How To Build An Effective Reputation Management Strategy at Your Small Business

By: on October 20, 2017

If the media disasters for mega corporations like United and Pepsi have taught us anything, it’s the importance of having a reputation management strategy.

These organizations received intense backlash and widespread criticism online for their respective incidents. Eventually they made apologies, and although their businesses survived, their reputations suffered.

United’s consumer rating dropped to a 10 year low, and Pepsi will forever be the butt of the joke about trying to end discrimination and violence with soda—as evidenced by people using it as the punchline when talking about the passenger being forcibly removed from a United flight.

Source: Compilation of tweets about both the Pepsi and United incidents, gathered by Mashable

What’s important to note here is that the criticism of these events and each company’s respective response, was made online. These PR crises demonstrate an important lesson for business owners everywhere: Your online reputation matters.

What consumers say about your business online, and how they rate your services or your product, can have a tremendous impact on your business.

In this article, we’ll explain why it’s important to have an online reputation management strategy, even as a small business, and outline three steps you should take to get started.

Do I Need A Reputation Management Strategy, Even as a Small Business?

Yes! The vast majority of consumers check online reviews before making a purchase. No matter what industry your small business competes in, consumers will check reviews before making nearly every kind of transaction.

Eighty-two percent of U.S. adults report checking online reviews in some capacity before buying new items: 42 percent say they sometimes read customer ratings or reviews and 40 percent say they always do, according to research by Pew Research Center.

The age of the consumer is important to consider as well, as younger consumers are even more likely to use online reviews (Pew’s research looked at adults ages 18 to 65+):

  • 96 percent of 18-29 year olds check reviews: 43 percent sometimes, and 53 percent always.
  • 92 percent of 30-49 year olds check reviews: 45 percent sometimes, and 47 percent always.

We surveyed consumers to learn in what capacity they use online reviews, and discovered that consumers look to their peers before making nearly every type of transaction:

Consumer Use of Online Reviews

What does this mean for your small business?

If you don’t build an online presence, cultivate and manage your online reviews and business rating, you’ll struggle to remain relevant. If your target demographic are consumers younger than 50, you’re putting your business in serious jeopardy.

In fact, 83 percent of the consumers we surveyed said they would be moderately to very likely to pick a product or professional services provider over another due to favorable online reviews/ratings.

For small businesses and enterprises alike, consumers look to their peers online to evaluate goods and services before purchasing them. This is not a case where no news is good news. When considering online reviews, no news means no business.

In the following sections, we’ll outline the steps you should take to build an effective reputation management strategy so you can not only remain relevant, but grow your brand and your business.

How To Build An Effective Reputation Management Strategy

Step #1: Have an online presence

The first step to crafting an effective reputation management strategy seems fairly simple, but isn’t always as easy as it sounds: Have an online presence.

Shannon Wilkinson, CEO of Reputation Communications (an online reputation management consulting firm), recommends building an online presence by taking the following steps:

  • Maintain a blog
  • Create a business Facebook page
  • Create a Twitter account dedicated to customer service
  • Post videos

Note: these actions should be taken in addition to having a company-branded website and being active on social media.

The following Q&A is an excerpt from our conversation with Wilkinson:

Q: Why are blogs an important part of your reputation management strategy?

S.W.: A blog is a strong online reputation management tool because when consistently used (at minimum, once a week), it ranks highly. Blogs are also excellent ways to be found by consumers who are researching businesses like yours. But blogs should only be used if there are resources to maintain them actively.

Q: Why is maintaining a business Facebook page important?

S.W.: Facebook is extremely important because it is a top-ranked platform, usually appearing on the first page of a Google search for businesses. Encourage all of your customers to follow you on Facebook and thank them for doing so. Make it an entertaining or helpful site for them to visit so they will stay engaged, share your content and return often.

Q: Why should small businesses create a separate Twitter account that is dedicated to customer service?

S.W.: That will allow unhappy customers to reach out in real time and have an immediate response, which can then be moved to an email or a phone conversation.

Q: How can small businesses use YouTube as a reputation management tool?

S.W.: Video ranks very high online, especially when posted on YouTube. Short, funny or informative videos less than one minute in length can be published on multiple platforms, from Facebook to your website. Done well, they can provide prospective customers with insight into your services.

 Key Takeaway:  An effective reputation management strategy is built on your online presence. In addition to having a company website and being active on social media, small businesses should take the following actions to build an online presence: Maintain a blog, create a business Facebook page, establish a twitter account dedicated to customer service and post and share videos to help build your brand.

Step #2: Solicit reviews

Now that you have an online presence, the next action item in your reputation management strategy is to solicit reviews from your customers.

Your goal? You want at least 10 reviews, and you want them to have been created in the last six months.

Here’s why: We asked respondents what the minimum number of reviews a product or professional service provider typically needs for the reviews to factor into their purchase decision. The largest percentage said they would like to see at least 10 reviews. Combined, nearly 60 percent said they would like to see between 11 and 25 reviews.

We also checked with consumers about the importance of review recency. While there wasn’t a difference to respondents between reviews from the last three months to the last six months, the impact of reviews dropped off when they are older than six months.

Here’s what you can do: Wilkinson recommends that businesses invite all customers to post a review after the sale of a product or service. Then, publish the positive reviews on all your social platforms as well as on your branded website. (See the next section to learn how to deal with negative reviews.)

Additional steps you can take to encourage reviews:

  • Offer incentives for customers that post reviews, such as discounts or savings on their next purchase, or entering them to win a gift card.
  • If your website doesn’t offer a place for customers to leave a review, partner with a reviews website, e.g., Yelp, TripAdvisor or Software Advice, and direct customers to leave reviews there.
Consumer Preference For Number of Online Reviews
Consumer Preference For Recency of Online Reviews
 Key Takeaway:  Garnering reviews from your customers is critical to your reputation management strategy. Aim for at least 10 reviews, and remember that recency matters. Reviews should be from the last three to six months—after that, they start to lose their impact on consumers.

Step #3: Respond to negative reviews

Now that you’ve solicited reviews, the last step in your reputation management strategy is to mitigate negative reviews.

Your goal? To lessen the fallout from other consumers coming across negative reviews by acknowledging and responding to them.

Here’s why: Our research shows that negative reviews have a greater impact over consumers than both positive reviews and the overall rating.

Wilkinson notes that consumers are more likely to post a review when they are angry, frustrated or unhappy with a business. Additionally, most review platforms do not provide remedial solutions for complaints, which is another reason they stand out more.

Here’s what you can do: Again, this is where having a dedicated Twitter account for customer service can help you mitigate negative reviews. This is because you are giving consumers a channel to vent their frustrations before writing the negative review. If you handle the situation correctly, you might even inspire the consumer to write about their positive customer service experience instead.

Furthermore, while negative reviews do weigh more heavily on consumers than positive reviews, 46 percent of consumers say that they would be moderately to very likely to disregard a negative review if it were accompanied by a thoughtful response from the vendor or professional service provider.

“When [complaints] are legitimate, they provide an opportunity to turn around a customer’s bad experience, or learn from it and improve your services.”

Shannon Wilkinson, CEO, Reputation Communications

This is where utilizing the services of a reviews and reputation management provider can do businesses the most good. These tools can help small businesses collect, publish and amplify good reviews. They also help notify businesses about negative reviews, giving you a chance to quickly respond to them.

Impact of Negative Reviews on Consumers
Impact of Vendor or Professional Service Provider's Response to a Negative Review On Consumers
 Key Takeaway:  You can’t stop customers from leaving negative reviews, but you can respond to them quickly and professionally. Nearly 50 percent of consumers say that a vendor or professional service provider responding to a negative review would prompt them to disregard the complaint.

Conclusions and Next Steps

The data is clear: Reviews drive consumer decisions. As such, your online reputation is critical to your business success, regardless of your size, market or industry.

Businesses that fail to build an online presence, solicit reviews and respond to both compliments and complaints from customers, will struggle to compete against those that do.

Small businesses that employ an effective reputation management strategy now, will not only build their brand and grow their business, but gain a competitive advantage in their industry.

To learn about the reputation management tools available to you, head over to our buyer’s guide for more information. Once there, you can see a list of leading systems and read reviews left by real customers.

If you’re unsure which product would be the best fit for your business, we have a team of software advisors who can help you evaluate your business needs and recommend a few systems to you. For a free consultation, call (844) 687-6771.

If you’d like more information about online reputation management, check out Reputation Communication’s FAQs, listed on their You(Online) resource hub.

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