4 Common Misconceptions about Online Reputation Management

The only reputation management strategy needed by business owners 20 years ago involved the production of quality products and services that satisfied the needs of their clients. However, as search engines began to gain traction in the late ‘90s and review sites like Yelp became increasingly popular after their rise in the early 2000s, business operations began to bow to these modern technologies and the new frontier they created.

Today, no business can achieve financial success and recognition in a competitive market without establishing a positive online reputation. The practice of curating a positive online presence continues to grow as the Internet broadens in popularity as a consumer resource. While some businesspeople can maintain a strong online reputation through simple management practices, others have the following four common misconceptions about online reputation management:

If my business doesn’t have a presence on the Internet, online reputation management won’t affect me.

ipad tablet websitePeople frequently make the mistake of thinking that online reputation management is not necessary for their company because it does not have an established Internet presence. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude toward online reputation management can be a big mistake.

When a company fails to curate its online image, it can signal to potential customers or business partners that the firm is not current or operating in a way that signals future failure if they cannot remain up-to-date on technological trends. It also may denote laziness or an unwillingness to put forth the extra effort needed in order to provide customers with the best experience possible.

Additionally, businesses that do not have an online presence often neglect to monitor the conversation that customers are having about them on review sites. When a business does not have a voice on review sites, the conversation about it goes unregulated and can lead to a significant decline in sales and client numbers.

It is best to ignore any negative comments made about my company online.

Customer reviews are one of the strongest components of your business’ online reputation. As of 2014, 88 percent of people surveyed in one study indicated that they trusted the reviews of strangers online as much as they would trust a review from a friend or family member. Reviews on a Google Plus or Yelp page increasingly hold more weight. As a result, a company’s silence when negative reviews surface can be very damaging.

By electing not to respond to negative customer comments online, business owners lose the opportunity to show other potential customers reading the reviews that — while the service may not be flawless — they are committed to providing a high degree of customer service. Instead of letting the bad reviews stand, business owners can improve their reputation by offering a professional, informed reply to the grievances. If the reply is handled properly, you may even earn a retraction of the negative comment from the customer.

My company’s online reputation is not negative, so I do not need to work on it.

When a business owner Googles the company name to get an idea of what its online reputation looks like, he or she might come across a collection of neutral links or reviews that represent basic information about the company and may find no negative content available. The common mistake that business owners make in this situation is in leaving the company’s neutral online reputation intact, instead of using it as a starting point to build a strong Internet presence.

It is much easier to curate and maintain an image that shows your company in a positive light through a dedicated online reputation management strategy than it is to receive an influx of negative reviews and then try to repair the damage. Company owners never really know when negative reviews or unfortunate circumstances may cause their business to lose esteem, and engaging with reputation management services when circumstances are good can help to ward off negativity in the future.

Employees’ personal actions on the Internet cannot affect my business’ online reputation.

One aspect of online reputation management that is often overlooked is the potential for employees’ online behavior to affect the way that the company is perceived by its customers. A business cannot control how its employees conduct themselves on social media, but it can set guidelines within its policies that establish what company information employees can and cannot reveal online.

Companies that do not pay attention to what their staff posts online can end up with serious damage to their online reputation. Businesses that want to avoid this kind of damage to their reputation should consider implementing policies that dissuade employees from complaining about the company online, sharing sensitive information about clients, or creating an online image that blends their personal and professional lives.

How small business can make it big on reputation

Pop quiz hot shot. Do the regulars love your place but you’re not getting any new comers? Have negative comments cluttered the comments section of your website? If “Yes!” was your answer to any of these questions, then you my friend are in need of reputation management. Any company, no matter the size, likeability, or fame can gain a lot from reputation management but for some, such as local businesses, there’s more necessity than for others. With that said let’s tackle the previous questions.

Same place, same faces

Local businesses, usually family owned, are arguably the most in need of reputation management. They probably don’t have the budget required to hire a reputation management firm, but that doesn’t mean they can’t manage their own reputation by themselves. These businesses thrive on what people say about them. Word of mouth has been replaced by online reviews, likes, stars, hearts or whatever other social media platforms use to show appreciation or lack thereof.

Regular customers will most surely not pay attention to what is said online because they know the place and the people who run the business fairly well. They have found a comfort zone with their local restaurant, bar, barbershop, and so on that allows them to overlook some of the most daunting negative characteristics. Unless your business is packed with regulars, which is surely not the case then you need new faces day after day. Here is where online reputation is premium.

Visitors to a new place will more often than not go online for suggestions of where to go or what to do. Making sure you have as much positive feedback will definitely help in attracting new customers, local and foreign. Take into account what people say in the comments section of your website, whether they be good or bad (we’ll get to the bad ones in a moment). Positive comments let you know what people like and what you can fortify so pay close attention to these. If you want to gain positive online rep make sure you treat your patrons well when they visit you. The grand majority of recommendations for a local business come from going there and seeing if what’s online is actually the truth or if it’s hog wash. Smile at your visitors, engage them and make them feel like they are important. Do everything in your power to make sure they leave with a positive experience, and encourage them to review your place and be specific about what they liked or not.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

Image courtesy of Charis Tsevis on Flickr.com
Image courtesy of Charis Tsevis on Flickr.com

Unlike in math, where two negatives multiplied make a positive, businesses cannot afford to see negative comments grow. Negative comments on social media impact how likely someone is to buy or visit a place. According to the Local Consumer Review Survey 2015 by BrightLocal 94 percent of people surveyed would not use a business with a one-star rating and 87 percent if it had a two-star rating. In the same study, 60 percent of those surveyed answered that overall star rating was the most important factor when judging a business solely on its reviews. It’s like your back in first grade, stars matter. The higher the number of stars the better chance of receiving new business. But what if your business has a lower number of stars on a consistent basis, which are usually accompanied by negative results? What can you do?

First and perhaps most important, take the time to answer promptly. Negative reviews can easily crush a business; do not take them lightly. Ease the initial impact by contacting the reviewer and get information regarding his or her inconformity and then offer them a solution. Show them you care about the people and how they feel regarding your business and their experience. And like Mom and Dad used to tell you, “Say thank you.” Show gratitude to those who care enough to contact you.

Everything has a silver lining, no matter how bad it looks. You should take the negatives and turn them into opportunities for your business to grow. It’s another way to show patrons that you value their opinions and that you thrive to make sure they are happy. By doing this, you’re business will ultimately grow, depending on the issue the improvement might happen in one week or in a couple of years. Just letting people know you are willing to improve will make it easier and more likely for them to give you a second chance. Additionally, improving on the negatives will probably ensure that newcomers give you positive feedback, which in turn will yield a higher, more impacting online reputation.

Once again, being able to manage reputation well helps all businesses, but small local businesses the most. It’s possibly the best way to gain market recognition, favorability, increased sales and new and returning business.

5 Steps to Build a Better Online Reputation

While the Internet has given people new tools to use in both their personal and professional lives, it has also created additional responsibilities for people looking to advance their careers, and for entrepreneurs trying to grow their businesses. Because your online reputation can help or harm you to a significant degree, it’s imperative to take an active role in managing it. Negative web search results can damage your professional and personal life. However, there is hope.

To use your online reputation to your best advantage and prevent it from becoming a roadblock on your path to success, keep in mind the following tips:

Do your research

An important first step in improving your reputation is to know where you stand. Start by researching yourself on a major search engine like Google. If any negative content has made its way onto your first page of search results, it may be a good idea to contact the websites hosting the content to ask about the possibility of removing it. Many sites will be unwilling to remove the post, but an inquiry can pay off in some cases.

If no negative content is present, but you find that a search of your name does not yield relevant information about you, this can also be a drawback. People without an established online reputation are missing an excellent marketing opportunity. Don’t settle for just having a lack of negative content.

research reputation

Determine your brand

The next step after assessing your current online reputation is to decide how that image compares to how you want to be seen. Your personal brand helps people like potential customers, colleagues, and employers get a sense of who you are before they have the opportunity to meet you, and can therefore play an important role in your success. To develop your personal brand, consider the skills you want to highlight and what kind of words you would use to describe yourself.

Additionally, it’s important to consider the industry you work in, and the personal qualities and characteristics that are valued within that sector. Do you work in a field that values a more relaxed corporate approach, like the tech industry, or do you have a job at large banking or finance firm, which typically emphasizes a more traditional corporate attitude?

Every action you take online contributes to your image, from the pictures you upload on social media profiles to the tweets that you choose to retweet. However you choose to portray yourself, make sure that your behavior online upholds your personal brand.

Engage online

To build a positive online reputation, you must be active on the web. Not only will frequent web activity help you maintain better control over your image, but it will signal to customers and other professionals that you keep up with the times, which can increase their confidence in your skills or business. Curate social media profiles on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and fill them out completely. This will allow you to create a more cohesive Internet presence and strengthen your brand.

For businesses, another important part of online engagement is responding to customers who make comments on your social media pages or leave reviews on websites like Yelp. Allowing comments to go unanswered, whether positive or negative, communicates a lack of care and a detachment from your client base. Respond to comments and questions in a timely manner using a calm, professional tone.

Get feedback

100 percent ratingAccording to some studies, between 85 and 90 percent of customers read online reviews when making a decision about where to take their business, and over 70 percent put more trust in a company with positive online reviews. In order to build a strong, positive image, earning authentic reviews is key.

Focus first on providing customers with quality products or services, and then invite them to review you on a credible platform, such as Yelp. In doing so, you will not only earn the kind of online clout necessary to establish a positive online reputation. By asking clients for their input, you’ll also make them feel that their opinions are valuable to you.

Additionally, by earning a collection of positive reviews, you may be able to safeguard yourself against negativity in the future if someone logs a complaint or an extremely negative review. A company with many positive reviews and one or two errant negative reviews will suffer less reputation damage. If a customer does leave a negative review, the best course of action is to address the complaint with the customer’s satisfaction in mind. Contact them and offer a solution, or give them an incentive to try your service or product again.

Work on your image offline

Your online image should reflect the kind of person you are and the kind of business you run, and the best way to create a positive reputation online is to build a positive reputation in real life. Get involved in community events, and focus on your face-to-face public relations practices. Make sure your business prioritizes excellent customer service. Participation in local fundraisers, contests, or other charity events is also a great way for companies to get brand recognition while supporting a good cause.

4 Practices that Can Damage Your Online Reputation

The Internet offers a plethora of tools that assist people in their endeavors to connect, communicate, and create. Although it provides these benefits, the web is also a place where nothing can truly be forgotten. Social media sites like Facebook chronicle and store years’ worth of data and pictures, while review websites like Yelp allow customers a public forum to air personal grievances about businesses. Simultaneously, popular news outlets often dominate the front page of search results, broadcasting articles to a larger audience than ever before and keeping the past indefinitely warehoused online.

When nearly anything can end up on the Internet, people often find themselves the inadvertent architects of their own negative online reputations. This can affect their personal relationships, as well as their careers. While there are steps you can take to improve your online image, prevention is the best way to build the foundation for a positive online reputation. Avoid the following four practices, which can have a lasting negative influence on how you’re perceived online.

Taking an “off the grid” approach

nature guy off gridThe Internet is an integral resource that people of all ages use to learn about businesses and individuals. When faced with a question or problem, many people’s first impulse is to turn to Google to find the information they need, or to locate a professional who can provide a solution to their problem.

If you refrain from developing a presence on the Internet, you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage in today’s business world. Companies without an online presence are often seen as unestablished, antiquated, or even unreliable. Having no reputation can be as bad as having a negative one, and can cost you customers, income, and the potential for growth.

Individuals without a strong online presence can suffer the same consequences as businesses—you might be overlooked by potential employers as behind the times, or because the employer could not find enough information about you to justify an interview. Additionally, not having a presence online will prevent you from knowing when people are talking about you. In this case, you’ll already be at a major disadvantage in defending yourself against slander or false claims.

Responding angrily to comments and reviews

The anonymity that comes with using a computer helps many people feel more comfortable sharing their opinions, but the drawback is that their opinions are not always positive or polite. Although angry rants and bitter complaints about you or your business can make your blood boil, it’s important to keep your emotions in check when responding.

For businesses, responding to a review or comment from a frustrated customer must be done with finesse. These instances are when it’s most necessary to demonstrate your commitment to professionalism by responding in a calm, confident manner. Customer satisfaction should be your goal.

For individuals, acting disrespectfully toward others on social media can damage the way that you’re seen by your colleagues, employers, and other influential people. Many people have lost their jobs due to inconsiderate or offensive posts on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Posting or being tagged in compromising photos

woman funny compromising photoThe photos of you on the Internet have a direct correlation with how you’re perceived by others, both online and in real life. While privacy settings on social media sites afford users some control over which pictures are public, there is no guarantee that all photos of you—especially those posted by others— will remain concealed from potential employers or customers. And the more people use social media, the more professional and personal relationships converge on the Internet, potentially bringing your private life into contact with your professional life.

Posting pictures that display unprofessional aspects of your life can make finding employment difficult, and businesses can lose the respect and patronage of customers. Additionally, it can discourage other professionals or businesses in your industry from working with you.

Ignoring false or abusive content

For those companies and individuals who have already been hurt by negative information posted about them online, a common mistake is thinking that this content cannot be removed. While there are legal guidelines that dictate which content must be taken down by law and which can only be removed at the discretion of the author, the best action in the interest of your reputation is to reach out and ask.

While articles published by newspapers are notoriously difficult to have removed in their entirety, false or misleading information released within the article can sometimes be corrected or retracted if a business or individual can provide evidence that a claim is false.

Additionally, you can petition to remove information from websites that don’t belong to a news outlet if the post contains information that is untrue or considered harassment. Content posted on social media sites is frequently accompanied by links that allow you to report it to the website with the click of a button. Sites like Facebook are known for refusing to tolerate bullying, and may accommodate an individual’s request to have pictures or posts that defame them removed.

Ultimately, however, some content is online to stay, and the best option is to take steps to counteract any negative search results under your name. In these instances, it may be in your best interest to hire a private firm to assist you in taking back control of your online reputation.

4 Online Reputation Management Tips for Job Seekers

While the Internet has granted job seekers the ability to apply for a wide variety of positions nearly anywhere around the world, it has also required them to monitor how they are viewed online. Recruiters and hiring managers are increasingly using search engines to identify and screen potential candidates.

Job seekers now need to take charge of and maintain control over their online reputation in order to secure the careers that they want. Below are four tips for cultivating the positive online image that can give you a better chance of landing your dream job.

Be an active social media user.

Your social media profiles play a significant role in the way that you are perceived by potential employers, who pay special regard to sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. When a recruiter types your name into a search engine, your profiles on these sites are likely to show up on the first page of results, so it is important to make sure that the information on these sites is in line with the way that you want to be perceived by potential employers. Uploading professional photos that clearly show your face on a site like LinkedIn may also increase your chance of earning an interview, as employers tend to give more credibility to fully completed profiles. Additionally, associating a face with your work history may increase your personal appeal.

Job seekers who opt out of social media may find themselves at a disadvantage. According to a survey collected by CareerBuilder.com in 2015, over a third of employers stated that they are less likely to grant an interview to candidates lacking an online presence. Not having a presence on the web can signal to companies that you are disconnected from modern technology, or make them wonder if you have something to hide.

Research and remove negative content.

social media treeBefore applying for a job, it’s helpful to know what a potential employer will see when he or she performs a Google search of your name. Search for yourself on Google and other search engines ahead of time, and assess whether your online reputation needs some polishing. Though most recruiters won’t investigate past the first page of search results, it’s useful to scan the second page for negative content as well, as items on page two may eventually end up on page one.

If you find that your online reputation doesn’t reflect you positively, it’s important to take steps to curate and improve your image so that it reflects the professional persona you want to project. Remove unbecoming photos, comments, or content that you have posted, and delete photo tags that link you to images that are not in line with your personal brand. Additionally, it’s a good idea to go through your friend lists, likes, and follows on social media platforms to make sure they reflect you in a positive light.

While you may not be able to remove content that you did not post yourself, contacting a site to inquire about the removal of negative content may yield positive results. Although news outlets and other sites may refuse, you can appeal to the site owner by sending a polite email asking him or her if it would be possible to remove the content. Explain that you’re looking for a job, but do not make demands or threats. Certain material may be online to stay, but defamatory comments or information that jeopardizes your security can be removed with the help of a professional.

Practice a defensive reputation management strategy.

Regardless of whether you have a positive or negative online reputation, it’s a good idea to act defensively in order to maintain image control over the long term. As a job seeker, you can begin by ensuring that you’re utilizing the maximum privacy settings on all social media profiles and by being selective about what you make public. Though privacy settings will not provide complete protection, limiting what strangers and potential employers can view about your personal life is a good way to help control your image.

Additionally, giving thought to what a social media post will communicate about you to others is a good defensive ORM strategy. Before posting a picture, comment, or other update, take a moment to ask yourself if it matches the image that you want to curate. Consider how you would feel if a potential employer saw it. In general, make a habit of avoiding posts that contain vulgar or inflammatory language and refrain from engaging in online disputes, as both practices are seen as unprofessional.

Even if you’ve determined that your online reputation reflects you positively, remember that monitoring your web presence is still important. Even after securing a job, regularly assessing your online reputation will make you better prepared for the future. Using tools like Google Alerts is also a simple way to find out when your name is being mentioned online.

Take control of your image through brand building.

One of the best ways to make yourself look better to potential employers is through online brand building. Consider authoring a blog on a professional topic relevant to your career. Through a blog, you can build a positive web reputation while also showing potential employers your technological literacy and industry knowledge. Updating biographies and work histories to include industry keywords on a site like LinkedIn can also increase their relevance in your search results and strengthen your professional online brand.

Additionally, search engine algorithms tend to weigh the words within a URL as highly relevant to search results, and are likely to place sites that have your name in their URL at the top of your results page. Take advantage of this fact by purchasing a domain that includes your first and last name and using it as a place to showcase yourself. Information on this website could include examples of your work, your resume, a summary of your professional history, and a biography. Taking the time to create a website that provides prospective employers with all this information in one place shows extra effort and allows you more control over how others perceive you.