feedback and how you can address or improve your service in the future.
#6: Define a crisis management strategy
A crisis management strategy goes beyond someone leaving you a 1-star rating on Google. Instead, play the “what if?”. What if the WORST should happen to your business. Consider how you would respond.
Here are a few situations to get you thinking:
- Natural disaster: How can we support/respond to customer demand?
- Internal issue or outage: How can we inform customers of delays?
- Bad publicity: How can we counter news coverage to share our side of the story?
- Equipment failure: What redundancies or extras should you keep on hand?
#7: Stay on top of search results
With consumer decision-making relying heavily on local search, where you rank matters. You can improve your search rankings with SEO. While there are entire books on the subject, here are a few key factors you can take control of now to boost your rankings:
- Create a website and include relevant keywords about your industry, services, and location.
- Create or optimize your Google My Business listing with current contact info.
- Take advantage of other online citation sites to spread info and backlinks.
- Write content on topics that address common questions and problems for customers.
#8: Automate your online reputation management
Keeping a handle on your digital reputation can be tough, especially for small businesses and busy trades. Implementing software to help monitor and automate parts of the process will simplify much of the busy work.
Services that can automatically ask customers to leave reviews, send reminder emails, or prompt you when discussion heats up can save you time and money. Consider options like Brand24 or MozLocal.
#9: Be patient
There’s no such thing as an instant fix to a bad review or a fast track to fostering positive feedback. Stick to your plan and be patient.
It can take up to 6 months to a year to bury negative feedback in search results.
Customers (unless incentivized) can take weeks to respond to review requests and require multiple reminders to do so. While you might feel the pressing need to increase reviews, know that they will come in naturally over time as long as you are sharing opportunities to do so with customers.
#10: Keep an eye on competitors
Your reputation is your own project, but getting a grasp on your competitors’ reputations can give you an idea of where you stand relative to them.
For example, you might be upset if you have two negative reviews in the past few months. But how are your competitors fairing? Do they have even more bad feedback or a lower overall rating on Google or Facebook Recommendations?
Other than a little peace of mind, this can give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Consider how often your competitors are posting or responding to their customers. Does that seem to be working for them or would more (or less) engagement help? Take your observations and then apply them to your strategy to stand out and improve your engagement.
Take charge of the online conversation around your company
Your brand will be discussed online.
In fact, it probably already is unless you are just about to launch. The good news is that you can chime in and influence the impression that customers and leads have about your business along the way.
Take the time to create a simple strategy so that a bad review or a random social media post don’t catch you off guard. You can build and manage your online reputation by improving the impression that your business leaves on your customers.
Software solutions and web tools can make monitoring easier, so you can focus on taking charge of the conversations as they start up. Remember to be timely, professional, and engaging – decide how you want your business to be seen and put your best foot forward.
With a little bit of time and planning, you can understand and participate in the conversations happening around your company online.
Online reputation management requires more awareness than it does budget to be effective. Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews or join in the comments about your brand.
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