In this post, I’ll share with you what online reputation is and how to manage your online reputation to improve your brand image and maximise sales.
Research shows that 90% of online shoppers research a brand or a business before making a purchase.
Your online reputation impacts your sales, brand, and profit. Everything people say about your brand online matters.
In saying that, a large portion of where people spend their time giving and researching reviews are either Google Search/Reviews, Social Media and Review Sites.
Online reputation has become quite complex and challenging over the last few years. Some of the concerns businesses have are:
- What should I do if my services or products receive too much criticism?
- How should I handle extremely negative comments online?
- What if a high profile or an influential person publishes a negative review online about our business?
- What should I do if your competitors take advantage of our negative reviews?
When people think of online reputation, the first thing that comes to mind is Google Reviews. But Online reputation is a much large scope. Online reputation encompasses all the platforms and communities where people interact and share information about your brand.
There are numerous ways and places where people can talk about your business.
On Facebook, for example, they can review your business on your business page, comment on a post, or talk about you in a Facebook Group. Outside social media, people can talk about you on forums, review websites, blogs. And finally, someone can publish content about you in a major publication.
Now you see the picture, there are countless options and scenarios where your brand can be talked about.
As a business owner, you don’t have the luxury of ethically deleting negative reviews unless these reviews are spammy, targeting your brand, or meet certain criteria. If you’ve attempted to remove a Google review, you’ll need to flag the reason and according to the terms, you can only flag reviews that violate Google policies. These are spam and fake content, off-topic, illegal content, conflict of interest, amongst a few other categories. You can’t just delete a review because you don’t like it. Google and other review sites introduced such policies to provide integrity and transparency to the reviews system. You essentially don’t have a Delete Button. And in many ways, this is great news. It forces businesses to be accountable and improve their customers’ experience.
A strong brand reputation is undeniably a key influencing factor in the buyer’s psychology. Regardless of where a target buyer is in a marketing funnel, having a positive online reputation will boost sales conversions.
Before I go into how to create an effective online reputation plan, I’ll quickly cover some fundamental concepts.
What is reputation?
At the most basic level, reputation is a psychological construct influenced by people’s experience with you and the opinions of others.
When I was a kid, my dad gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget. He said, the two most important assets in your life are your health and reputation. Once they’re gone, you can’t get them back. I’ll never forget that advice. Thinking about reputation, every negative message someone has about your brand, you’ll need ten positive messages to compensate for that one negative message. It’s human psychology. We attribute more weight to a negative opinion than a positive opinion and, positive opinions don’t necessarily erase the negative ones.
And seeing online reputation from that lens, helps you understand its importance and power.
A quick history of reputation management
Before the internet existed, buyers looking to research and learn about a product or business had limited options. Their research was mostly based on word-of-mouth. And consumers’ experience was primarily based on their personal experience.
As various media types evolved, so did the field of public relations – to manage and improve the reputation of a business or an individual.
Initially, public relations focused on traditional media like TV, radio, printed media, and networking events. But that all changed when the internet and search engines took over our lives.
Today, consumers have untapped sources of information about businesses, at their disposal. In 30 seconds, you can find a wealth of information about a business from your phone.
What is online reputation management?
Online reputation is essentially the Online Version of word-of-mouth.
When you come to think about it, Online reputation is like dating, if people get the wrong impression the 1st time, your chances of earning their trust are slim.
Online reputation management (ORM) is a framework that allows you to leverage various tools and approaches to manage and improve the reputation of your business. It involves you learning more about your target audience. It also involves taking various online marketing strategic actions to protect your brand whilst improving your product offering and customer experience.
Online reputation management encompasses traditional reputation strategies like public relations and media releases but more importantly, focuses on building a healthy and sustainable reputation strategy across all online platforms that’s consistent and reflects your overall brand strategy.
ORM includes search engine reputation management, social media monitoring, online reviews management, and building brand loyalty and advocacy.
To be effective, online reputation management needs to be integrated and aligned with your overall marketing strategy. I’ll cover this in a later section.
Why is online reputation management important?
Back in 2017, United Airlines lost $1 billion in market value after man dragged off flight. Their shares slipped by almost 3% and the reputation damage was substantial. The video showed a passenger removed from a United flight. Several passengers recorded the incident and posted it on social media. And from there, it went viral and sparked a massive reaction.
This demonstrates how critical online reputation is. It can have devastating impacting on any business.
On the flip side, great online reputation can take your business to new heights. According to recent data shared by BrightLocal, 79% of people said they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.
Let’s pause here for a second. Wow! 8 in 10 people perceive reviews as trustworthy as family and friends’ recommendations. That reflects the power of online reviews and online reputation. Strong online reputation directly correlates with more purchases and sales.
But what do people do after reading a review? Here is more data that explain consumer behaviour.
According to recent studies, this is what consumers do after reading a positive review for a local business
- 32% of people visit the business’s website
- 28% of people search for more reviews to further validate their choice
- 16% visit the business’s location
- 12% continue searching for other businesses
- 12% contact the business
So, what rating does your business need to have? Only 48% of consumers would consider using a business with fewer than 4 stars. Half of your potential buyers won’t consider buying if your business reviews score is less than 4.
What else do people look for in reviews besides star rating? Research confirms that the following criteria matter.
- Legitimacy of the reviews submitted
- Recency of the reviews they are reading
- Sentiment – how feel people about your brand
- Quantity of the review your business has
What’s quite interesting is that over the last several years, it’s become a lot more common for people to share their negative experiences with brands on social media. According to the 2020 National Consumer Rage Study, the number of buyers who prefer to share their frustration via digital platforms has tripled, from 12% in 2017 to 43% in 2020. This means that almost half of your buyers are likely to vent to the world before even letting your business know. It’s harsh but it’s also reality. This is another critical reason online reputation management is imperative to get right.
Now that we covered what online reputation management is and why it’s extremely important, let’s dive into the process of creating an effective ORM plan.
How to create an online reputation management framework
The Key to Online Reputation Management: Listen To What People Are Saying About Your Brand
The first step to create an online reputation management framework is understand what people are actually saying about your business.
To do that, you need to start by auditing your current brand reputation. Start researching and exploring what people have said about your business.
It’s important to gather a broad spectrum of conversations, reviews, and comments. Being completely unbiased is crucial. Whether it’s positive or negative, every comment count because it can give you a different perspective on how people see your brand.
To conduct an audit, you can use an online audit tool, but you can also search on google as well as social media platforms and reviews sites. You can search your brand name, associated keywords and hashtags. Another way to gather more info, you can ask your website visitors through an online poll tool or by sending emails to people and asking for their perception of your brand.
If you’re an established business, using a reputation management tool or a social listening platform can help speed up this process.
Note: You don’t need to gather every single comment or review under the sun, but you should collect a substantial amount of data to formulate an educated strategy.
As with any other marketing effort, you need to have a strategy, goals, KPIs and a reporting system to measure success. The data you gathered from your audit will give you insights on the opportunities, risks and threats your brand currently has.
Your strategy needs to address the following areas:
- How you want people to perceive your business
- What products or processes that can lead to negative reputation
- What channels you need to focus on
- Who is in charge of responding to reviews and comments
- Who is in charge of responding to media releases and publication features
- What tone of voice you’ll use to respond to criticism
- What tone of voice you’ll use to respond to positive comments and reviews
- How you’ll encourage more people to leave reviews
- What tools you’ll use to monitor and respond to comments and reviews
Your ORM strategy needs to be 100% aligned and consistent with your brand guidelines.
Auditing is not a one-time exercise. You need to continuously monitor what people are saying about your business.
Tip: Be open to criticism. People like to be heard. When listening, make sure you listen empathetically and convey to people that you have fully understood their complaint and frustrations.
Listening not only helps you communicate with buyers or prospective customers, it also helps you get invaluable feedback about your products and business. Taking on feedback from people will help you strengthen your business offering and evolve your business. You’ll learn about what matters most to your target audience, what they expect and how you can develop better products.
Responding to people is one of the most critical parts of ORM. Most people expect a response from a business the same day they leave a review.
Tip: Proactivity is your best friend. Don’t delay a response. The more you wait, the bigger you risk losing your online reputation. It’s always better to respond than to wait to have the best response.
But responding is more than just providing quick replies. The quality of your response matters. When responding, you need to convey that you understand the context, the problem and that you have a solution.
There are times when reviews or comments can be inflamed or unfair. When and if that happens, make sure you stick to your tone of voice and strategy guidelines.
People judge businesses by the quality of their responses to reviews as much as the reviews themselves. Responding to a review reflects the character of your business and how it treats consumers.
Last but not least, responding to reviews and comments should include any necessary immediate actions you can take to resolve the situation. When deciding on what action to take, remember that a happy customer has the highest ROI your business can ever achieve. Your action needs to ensure you do anything possible to turning the person who left a negative review to a happy customer.
Listening to feedback from the market is only as good as how much you’re willing to make improvements to your product and customer experience. Part of ORM is to take on the feedback and make incremental improvements to what you offer.
You don’t have to act on all the feedback you receive but if there’s a trend or a sticky point you keep getting complaints about over and over, you know you need to make changes.
ORM is not only about your defense mechanism. It’s also about your offense. To build your online reputation, you need to think about what brand associations you should promote. In other words, how do you want people to perceive your brand?
Tip: Transparency is key. Brands that are fully transparent are able to build better online reputation. If there is nothing to hide, then don’t hide anything.
By leveraging content marketing, influencers and brand features, you can start creating a positive ecosystem that communicates the right messages about your business.
And finally, you need to measure the ROI and impact of your ORM efforts. There are two main ways to do that.
First, you need to have online reputation KPIs. These could be
- Review score
- Number of reviews (by product/service)
- Depth of reviews
- Sentiment of reviews
Second, you should measure sales signals like conversion rates of organic traffic and in channels that your ORM is focusing on.