8 Steps to Online Reputation Management for a Small Business
80% people these days research online before they engage with a new business. This is especially true when they are looking forward to engage with a small business. The reason for the same is that big businesses carry a brand and reputation and sometimes they are among the very few options available to the consumers (think about banks or airlines) and for them, it is more like choosing between two devils or merely look at the cost involved.
On the other hand, many consumers are unaware of small businesses that they are about to engage with. Also, because for them dealing with small business is a very personal experience (think about the restaurant they may want to visit, or the person they want to hire to clean their carpet), they want to research online and ensure that the business they plan to engage with is reliable and good.
What does this mean to Small Businesses?
Your online reputation could decide if the customers searching for products and services your business offer contacts you or not. If a lot of people have said positive things about your business, then your prospective customers will feel confident about contacting you.
A positive reputation online may mean that you can charge a premium price for your service. Recent research shows that most customers will pay a premium price to a business they trust.
A few bad reviews online could mean that your business is not trusted by new customers and could have a negative effect on the bottom line.
So how can Small businesses manage their online reputation without breaking the bank?
Managing your online reputation requires a very planned and disciplined approach. You have to ensure that you regularly communicate with your customers, listen to them and keep on improving your products or services.
Even though you have the best products and services, there will also be occasions when a customer is not happy and they will vent their anger online. In that case how you respond to that customer will have an effect on your reputation.
I am highlighting a list of things that small businesses should do on a regular basis to maintain a good reputation online.
Give your customers a channel to vent directly
Every business makes mistakes and chances are that for every ten happy customers, you will have one unhappy customer, no matter how hard you try. A few happy customers will tell their friends and family about the experience they have had with you. Most unhappy customers will tell their friends and family about the (perceived) terrible experience they had with your business. Before they get to that stage, give them the option to vent their anger and frustration at you directly. Enable them to send feedback to you either by email or through a dedicated feedback section on your website.
This makes it possible for you to rectify customers’ issues and also gives you an opportunity to convert their bad experience into a positive one. Explain to them what you are doing to rectify the issues they have and inform them of the checks/procedures you are putting in place to ensure that the issues don’t happen again.
Once the customers are satisfied, offer them a small discount to convince them to try your service once more.
Engage your customers
The modern fact is that your customers (potential and existing) are online and most of them use a Social media site. Make sure that you have an account on all social media channels including Facebook, twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Pinterest is also becoming prominent as it gives an opportunity to visually engage your visitors
These social media channels provide a great opportunity to engage in a two-way communication with your customers. Constantly educate them about the products and services that you offer without focussing on sales. Give them interesting facts, stories and share feedback you receive from other customers on these channels. Ask them about their experience with your business and how you can improve it.
These social media channels, when managed well, provide a great opportunity to generate trust between you and your customers.
Keep Track of the Review sites
According to Jim Lecinski, Chief ZMOT officer, Google, moms and others are increasingly “pre-shopping” using the social networks and review sites to determine their purchase choice.
According to another ZMOT research, moms, on average, will consult 13.3 sources before actually buying.
Who do you think they are consulting? Their friends, family and review sites online.
Customers trust feedback and reviews from their peers a lot more than the company’s marketing spiel. Thus, it is very important that you keep track of what is being said about your business, products and services on these review sites.
Make sure that you ask your customers to provide you with a review. Ask your customers at the time of delivering the products and services about their feedback. If their response is positive, ask them if you could send them a few website links to share their feedback on. Most customers, if satisfied with a business and the service they received, will happily provide feedback. Make sure that once they have reviewed your business online, you send them a thank you note for supporting your business.
Popular review sites include Yelp, Google+ Local, Citysearch, Insider Pages, TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon, Eatability etc. Find out what sites are popular in your area/country and track your listing on these sites. Also make sure that you take ownership of your profile on these sites.
A lot of people think that asking for reviews from your customers is fraught with danger. What if you get a negative review? I will discuss on how to tackle these negative reviews later in the article.
Claim your local listing
Search is becoming local and more and more people are searching locally for products and services. Make sure you manage and maintain your business pages on Google Places (nee maps) and Bing Local. Google has started giving a lot of prominence to Google Places and it is time that you should do the same. A well-managed listing will also position your business well for local searches and will bring more traffic to your listing, leading to more leads.
Make sure you continuously monitor the reviews that are posted on Google Places as chances are that most people searching online for your business will find this listing before any other review site.
Monitor your brand online
It is important that you are consistently aware of what is being said about you online. Google Alerts (free service by Google) is one such tool that can give you daily updates on the information that is being published with your or your business name on the internet.
Make sure you create alerts with your exact business name and also mistypes or abbreviations and set up the alert frequency to daily alerts. This will keep you informed of any sites and listings that you are not aware of and give you an opportunity to respond quickly to any information that is published.
Respond to negative reviews
One bad review can have a big impact on your bottom line. It is important that you respond to any bad review in a sincere and apologetic manner. Make sure you engage the customer and avoid mud-slinging by all means. Remember, customers always perceive that they (as a group) are always correct and unless they haven’t witnessed the actual event where the customer was wrong, they will always blame the business. The best way to deal with any bad review is to apologise straight away and ask the customer for their contact details (if you don’t already have them) so that you can resolve their problem and correct the perceived poor experience. This will not only enhance your reputation online but chances are that the customer will start championing your business.
Set up online assets that you control
It is important that when customers search your name online, they are presented with positive content about your products and services. This doesn’t mean that you should go ahead and create fake reviews. In most countries this is now illegal and there have been extensively reported cases in the UK, USA and Australia where businesses have been penalised for creating misleading reviews.
Instead, create various blogs, articles, case studies and press releases talking about your products and services. The content should be focussed on educating your target audience about your products and/or services. Make sure that your company name is mentioned in the content a couple of times. Get your SEO team to market the content over the internet. Over time, this content should start showing up when someone types in your business name. The idea is to fill the first couple of pages with content that is generated by you. This would make it difficult for any negative press or articles about your business to show up on the first couple of pages of search engines.
You should also make sure that you secure your business name on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Also create a profile on about.me with your business name. These social sites tend to rank on search engines like Google & Bing very quickly, especially for the business name.
Buy your domain name
Make sure that you own the domain name related to your business and also buy all the extensions available in your country. It is easier to rank a website for your business name on Page 1 if it is hosted on a domain name associated with your business. This also ensures that your competitors or unhappy consumers cannot take ownership of any domain variation that is associated with your business name.
Tanuj Rastogi is the owner of Web Circle and is an online reputation management & online marketing expert. He has helped many Australian business drive new customers through enhanced reputation and modern marketing techniques.