December 6, 2013

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Word of Mouth

Strategies to Manage Your Online Reputation

By Heather Stewart

December 6, 2013

There’s potentially nothing quite as damaging to a company as a dissatisfied customer—except, perhaps, a dissatisfied customer with a Yelp account. Poor online reviews, negative news stories, a blog rant, video of your workers being rude to customers—all of these things (if they exist) can pop up on the first page of results when someone searches your company name.

Online reputation management (ORM) is the art and science of finessing those search results so that positive or neutral information rises to the top, while negative content finds itself buried three or four pages into a search result.

Fill the Page

“You can take measures to try to control what results are served up,” says Andrew Melchior, founder and vice president of Avalaunch Media, a digital marketing company.

The first step is to create a large volume of positive online content, he says. Your company website, of course, should incorporate all of the tricks and strategies of search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure Google or Bing will find it and rank it high—preferably as the first result.

But the job is just started. You then need to fill the rest of the first page with additional content. Create and actively maintain a company blog, suggests Melchior. Grab every social media account you can—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more—because these rank high in search results.

Google also ranks images and video fairly high, so post images to a Flickr or other photo-sharing service, advises Melchior. Title them with your company name so they’ll be snagged by the search engine. Post videos to YouTube as well. It doesn’t matter how professionally produced they appear, he says. In fact, they tend to be more appealing and credible to viewers when they’re a little ragged around the edges.

Another way to increase your web presence is to send out press releases with tidbits about what your company is up to. There are several websites that exist simply to post press releases, and these will appear in the results when people search your company name.

As your search results fill up with images, videos, blog posts, press releases—and perhaps a news story or two—any negative content will sink farther down, hopefully off of page one.

Pay Attention

A more thorny issue is online reviews, particularly on sites like Yelp or Google+. Consumers tend to give great weight to reviews, as they trust them more than corporate messaging, says Jason Barber, CEO of Friendemic, a social engagement agency. And these reviews can potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people. 

Jim Manwill, owner of Manwill Plumbing, has taken a very proactive approach to online reviews. He began using online review sites about seven years ago to give feedback to companies he purchased products or services from. 

“But you never know if the owner of the business is paying attention or cares,” he says.

So he made it his policy to always respond to an online review of Manwill Plumbing. He thanks customers for positive reviews. He replies with an apology for not-so-positive reviews and, when possible, offers to rectify the situation. If he can’t provide an immediate solution, he at least replies that he will look into it.

Quite often, he says, the customer will remove the negative review once he has addressed the problem (although he never outright asks them to do that). “But if you ignore the review, it will stay forever,” he says.

Negative reviews can be painful for a business owner to read, but Manwill says it’s important to “look at it as a learning experience” and use the feedback to improve your business.

“We have actually made changes due to customer comments,” he says. “Customer service for our company is a big deal.”

As of this writing, Manwill Plumbing has a 4.5 rating on Yelp. Ratings in the 3- to 4-star range are quite good, says Barber, because people become suspicious of perfect reviews.

Reach Out

Companies can take an even more hands-on approach and flat-out ask customers for reviews—although you should never pay them or give them other incentives to do so. “Yelp will go after businesses that pay for positive reviews,” says Melchior. In fact, Yelp now places an alert on the page of companies that it believes paid for reviews.

However, you can gently suggest that if a customer had a positive experience, he or she could go to Yelp and write about it.

Friendemic offers a service that Barber calls a “positive reviews accelerator.” It’s a software system that sends surveys to all of a company’s customers. The surveys themselves provide very valuable feedback to the company. But those who submit positive surveys also get a response that offers a link so they can leave an online review.

In general, it tends to be unhappy customers who go to the trouble of writing an online review. “People are more likely to write a negative review than a positive review,” says Barber. So it helps to prod happy customers to leave a review.

Melchior suggests putting a link to Yelp on your website. You can also have signage at cash registers or even print a suggestion on your receipts.

But the best way to solicit positive reviews is quite simple: “How do you get a positive review? Give them a positive experience,” says Melchior. 


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