Reputation management can be difficult to define in our hyperconnected society. Do you only consider your reputation when it’s in jeopardy? How does reputation management differ from regular branding development and improvement? The extent of management differs between corporations, businesses, celebrities and individuals, but there are several core principles that should always be addressed.
Managing a reputation isn’t just about responding to negative feedback or scandal; it’s about preventing poor experiences with consumers or readers, increasing engagement based off feedback and adding value to a brand by improving its reputation with the public.
Any business, whether it’s Apple or a single Instagram influencer, can benefit from developing an online reputation management strategy. This guide will walk you through the basics, starting with an easy-to-follow breakdown of online reputation management before moving on to tips on how to identify your needs and develop an appropriate strategy.
What Is Online Reputation Management?
In a nutshell, we can define online reputation management as continuous monitoring and response to feedback on social media platforms and other relevant networks. In previous years, marketing was far more reliant on a company’s actions than its consumers’ responses. Marketers focused on what they could do to promote and advertise their company, and feedback from customers was difficult to measure aside from sales figures.
The internet and rise of social media marketing created a new landscape and forever changed the ways companies interact with their customers and target audience. The scales became more evenly balanced, but many businesses struggled to adapt to the new dynamic. There was less of an “us vs. them” mentality when it came to customers. People had a voice, and they made it clear that they no longer wanted to be persuaded or sold to.
Customers became faces and usernames. The humans behind the numbers emerged, and they wanted real conversations, valuable content and authentic experiences online. People don’t just give a business a thumbs-up or thumbs-down anymore. They share their thoughts and express their feelings through tweets and Instagram posts. Someone can attract new business for a company just as easily as they can deter it. A single photo and caption or YouTube review can cost a business hundreds of potential customers.
Reputation management is no longer an afterthought. In order to maintain a favorable view and build lasting relationships with customers, businesses have to be aware of what’s being said online and develop responses that are as professional as they are sincere. To cultivate an effective response protocol, a company must look at its existing brand and voice.
Branding vs. Reputation
Your brand is the image you cultivate and project through your products, profiles and customer interactions. Your reputation is the public perception of all these entities. You have far more control over your brand than your reputation, but only paying attention to the former can lead to some major downfalls later if you aren’t careful.
A brand is what sets you on the map. By cultivating a strong business brand, you introduce yourself to the world and connect with potential customers through a distinct voice. That voice, as well as all the content it encompasses, will ultimately lead to the development of a reputation.
The fundamental difference between branding and reputation is that brand management is proactive while reputation management is largely responsive. While you’ll undoubtedly incorporate social media responses as part of your branding, the communicative style and purpose will differ when it comes to reputation management. Interweaving your online reputation management with your branding is a great way to enhance the value, credibility and perception of your business.
You can pay for someone to build your brand, but you can’t pay for a reputation. Developing a positive reputation takes time, experience and commitment. Your reputation will ultimately become the culmination of all your online interactions and experiences with customers. In order to ensure that your reputation is a good one, you have to take steps that increase awareness, demonstrate responsibility and show compassion.
Awareness in reputation management is different from brand awareness. You are not advertising your company or promoting any products or services. Instead, you’re letting your followers and consumer base know that you are active online, present in their conversations and care about what they have to say.
You have to consider reputation management as the most interpersonal aspect of your online strategy. Rather than posting content and letting people comment on it however they please, you need to demonstrate continued awareness by acknowledging people’s praise and criticism.
There are two critical factors when it comes to responding to negative feedback online: timing and resolution. Let’s say someone goes to their local Whole Foods and realizes they’re out of their favorite oat milk. They tweet about their experience on Twitter and express their frustration. Whole Foods has to respond quickly. If they wait for days or weeks, the customer will have to take care of the problem themselves, most likely by taking their business elsewhere.
In order to take on accountability, Whole Foods must respond to the tweet in a timely manner and reach out to the customer to offer a solution. They could send them a voucher for free oat milk the next time they’re in the store, for example, and check in with that particular location to ensure new shipments are being delivered and stocked on time.
The irony of the 21st century is that authenticity has become a product. Brands plan how they can make themselves appear more genuine and go to great lengths to choose the right words, photos and tags that will make them come across as “real.” Unfortunately, the harder you try to be authentic, the more transparent you’ll become.
Transparency is a major buzzword in online marketing. It’s true that transparency helps increase sales and stimulate conversation but only when it’s real. Being “professional” isn’t always the best model anymore. People don’t want the stereotypical customer service treatment that’s stuffed with robotic consolations and stock affirmations.
People want to know that they’re being heard, and they want the response from a company to show genuine compassion. If you sound like you’re only solving a problem for someone to avoid creating a bigger one for yourself, it won’t bode well for your reputation.
Your reputation is the collective impression of your branding as a person. How would a person respond to feedback? Even if you’re speaking as a group, you can still sound sincere.
Step back and ask yourself who your business is when it’s not a company. Beyond the industry, the products and content, who are the people behind it? Be them. Personality is not separate from professionalism, but there are times when you may need to break past the barrier of business politics and be real with your audience.
How to Monitor Your Online Reputation
Before you can improve your reputation, you have to understand it. Monitoring your online reputation isn’t the same as tracking click-throughs, impressions and follows/unfollows. All of those figures provide great insight when measuring the success of a particular campaign or a brand’s current standing, but your reputation is far more long-lasting, and it won’t reflect as much in day-to-day figures.
Instead, to check how your business is doing in the eyes of the public, you have to use social media monitoring. This is a process that uses tools to gather various content about your business from around the web to see whether it positively or negatively impacts your reputation. You can go the DIY route and hand-pick your favorite methods of social media monitoring, or you can automate the process with some tools like Social Mention, Trackur or SentiOne.
Google Alerts is one of the most popular ways to get started with reputation monitoring. Whenever new content is published online that mentions your brand or specific keywords, you are notified. Ideal keywords would be your name, your business’s name and even common misspellings of your business.
If someone posts a haughty comment or negative review, you’ll be able to respond thoughtfully and swiftly. You may not catch every single mention, and some may not even warrant a reply, but Google Alerts is one of the fastest and easiest ways to stay in the loop in real time.
Make Sure Your Staff Is Social Media-Savvy
If you don’t have a designated social media strategist, coordinator or the like, consider hiring one. Social media management is a full-time job, and your company is likely to miss out on important mentions and opportunities to improve reputation if an employee is only updating your profiles on the side.
Everyone who interacts with the brand’s platforms should be well-versed in the ins and outs of each network. More than that, every employee who represents or acts in place of the business online should understand the voice your company uses and be able to emulate that flawlessly.
Hold a meeting and have employees who run social media brush up on their SEO, brand awareness and content marketing skills. They may not be in charge of everything, but it’s important for them to understand how and why they need these skills to maintain the brand’s image. Building a good reputation starts with a foundation of solid social-marketing skills.
Some Tips on Improving Reputation
So, you’ve either come under fire from dissatisfied customers or you don’t know how to start building a reputation in the first place. While it’s easier to build a reputation from the ground up than repair a damaged one, both can be achieved with some strategy, diligence and, perhaps most importantly, patience.
If you’re a small business owner who wants to spread awareness, make sure that it’s easy for people to get in touch with you online. Use the same handle on all your social media accounts, and make your profiles easy to navigate to from your website. If you don’t have one already, consider setting up a business blog. Not only will this increase your credibility, but you can also open the door to a greater conversation through reader engagement.
When it comes to repairing a damaged business reputation, the first step is to plan improvements rather than plunging forward. Look at your most recent or significant experiences and derive lessons from them. Maybe you need to change your voice and address customers more empathetically. Maybe your products need refinement or your company needs to do a better job of delivering its proposed value.
Ultimately, you can never guarantee that someone won’t have a bad experience or you will never receive negative feedback. There are some cases where you may not wish to respond to a hateful comment at all.
Use your discretion and trust your gut. Just remember that everything online is visible, and your words matter. People may not ever speak to your business directly, but they will take notice of how you handle interactions with your customers, especially the unhappy ones. With a customer-first mentality, you can ensure that your reputation is one that reflects your business’s hard work, value and ethics.