The reputation of a brand or an individual comprises the collective evaluation of others. In other words, your organization’s reputation depends on what a group of other people think. And while that may seem out of your control, reputation management shows that it is not.
How a reputation management company can make the crucial difference to your organization
Customer feedback, employee analysis and market perception combine to form the reputation of your business.
The values they are analysing are largely intangible – things like ‘value’ or ‘trustworthiness’. It’s crucial for organizations to pro-actively shape this amorphous cloud of perception through managing reputation.
Reputation management starts with online reputation management
The vast majority of our lives are now linked in some way with the Internet.
There are few businesses without an online presence, and customers routinely search company names before they decide where to spend their money.
For this reason, most of the strategic focus of managing reputation takes place online.
What does a reputation management company do?
While a small business may initially assume that work in this area can be handled in-house or with some off the shelf reputation management software, the reality is it’s a complex and detailed sector.
As a work discipline, it should be approached at various levels, including individual, group, industry and automation/AI.
How AI and automation play a part in the reputation of your organization
We’ve established that your or your organization’s reputation comprises what other people think.
This is shaped, to a great extent, through platforms such as Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp.
By establishing and maintaining a positive reputation on these kinds of platforms, you will be in a much better position to influence what others think of your business.
What are the 3 categories of tactics for reputation management?
A workable reputation management strategy covers the following three categories:
Your online reputation within the industry
Industry-specific tactics for reputation management should include ensuring that online reviews, whether on review sites or your own website are managed well.
Boosting your business through judicious review collection, review monitoring and correct management of online reviews will help to boost the perception of your brand online among competitors and peers.
Your online reputation among individuals
This focuses on customer feedback via review sites or social media online reviews, first- and third-party reviews, the chatter on social media and effective content marketing.
Search engines will show the newest content to potential customers when they search your business online. Google doesn’t care whether it is negative feedback or from biased social media accounts.
A company’s reputation can be unfairly maligned in this way, which is why it’s so important to understand the impact of star ratings on review sites, media coverage on news sites and the direction in which consumer sentiment is going.
A management strategy means that you will be able to shape the perception and improve general credibility. This is obviously important to attract new customers, but also to ensure brand consistency and positively influence more customers and general public perception.
Aggregate review ratings that show on the first page of the results of Google search engines increase the perception of your brand’s credibility.
And the more reviews you have, the more clicks you will get. However, this also means that the reverse can have a significant negative influence on your reputation.
Many businesses underestimate the importance of reputation management
Defining reputation management can seem nebulous, and even in today’s online world, local businesses in particular can underestimate its importance.
In ‘Reputation management: Theory v Practice’, researchers Miles and Davies define the discipline as: “… an intangible asset. Reputation depends upon everything the organization does as an entity, particularly the signals and communications it chooses to give to the marketplace.”
We think this nicely encapsulates the fact that online reputation management should be a pro-active, deliberate strategy by the organization.
Leaving a reputation management strategy out of the marketing mix is to gamble on the customer stories that will be visible via a search engine.
This is why companies should consider reputation management important and align their strategies and business processes accordingly.
Where can a single business or brand appear online?
There are many online and offline channels where a business or brand can appear.
This applies whether you’re a small business, local business, or multinational organization.
In an ideal world, there would be one dashboard to manage, but the reality is, relevant content can appear on any or all the following:
- Positive reviews or negative reviews on review sites, such as Yelp, Google Reviews and TripAdvisor.
- Search results via search engines, including Google Search, Google Maps, Apple Maps etc.
- Mentions on social channels or social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
- News stories on national sites like the Washington Post and on local sites.
- Q&A websites and forums.
- Online reviews or mentions on sites like Yelp, BBB, Apple Maps or Yellow Pages etc.
- Websites that use one platform as a knowledge portal, such as Wikipedia.
Like we said earlier – while it would be a lot simpler to have to only deal with one dashboard, every business needs to track and monitor many different platforms.
The types of sites that small businesses need to target may differ slightly from larger organizations. Managing corporate reputation must be tailored towards individual business needs.
“Is reputation management illegal?”
The legality of managing reputation is often questioned by those who a grasp of don’t have exactly what it entails.
At Igniyte, we have many years of experience working on the online reputation management of all kinds of organizations and businesses around the world and we can categorically confirm that reputation management is not illegal!
In fact, we work with legal experts when it comes to certain aspects of online reputation management, such as removing content from Google search results.
Reputation management is not about blindly removing negative reviews or fudging the truth in order to attract new customers.
Rather, it’s about employing valid and reasonable reputation management strategies in order to build and maintain the strongest public perception of the brand, individual or organization.
How important is reputation management really?
Research clearly shows that there is an increasing amount of reputation loss happening at all levels.
For example, in the book Corporate Reputation by Leslie Gaines-Ross (one of the world’s foremost experts in CEO reputation issues), the author says that 79% of the most admired organizations around the globe have taken hits to their reputation over the years.
The origins of reputation management as a discipline
Pre-Internet, if we think about the kinds of avenues open to customers who wanted to give feedback on a local business, there just weren’t that many.
Similarly, people’s outlook on a a business reputation would largely come from paper directories, like the Yellow Pages, advertisements controlled by the organization, journalist opinion and good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Despite these differences, the things that drive reputation remain largely the same:
- Customer experience.
- Perceived quality of the brand.
- Perceived value.
The early days of reputation management
Corporate reputation management, back in the late 1990s, consisted mostly of responding to negative feedback. It was a reactive approach that led reputation managers to take one of the following actions in a bid to get criticism removed:
- Push a positive press campaign out to media outlets and go on an in-person tour around business competitors, potential customers or any other demographic the business needs.
- Take legal action to have negative content about the business removed.
- Censor or bury negative reviews and negative content by requesting it’s taken down or by pushing paid content.
Gaining the competitive edge meant an aggressive approach
In the early 2000s, as the Internet slowly gathered momentum, a reputation management plan existed to react to negative search results with little attempt to gain insight into the target market.
The kinds of reasons a reputation management plan would be implemented include:
- To fight slander or libel. Remember that slander is spoken while libel is written, published or broadcast defamation.
- To remove false content from business listings and brand mentions.
- Crisis communications when the reputation of an individual or organization was under threat.
- Fight against other customers who campaigned against an organization or brand for revenge purposes.
And the kinds of actions that a reputation manager would employ include issuing legal notices to take content down, publishing original content and launching new websites to pull attention from the negative review or content.
They may also have issued press releases, paid for positive content in the media or bought positive messages from influencers.
Taking control – online reputation management in 2022
Online reputation management may well include some of the above strategies and techniques. but the rapid development of the Internet actually means businesses are more in control than they used to be.
Today, reputation management includes review management. The rapid growth of review platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor in the 200os changed the face of reputation management.
It is now has a much wider scope and goes much further than installing some online reputation management software and reacting to negative sentiment.
Today, online reputation management includes:
- Crisis management.
- Review management.
- Reputation management.
- Public Relations.
- Digital Marketing.
- Social media marketing.
- Improving the experience of customers.
- Media outreach.
- Content creation.
Every business must be both reactive and proactive
A successful online reputation management company or manager will understand the necessity of strategically mixing proactive and reactive elements.
Of course, we’re not suggesting that organizations (or individuals) now have total control over their online reputation.
In fact, the onus has shifted largely onto the customers who can directly impact the targets’ reputation online and offline. In other words, it’s now a two-way street.
This allows companies to build their reputation online far more effectively by interacting with customers directly. Whether this is through social media platforms or taking to the initiative to request reviews is down to the business and its specific needs.
Reviews can be used to improve online reputation
An online reputation strategy should include using review sites to boost search engine results. While a local search may turn up a single negative review, this could be enough to turn a customer away from the brand.
It’s how the organization responds that will make the crucial difference.
A business that uses reviews to their advantage will be boosting their credibility with customers and business peers alike.
Every business should use online reviews to achieve the following:
- Increase web traffic, conversions, and revenue.
- Increase a useful presence within Google search sites, such as Maps.
- Get to negative customers before damage is done.
- Stave off scammers and competitors who are attempting to target the business unfairly.
- Create a strong, and therefore more trustworthy, online review profile that will attract customers.
Managing online reputation is about more than just reviews
An organization’s online reputation is made up of more than reviews sites. Review management is an important aspect of reputation management.
Successful strategies use the best possible reputation management software and, crucially, are consistent. It’s about the long haul and a long-term investment by the organization to keep on top of its reputation.
What are the three phases of reputation management?
Actively monitoring the conversation that is already happening online about the organization is the first step.
Utilise a website widget or plan to monitor all relevant mentions across any platform your customers frequent.
This will vary from sector to sector. For example, organizations within hospitality may focus on sites like TripAdvisor, while a local lawyer might focus on a site like Martindale.
Both would need to monitor everything from social media platforms to any platform that includes unstructured commentary, such as TikTok or a blogging site.
Updating all local mentions
Before we begin search engine optimization strategies and content creation, we will always take the time to manage our client’s local citations.
These are where the organization name and details are mentioned somewhere on the Internet, including on social media – things like the address, phone number, opening hours etc.
Keeping these accurate and refreshed with clear, coherent information is crucial to customer sentiment.
By creating proactive response guidelines or templates, management can streamline the entire approach of communicating with customers.
Measuring data and analysing progress is also key to accurately assess how well the strategy is working and whether it needs altering.
Remaining flexible and fluid with responses is always a good idea, as situations can change rapidly. Becoming too rigid about the way you want to interact with customers can easily backfire.
If customers feel they are being given a standard by rote answer, this will only increase their negative sentiment. It must be tailored to their concern and clearly demonstrate authenticity and empathy. This is often something those larger businesses struggle with more than those with a more flexible outlook.
Positive management should be the organization’s default strategy
If you start from a place of positive, proactive management across all of the platforms we’ve discussed, then that will go a long way to building up positive sentiment. It will also help a lot to build trust with customers, peers, stakeholders, and internal employees.
However, there may well come a time when the organization faces media crisis. Even with the best will in the world, it’s not always possible to avoid.
This is where focus needs to shift to crisis management.
Be prepared for crisis management
Imagine a scenario where a senior board member start being mentioned in a negative light in the media. Maybe it’s justified, maybe it isn’t. It’s quickly picked up on social media and a Twitter hashtag is created.
Before you know it, your brand name could be in for some online bombardment that may end up impacting your bottom line. It can also undo a lot of the good work done to garner positive customer feedback.
This is where a crisis management plan comes in. Don’t wait for a communications crisis to hit before coming up with ways to combat it. We work with clients to create a pre-emptive strategy for how they could deal with several different scenarios.
By communicating these plans internally, the organization is much better placed to react quickly, decisively and effectively should the time come.
What should be included in a crisis management plan?
A crisis management strategy should include the response that will be taken should there be a crisis of some kind.
When we work with a client, we’ll integrate the best reputation management software to effectively monitor the conversation.
The plan will then clearly state which responses will be used and when. This could include legal challenges if something is libellous or slanderous, or it could be SEO content marketing to replace the focus.
While this kind of management may be necessary on the odd occasion, it’s not the standard approach. We use these tools to rectify an organization or individual’s standing, and then go forward with the positive management plans outlined above.