In some ways, your online reputation isn’t all that different from what “reputation” used to mean back in the day. People (clients, customers, etc.) draw conclusions about you and your business based on both their personal experience and what they hear from others—that is, the all-important “word of mouth.” One of the big differences between then and now is that your online presence is seen by far more people and that whatever is said about you, good or bad, never goes away.
Whether or not your business depends upon online sales, that’s where prospective customers go to check you out—so it’s very important you do all you can to preserve your good name, digitally speaking. Here are some tips for wisely managing your online reputation:
Cultivate an active presence. How involved are you in social media? At the very least, you should have a presence on such platforms as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest—if for no other reason than that’s where everybody else goes. Signing up for an account is just the first step. Next up: Building and maintaining a positive online reputation. Your goal is to develop an interactive relationship with the public at large and a potential target audience in particular. This can only be achieved through active, robust social media activity. The pay-off? Cultivating an online presence that seeks to inform (and occasionally entertain) visitors gradually builds your audience and causes your site/blog to rank higher in search results, which in turn diminishes negative search engine results.
Generate content that adds value. Draw visitors to your site—and keep them coming back—by starting a blog aimed at your target market. Be prepared to freely share your knowledge and experience in this blog, since this digital asset helps populate search engine listings and establishes you as an expert in your field. The more content you produce on a regular basis, the more people come to see you as a “go-to” resource—and that likely includes purchasing your product or service. Another tip: Link generously to other related blogs and comment on their posts. Keep the conversation going.
Monitor what’s going on. Obviously, you want to know what others say about you. This means staying on top of current customer feedback. Google your company name along with “review.” This should call up commentary on your product or service, both good and bad, in other industry blogs, message forums, chat rooms, etc. Creating a Google Alert for your business is also a good idea.
Refrain from responding to negative reviews. Sooner or later, someone out there is going to have a problem with your product or service and will feel it necessary to share their views online. You can’t control this, so don’t waste time trying to devise a strategy to “outwit” unhappy customers. In the same respect, never reply to negative comments in the heat of the moment. As noted earlier, everything that’s said online stays online. Long after the initial controversy has blown over, someone searching your business may come across a heated exchange between you and an irate customer and decide, That’s too much drama for me. If you must respond at all, apologize for the customer’s experience and offer to resolve the problem through offline contact.
Encourage positive feedback. There’s no reason your satisfied customers need to keep their experiences to themselves. Make it easy and convenient for them to post a favorable comment or review on your blog, website or trustworthy review site. Ask for feedback following a customer purchase. Send a link via email where customers can go to post testimonials. Perhaps more than anything else, favorable user comments give your business credibility with prospective customers.
The best thing about managing your online reputation is that word of your dedication to quality, combined with consistently outstanding customer service, will get around. That’s how word of mouth works online.