If you own a business, there is a good chance that you have spent many years, investing time, sweat and tears into building it, and have missed many family functions and events in order to make it a success. Building a business is hard work and you don’t want that hard work to be undone by comments made about your business online.
Of course, no business can please every customer, and there isn't a business out there that has not had an issue arise. Ideally, problems can be resolved quickly and quietly, before they reach a point where the customer feels that they have to warn others about your business through a public forum. The Internet has made it so that there are no barriers between customers, and word of mouth can travel further and more rapidly than ever before.
Regardless of the type of business you are in, a lot of your customers are going to be active users of social media websites. Which means if they are happy, or unhappy with your business, there is a very good chance, they will share their feelings online, usually in the form of location check-in's, reviews, or Twitter and Facebook posts. If they are pleased with your business, that is fantastic. However, if they are unhappy, a complaint on a social media network can quickly turn into a disaster.
To combat this, you should make sure that both your customer service and public relations departments are socially perceptive, work quickly on resolving and defusing problems, and keep an eye on customer feedback and make improvements to your business when necessary. Social networks are a great way to interact with your customers, and turn around any experiences for those that are unhappy.
If you and your staff have prepared and planned how to handle online criticism, the impact of any complaints can be greatly reduced, and you will probably be able to respond more effectively and quickly to minimize any potential damage.
For any business owner, the reputation of their business is extremely important, and even one bad review, regardless of whether it is true or false, online or off, can negatively influence a business and its sales. Fortunately, there are things you can do to monitor and protect your reputation online.
Keep an Eye on Social Media
In order to monitor, protect and maintain your online reputation, you must keep an eye on social media websites so that you know what people are saying about your business. However, if you are not particularly Internet savvy, you may not know what types of things to look for.
Begin by looking for anything that references your business name, services and products. Make sure that you include abbreviations, nicknames and possible misspellings in your search. Other things that you can search for include seasonal campaigns, special offers, sales, the names of the business owners, including your own name, and the names of CEOs and stockholders.
Once you have a good idea of how your business appears on social media websites, run similar searches for some of your competitors. This will help you determine if your online reputation is better, or worse than theirs is. If it is worse, try to determine what the other companies are doing well. On the other hand, if your company has a good reputation and your competitors do not, find out what they are doing wrong to ensure that you do not make the same mistakes.
Social Media Tracking
Of course, you could run these social media searches manually, but completing them on a regular basis can take a lot of time. Fortunately, there are many free, or low cost programs available online that can track social media for you.
Apps such as Social Mention and Hootsuite, paired with free services such as Google Alerts can make social media monitoring much easier. Many of these apps even allow you to schedule posting times and reply to comments.
Customer Service via Social Media
Tracking and monitoring your social media reputation is only the beginning. In order to leverage social media efficiently, you need to interact and talk with your customers.
If someone posts praise about your products or service, reply to the post and thank the person for their kind words, you could even offer them a small, one-time discount. If someone posts a negative comment, reply and ask what your company can do to resolve the issue and make the customer happy. Of course, you cannot satisfy every customer, and even if they remain unhappy, you are showing other social media users that you take customer service very seriously.
Additionally, find the time to get involved with forums, message boards and other sites where your business name, or your competitors names crops up. If you become an active participant in these conversations, you are increasing your reputation and brand awareness.
Maintaining Your Social Media Presence
In today's technological world, many businesses have some kind of social media presence, but many of them treat their social media pages the same as their static web pages.
However, a social media page and a static website are completely different. A social media page needs frequent attention. You should be adding photographs of new products, offering special discounts to social media users, and of course, linking to your business's website.
Nevertheless, simply posting is not enough you also need to engage. Ask your social media followers what types of things they would like to see in new products and services. Take customer satisfaction poles, or run contests specific to social media. The more comments you can generate, the better your online reputation will become. Just remember to read what people are posting, and respond in a timely manner to both the good, and the bad comments.
Turning Unhappy Customers into Happy Ones
Because online posts can act like word of mouth on steroids, one or two unhappy customers can become a real problem. All businesses should allocate the necessary resources to be able to monitor mentions of their company. However, what should you do if your business gets a negative comment or receives a bad review? The most important things are to keep calm, address the issue, be professional, and attempt to solve the problem.
Online communities are typically anonymous, allowing people the freedom to post damaging comments without repercussion. Because of this, feedback can become very negative quite quickly.
When dealing with negative feedback, it is important to remember not to take it personally, because if you do, it will stop you taking an honest look at what improvements need to be made. For example, if you get a lot of negative feedback about a particular site feature, then you should be prepared to take immediate action to change, improve or remove that feature to rectify the problem.
One of the main points when dealing with customer complaints is empathy. In most cases, unhappy customers are simply looking for a solution to their problem, they have merely chosen social media channels to voice their concerns, opinions and problems. Empathy helps to set the tone for any public responses. Remember in many cases, customers just want to be heard.
When it comes to positive comments, you should still ensure that you keep track of what they seem to think you are doing right. Of course, you should also make sure that you thank them, and share their comments with others when appropriate. Ultimately, your customers, users, clients and shoppers are using social networks, which mean that you need to be using them too to ensure you hear what they are saying and respond appropriately.
Don't Opt Out of Reputation Management
Many small businesses do not realize the importance of reputation management, and without it, they are left in the position of a sitting duck. If a business only has a website to represent them online, they are in a precarious position if someone creates a site to target them, or simply posts something negative on social media. This is because these items can rank on search engines when someone does a business name search. Believe it or not, people frequently search for businesses online by using their business name, so having negative comments and other bad stuff rank in search results can directly impact the bottom line.
Online reputation management and repair has been a large part of online marketing for many years. Many businesses have had to spend many man-hours repairing their reputation. If a business neglects to develop their online presence and reputation proactively, they may find that they pay the price later in lost revenues, and additional man-hours repairing damage and developing a presence that they neglected.
Any business that is closely tied to the identities of their founders, the name of their executive officers may be another area of reputation that needs to be proactively managed. While many executives avoid social media because they have chosen to keep a low profile, having no online reputation built around their name, they may also be sitting ducks for reputation damage if someone decides to post something negative about them.
While under-engaging in online media is bad, handling social media badly can be much worse. Nobody can cause as much damage as you can if you do not know what you are doing. Many entrepreneurs and employees of small businesses develop a case of over confidence, possibly because many people who open small businesses find they have to become jacks-of-all-trades in order to be able to run the business effectively.
However, the ability to create a great product and do everything necessary to manage and run a small business does not automatically make business owners effective communicators, especially on the Internet. With this in mind, below are a few helpful tips to help business owners successfully manage their online reputation.
1. Set Up Online Accounts and Monitor Them
At the very least, your company should have a Twitter, Facebook and Google+ account. For many high-tech, B2B and other professional businesses, you may also want to set up a Linkedin account. If you sell visually oriented products, Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram may also be useful. Finally, if you want to benefit from shared videos, consider Vimeo and YouTube.
2. Don't Neglect These Accounts
Simply having these social media accounts is not enough. Once you have them set up, it is important you build them to develop your audience. Use your social media accounts to interact with customers and increase your influence.
3. Consider Brands and Products
If you have specific brand or product names, you may want to develop web pages, social media profiles and materials to help claim and reserve those names.
4. Protect Individuals Associated with the Business
Develop a social media presence for the names of your owners, founders and executives, especially if their names are unique.
5. Read Posts and Reviews Carefully
Typically, the first reaction to a bad review is to get mad, or to argue. However, neither approach is productive. Instead, read the review as carefully as possible. It may be raising a problem that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.
6. Address Any Issues
If there has been a negative review, address the issue and find out what the problem was that caused it. This will allow you to turn a potential disaster into an opportunity to connect with existing and potential customers.
Blogging can greatly help with site's rankings and provides content for social media accounts. It can also help to build and maintain your company's reputation and give you a platform where you can respond to any allegations made about your company.
When you respond to bad reviews or online complaints, remember to listen to what your customers are saying with an open mind. You may find that there is a weakness in your company that needs addressing. Always try to be flexible, and come up with creative ways to give your customers what they want without creating more problems.
If you, or your company does something wrong, own up to it and make a genuine apology. This can quickly help to diffuse a situation and move the process towards a speedy solution.
10. Do Not Argue
It doesn't matter how bad the review is, show your class by thanking the reviewer. Write a short note of appreciation, thanking them for taking the time to provide feedback. If you take the time to be professional and personal, your response may actually gain some new customers for your business.
11. Make an Investment in Your Reputation Management
Developing and maintaining a social media reputation requires an investment in both time and money. Many small businesses either ignore reputation management completely, or attempt to do it themselves on a shoestring budget and an as needed, or as time allows basis.
However, a social media reputation is a vital element of almost any business and not simply something, which is nice to have. Additionally, if you do not have adequate experience interacting with online communities, doing it yourself may not be the best idea. If you do not have the experience, or time to do it properly, or simply don't know how, make an investment and hire an online reputation management service to take care of it for you.
While proactive online reputation management may cost a little to set up and put in place, it will save you time and money in the end. Your online reputation is very important. With so many consumers reading, posting and sharing business reviews on websites such as Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Foursquare, it is critical that every business manages and monitors their online reviews, as they play a major part in shaping your business reputation.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
Even if you have not had any issues online, prevention is better than cure. It makes sense to apply the tips in this article and have a monitoring plan in place.
If, like many small businesses, you simply don’t have the time or the staff to monitor your online brand, why not give us a call and see what we can do to not only protect your brand but promote it.
As online marketing experts, we can present a positive image of your business to the world and attract thousands more customers to your site. Give us a call today.
Burnside | A technology professional with more than two decades of experience writing. He has served as contributing author for 'Talking Tech' Column in the Pride of Durham News Paper(NC), and has an ongoing contribution here on CyrilBurnside. He works with PC99Solutions, a technology consulting firm focused on services for small business. Contact us today and watch your online business grow.