A customer in your restaurant complains that his meal is undercooked. As the owner, you rush immediately to his table, apologize for the issue, provide a new meal, and comp his entire party’s check.
Maybe…and maybe not.
In the digital age, our online reputations can make or break a business, and you now have to contend with the fact that the unhappy customer—although you made every effort to appease him—could still feel compelled to start a smear campaign on social media, with a digital tirade toward “the restaurant that nearly killed me!”
Managing our business reputations online is tricky business indeed. We have not only customer perceptions and opinions to consider, but internal employee (and stakeholder) perceptions and opinions to consider as well. A business’s online presence has to be carefully managed, day in and day out, to ensure its long-term success and viability. Defining your brand via an “online personality” can go a long way toward customer loyalty and retention.
Make a Tracking Plan
To manage your reputation effectively, you must first ensure you are actively monitoring any online activity related to your business. There are a wide variety of sites (some free) dedicated to searching content and reviews that mention your business: take advantage of these to stay abreast of what customers are saying about your brand. The Go Fish Digital Complaint Search, for example, allows users to search more than 40 review websites at once.
As part of your online reputation management services, it’s not enough to occasionally Google (or use a similar search engine) your company name and skim through some reviews—both positive reviews and negative reviews. These online reviews must be measured and monitored in a systematic way to ensure you are not missing important trends (especially negative ones) in your customer feedback and online reputation. Spotting positive trends can also inform your decisions about prioritizing brand initiatives that matter to your customers.
Keep it Classy…and Keep it Honest
Your online presence is a reflection of your business values, and engaging in petty arguments or using inflammatory language in any online setting must be avoided—at all costs.
The digital world is rife with trolls and a quick read of any comments section in a media outlet site proves there are always people looking to pick a fight. Businesses are not immune to this, no matter how well they treat customers, and you may find yourself faced with a barrage of negative comments over one unfortunate incident with a defective product, a rogue employee or some other “one-off” occurrence.
If you find yourself reading angry comments online, avoid responding with an angry tone. Keep it professional, genuine, and positive (even when it feels as futile as arguing the merits of bedtime with a toddler). Other customers will see how you have responded and this will shape their opinion of your brand.
Keeping it honest is equally important; you should aim for transparency in your online commentary and avoid language that feels disingenuous. Own up to mistakes if you have made them, and tell customers what you are doing to correct them. Resist the urge to create any fake reviews or online commentary because customers can see right through them. (The same applies to sites geared toward potential employees. Generating fake employee reviews to try to position your company in a positive light can really backfire. Savvy job hunters are able to sniff out this kind of review from a mile away.)
Timing Is Everything
Responding to online complaints and reviews in a timely manner is also critical to your brand reputation. Allowing negative commentary to fester without reply will reflect poorly on your business’s customer service. Make it a point to respond promptly and take quick action where necessary to resolve the issue (offer a replacement product, a free service, etc). Use sincere and apologetic language, and you may not only win back the customer’s loyalty but increase your brand reputation with other potential customers as well.
Your plan for measuring online activity should also include a backup plan; the marketing director’s two-week vacation to Bali is no excuse for online commentary to be left without reply. Ensure several individuals in your organization are able to assist when needed. (And they are clear on your company’s direction for online brand management) It should be noted that while responding quickly is critical, you should also aim for a quality response. A rushed response with even a tiny typographical error is food for the trolls…don’t give them any added ammunition to make disparaging remarks about your brand!
Keep it Consistent
All of your online activity—from your business website to social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—should have a consistent voice and feel. Ideally, the entire range of your online presence will be managed by one person (or a small team of people) so that the result is consistent content across all channels. This serves to solidify your brand identity among customers who may follow you in various channels. Your brand shouldn’t appear to be managed by a left and right hand who do not speak to one another. Consistency is key!
Businesses with the strongest online reputations tend to be the ones that remember to have a little fun as well—whether poking gentle fun at competitors (or themselves), creating entertaining content for their customers or just showing a sense of humor (and humility). Your online presence should appeal to customers in a natural and genuine way and the ability to inject humor into even difficult situations can put people at ease. Your digital footprint needs to reflect the human element of your business: consider every interaction online in the same way you would a face-to-face exchange with a customer. And above all else, practice the golden rule in these exchanges!