We spend enormous amounts of time and money projecting the right image to our customers, making sure that we communicate the value of our products and services. However, all of that investment can be destroyed in an instant by negative publicity, whether or not that criticism is justified. For example, it is easy for a disgruntled ex-employee to post misleading and malicious information online – if they know what they are doing, they can even get it ranked highly on Google. The same applies to negative customer reviews – even if you have 97% customer satisfaction, the other 3% are probably the most vocal, and can easily ruin your reputation with what they say online. The sad truth is that negative comments are a magnet for discontent, leading to a snowball effect that is out of all proportion to the actual issue. In fact, sometimes even simple misunderstandings can escalate into major media coverage. For example, take a look at this story about how Budget got into trouble because they gave a customer a discount in error and then tried to correct the situation – this story was even mentioned in Forbes.
Because of this, it is essential that you monitor the online sentiment toward your brand, and take both proactive and corrective measures to ensure that it is correctly represented. This is the role of Online Reputation Management (ORM) – an increasingly widespread approach to protecting brand value. Leading ORM consultants can provide you with tools that are able to monitor this sentiment across a wide range of platforms, including social media, review sites, local search, and e-commerce sites such as Amazon. They are also able to ensure that accurate and positive information about your company appears at the top of search rankings, and that overly negative, misleading or incorrect information is suppressed. This is done using a number of techniques, including article marketing. Many of these are similar to the approaches used for search engine optimization (SEO), but the goal is different – the focus is on defending your reputation, as opposed to promoting your products or services.
Don’t go it alone
It may be tempting to try to take on online reputation management by yourself, but that can be a significant mistake. Getting ORM right can be tricky, and needs specialist knowledge if it is going to be effective. There are many pitfalls that can actually make the situation worse if you do have a problem, and it is difficult to identify these unless you have prior experience.
For example, you may be worried that you are getting too many negative reviews online. You have done your own customer surveys, and know that this does not reflect how customers actually feel about your company. What should you do? Well, it might seem to be a good idea to offer your customers incentives – such as credits or discounts – if they will post honest and positive reviews about your business. However, not only is this a dubious practice, it is likely to have exactly the opposite effect to what you intended. Often, customers can be offended by this type of approach and become publicly hostile. If they make it known that you are “paying” for positive reviews, then this can do far more damage than a few negative reviews. Experienced ORM firms understand this mistake – and many others – and know how to avoid them. For instance, Reputation.com has technology that captures positive reviews at the point of sale, while forwarding negative reviews back to management for assessment.
Focus on quality
Another key reason that you need to partner with an experienced ORM company is that they know how to develop and place high-quality content that can be used to promote the positive aspects of your business. To be clear, this content usually is not promotional in itself, but instead links back to positive content on your site – for example, your customer testimonials page. The goal is to have authoritative domains and pages link back to your positive content.
Because of this, the content that is developed for these sites – for example, articles or blog posts – needs to be relevant for the site and of high quality. It may be easy to place poorly written, promotional material on a content farm, but that is going to have very little impact on search rankings if it links back to your site. On the other hand, placing content on a high end site is going to make a real difference, but it needs to be professional, informative and impartial to have any chance of being accepted. You need to work with a company that has experience producing this type of material – not just marketing copy – and that has the contacts necessary to get the content placed.
Before you sign up with any ORM agency, you need to check them out to ensure that they have a track record of success and are committed to ethical practices. For example, if you look at these reviews of Reputation.com at the Better Business Bureau, this is exactly the sort of thing that you want to see. This is about more than just getting the best results – unethical practices by shady companies claiming to be ORM experts can destroy your company’s character and even lead to prosecutions.
For instance, a good ORM agency will categorically refuse to engage in practices such as astroturfing – in other words, posting high volumes of fake reviews online. Not only is this unethical, but it is illegal – for example, take a look at what happened to Samsung when its subsidiary was caught astroturfing in Taiwan. The fines are probably the least damaging effect – although these can run into millions. The point is that once it becomes public that a company has tried to mislead potential customers, it destroys trust in that company’s product or service. Remember, the goal of ORM is to protect your organization’s reputation, not to damage it further.