For better or for worse, perception is reality among today’s online consumers, and if your enterprise has ever struggled with an adverse online reputation, you know exactly how detrimental it can be. A sour online image or comment on your content marketing efforts — driven by negative reviews, online consumer complaints, or even allegations of fraudulent activity — can all but ruin a company. And, while a positive online reputation often takes years to cultivate, it can be torn apart in a matter of minutes with just a single bad review.
Why is this? The long and short of it is that changing patterns in consumer behavior have made online reputations more critical than ever before. Increasingly, consumers consult with online review sites before making any major purchasing decisions, which is why your company’s online review profile can prove to be a make-or-break effort. The fortunate news for businesses besieged by negative reactions is that all hope is not lost — there are steps you can take to harness user-generated content marketing and get your online reputation back on track.
Tactic #1: Address your own people
First off, where do bad reviews typically come from? They do not always come from actual consumers; in fact, they are often published by unhappy employees, desperate to sound off about the company’s shortcomings in an anonymous way. A bad review is a bad review, and this kind of negative feedback will hurt your brand’s integrity as much as criticisms left by actual consumers. However, there is a way to minimize the risk of this happening at your business.
Specifically, launch an anonymous, internal forum where members of your organization can have a place to vent and to share their frustrations in a more constructive (but still safe) environment. If your employees feel safe expressing their misgivings in this arena, the chances of them doing so in a more public forum — like Yelp.com — will surely diminish.
A few ideas:
- Doing a quick online search for forum services will yield numerous options, most of which will be equipped to provide you with an anonymous, internal forum setup.
- You will want to provide one HR team member or manager with “moderator” abilities, to keep the discussion focused.
- It is helpful to set up different areas of the forum for different projects or departments, and also to have a more generalized area for discussions of company-wide policies.
Tactic #2: Create a sounding board
Just as you can create an internal sounding board to give your employees a safe place to ask questions or vent their frustrations, you can also provide your clients with a sounding board where they can do the same. This is something that works particularly well for tech companies, but really, any business that offers a product or specific service can create a “support” forum, where clients or customers can get information they are looking for, or voice concerns they may have.
The benefits of this are numerous:
- First and foremost, it keeps “constructive feedback” off of the pages of Angie’s List and Google.
- Second, it shows that your company has a willingness to work closely with its clients — something that can help you foster a positive online reputation.
- Perhaps most significantly, though, is that you can moderate and manage posts on your support forum (you own the site, after all) and, as such, you can simply eliminate outright defamation.
- In the interest of establishing your company as consumer-oriented and service-driven, it is critical to respond to customer inquiries promptly.
- If a customer has a legitimate issue or problem that you can resolve, offer to do so privately; no need to drag it out in a public setting.
Tactic #3: Generate online reviews
Sadly, there is nothing any business can do to prevent negative reviews from rolling in; consumers will say what they want to say, and you cannot force them to keep their criticisms to themselves. However, you can work to build up a strong defense — specifically positive, brand-enhancing reviews — that can help you defuse situations, should they arise.
Think about it this way: A single bad review will do a lot of damage, if it is the only review your company has; however, if one negative review appears that is intermingled with dozens of positive ones, you have much less to worry about.
In other words, harnessing positive reviews, submitted by your satisfied customers, can go a long way toward reputation defense. Here are three basic strategies for accomplishing this:
- Make direct, specific inquiries: Who are your best, most loyal and enthusiastic customers? Identify them, send them short emails, and ask if they wouldn’t mind sending you a few words of praise that you can post on your website and use in promotional materials.
- Make a more general request for reviews: Establish an email account that exists solely for receiving customer feedback, and make it accessible to your clients.
- Finally, consider working either with your web design team or with an outside reputation and review management company to install review widgets on your company website: These review widgets will allow customers to award star ratings to your products and services, and perhaps to offer a few additional words of feedback, as well. Again, the perk here is that you can moderate reviews, ensuring that your website and its user-generated comments reflect an accurate picture of your company — not one that is skewed by a few instances of defamation. (My company, ReputationChanger.com has a proprietary review widget service; review widgets are also offered by WordPress and Bright Local.)
User-generated content marketing and online reputation management
All told, what people say about your company matters — especially when they say it on the internet. The good news is that no company has to settle for an abysmal online reputation. You can harness the power of user-generated content to protect and even enhance your online brand.
For more tips on using smart content marketing strategies to enhance your company’s reputation, read CMI Books’ “Bold Brand” by Josh Miles.