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Must-read guide to online reputation management

"reputation management" written on the left with a customer review and image placed on the right of the composition

When you’re just starting to build out your small business, the process can seem like a linear one. You begin with a business plan, create a website, grow your audience, and make sales. It sounds like a fairly straightforward process, but what you may not be thinking about is keeping a good image online.

If a business' online reputation is left unmaintained, it can be tarnished by various factors such as bad online reviews, upset customers on social media, or even embarrassing photos that don't paint you or your brand in the best light. These are things that can be remedied, or even prevented from the start. This is why online reputation management is incredibly important for all businesses, especially those just starting out.

Below, we’re going to show you a set of helpful tips to keep your online reputation in check and the necessary steps to take when your image is shown in a less than ideal light.

What is online reputation management?

The term online reputation management is a bit of a mouthful and it also sounds like a very broad term, so what does it actually entail? In a nutshell, it’s the process of influencing the public image of your brand. This is accomplished through a series of practices such as SEO, customer service, social media management, and more.

Sometimes referred to as ORM, it can affect the perception of how people perceive a brand. Whether this means pushing negative reviews further down on search engine results or finding unhappy customers on social media and addressing their issues first hand, there are many things you can do turn a bad reputation into a good one.

Of course, it’s better to work on maintaining a good online reputation than try to correct a bad one. However, no one's perfect and an unfavorable situation can happen to even the best of brands.

Dominate your brand’s Google Search results

When someone searches your business on Google, the last thing you’ll want them to be met with on the first page of results is a list of negative reviews from customers that had not-so-pleasant experiences with you. Before taking any action, you should first accept the fact that you won’t be able to make everyone happy. (That’s a life lesson, too, not just a business tip.)

However, if you find yourself in a situation that searching your business name on Google yields less than ideal results, there are a couple of steps you can take to mitigate the negative effects:

01. Do your part to make unhappy customers happy again

First and foremost, if you’re seeing negative reviews pop up on the first page of search results related to your company, go out of your way to solve the problem. Go to the page that’s housing the negative review and see if you can reply to the unhappy customer directly and try to solve whatever they’ve taken issue with. This is your first weapon, and honestly, something you should be doing anyway. Being proactive about unhappy customers shows them you’re able and willing to hear their feedback and want to help make them happy. After all, your customers are what make your business successful. Don’t alienate them by ignoring them.

If you’re able to solve an unhappy customer’s issue after seeing a negative review, it’s completely reasonable to ask if they would either remove the review or update it to reflect that the issue was resolved. Even if the unwanted search result still appears, it’ll be better to find an updated review where the situation was taken care of.. For the most part, a happy customer won’t have an issue with you asking them to update or remove a bad review.

02. Push positive reviews

Entrepreneurship can be difficult, but positive reviews make it all worthwhile. In the SERP's Up SEO Podcast, consultant Claire Carlile explained, that these reviews offer great value for SEO because testimonials can be used across multiple pages of a website. "We can use them on our marketing materials, our social channels, and we can use them to display in our bricks and mortar establishments." So be sure to show them off.

By sharing links to positive reviews on you can improve the visibility of this content in search results. This, in turn, can help push negative reviews further down in favor of the positive ones you’re sharing. In addition, posting positive reviews is great for motivating employees and maintaining an uplifting and supportive company culture. This, in turn, can help push negative reviews further down in favor of the positive ones you’re sharing. In addition, posting positive reviews is great for motivating employees and maintaining an uplifting and supportive company culture.

testimonials on a website featured in blue text boxes with a red background

03. Start blogging!

As a small business owner, you can dominate the results when someone searches your business on Google if you provide enough indexable content to do so! By starting a blog for your brand, your posts will provide another link for Google to add to its search results. It also has the additional bonus of helping to develop your own thought leadership within your field.

Google loves fresh content, and if it sees you’re consistently updating your website with new blog posts. By updating your site often with new blog posts, Google will crawl your site more often, and give you more opportunities to appear in search results for queries related to your business. The more pages you have, the more chances you'll get to rank Your blog posts not only provide another way for prospective customers to find you, but they can also serve as a shield for potentially negative reviews and other less than ideal content to bubble up in results.

04. Get “official” on social media if you haven’t already

Want even more pages to populate when your brand is searched on Google? Be sure that you’ve added your website to all of your social network accounts! This may seem like a simple task (and it is) but if you’ve made your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social platform accounts “official” by adding your URL to your profiles, search engines will index them. Little tricks like this can make a big impact on what’s actually shown in search results.

Even if you’re not planning to use social media for your own marketing purposes, it’s important that you own your accounts. Why? Well, say a disgruntled customer noticed that there was no official Twitter or Instagram account for your brand, they might take it upon themselves to create that profile for their own nefarious purposes. Not only could this be damaging to your reputation, but it will also mean that you lost out on owning your own name on these channels. And let’s face it @yourbrandname looks a lot more official than something like @yourbrandname1235 or @yourbrandnameOFFICIAL. So claim your social media handles while you can.

05. Use social media as your ultimate listening tool

If unhappy customers aren’t writing negative reviews, they’ll undoubtedly be complaining on social media. Not having a presence on these platforms or choosing to ignore complaints will do nothing but hurt your reputation. So view social media as not only a tool to reach your audience but also a way to address the complaints of unhappy customers before you have to go into full-on damage control mode and put out a large fire that could have been avoided from the start.

If you’re not already using social media for customer service, you should at the very least get into the habit of actively replying to mentions and messages from your customers. Yet, this is only half the battle. Comments from users who’ve tagged you on social media are easy enough to spot and reply to. This is known as social monitoring. However, finding the social posts about you that people haven’t tagged you in should be one of your biggest concerns. Discovering these particular conversations and reacting accordingly is called social listening.

Social listening is the process of monitoring the conversations taking place on social media about your brand and, if needed, reaching out to address or rectify issues that may have arisen. This is a proactive approach that’s performed before issues are brought to your attention directly.

06. Handle unfiltered feedback with grace

Social media is also an opportunity to receive valuable, unfiltered feedback from customers. Be ready to hear some things you may not find to be the most positive. Take raw feedback as professionally as you can in order to see it as an opportunity to improve your brand for the long term.

Sometimes harsh feedback is just what you need to make a change for the better, not only for yourself, but your brand and the ways in which it operates.

07. Respond in a timely fashion

To mitigate any issues or further annoyances on the part of an upset customer, it’s important to respond to comments as quickly as possible. Replying promptly to customers’ feedback shows that you’re willing to have an open conversation with them and that you’re actively there to help resolve any issues they may have. “Being there” for them and building trust can help turn an unhappy customer into a happy one.

08. Make transparency a necessity in your communications

Part of becoming an entrepreneur is learning how to answer tough customer questions as honestly as you can, even if you know they won’t love your answer. Addressing things head on and honestly is a practice any business should get used to, but it’s understandably easier said than done.

Being transparent isn’t synonymous with being blunt. Trust us, a customer would rather get a firm “no” and be upset at a policy than be strung along with several half-answers that will ultimately arrive at that “no” answer you tried to avoid saying in the first place. In short: Don’t waste your customer’s time.

Being transparent also means admitting when you are wrong and have made a mistake. It may not sound like a beneficial practice in terms of managing your online reputation, but there are enough liars in the world. Remind an upset customer that you too are human, apologize as sincerely as you can if necessary, and try to make them happy, within reason, if you can. But remember, you won’t be able to satisfy everyone.

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