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Building a reputation management action plan: 6 Easy steps

You’ve heard the statistics: 88 percent of customers trust reviews as much as their friends (Business2Community). Reputation can boost sales and increase a brand’s value (PRWeek). With online reputation management stats like that, it’s little wonder you’ve been hired to manage a brand’s online reputation. Now you need a reputation management plan to get started.

Now that you have a reputation management plan, grab our white-label reputation management sales playbook to guide your sales pitch and close more reputation management clients.

Why is reputation planning so important for business leaders? Over the past decade, online reputation management has expanded exponentially. There are so many new touch points, from review sites to business directories, to social media and beyond.

Without an actionable plan, reputation management can be overwhelming—even for seasoned professionals. A plan in hand makes it much easier to work toward your client’s goals.

Best of all? Creating an online reputation management plan can be simple. Just use this 6-step guide to get started.

Reputation 101: What is reputation management?

Before we dive into an action plan, it helps to have a quick refresher on reputation management. What is it, what does it look like, and why do your clients need it?

A brand’s reputation can make or break them in the digital marketplace. Reputation influences how people feel about a client’s brand. That, in turn, determines how they interact with the business—including whether they decide to buy from them or not.

Your client could have the best product on the market, but if they have a bad reputation, it won’t matter. The would-be customers will go elsewhere.

Reputation management refers to all of the actions agencies can take to improve their clients’ online reputations. If a client has a poor reputation, this could mean taking steps to turn public opinion around. If they have a good reputation, then you’ll want to work to keep that hard-earned recognition.

What types of reputation management are there?

If you read the definition of reputation management and asked, “Isn’t that PR?”, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Public relations is one type of reputation management.

Reputation management goes beyond sending out press releases or arranging photo ops, though. Reviews, for example, are another key pillar of reputation management. A strategy to get new reviews and respond to them is a big part of any reputation management action plan.

Social media monitoring is another type of reputation management. Managing listings in online directories and your SEO efforts can be part of an online reputation management action plan.

What is a reputation management action plan and why do you need one?

There are many different aspects of reputation planning in the digital world. Any one of these tasks can end up being a full-time job for your team. If you do review incentivization right, you should get lots of customer feedback. That also means you need to keep an eye on those reviews and respond to every last one of them.

Social media monitoring can also be time consuming. You might already know how much SEO demands from your team. And maintaining online directory listings can be an uphill battle.

It’s easy to see how reputation management can be overwhelming. Your team might feel like you’ve set them adrift in a sea of endless (and thankless) tasks.

That’s why an online reputation management plan is crucial to your success. Without one, your team can spend a lot of time on tasks that may not impact your client’s reputation at all.

An action plan makes it clear what your goals are and what steps you’re going to take to get there. Think of it as allowing you and your team to see the forest, instead of getting lost among the trees.

So, how do you create an actionable plan for managing a client’s online reputation?

Steps to take before you start reputation planning

You can’t craft a good reputation plan if you don’t know where you’re starting from. Your client might think they have a great reputation, but in reality you might have a lot more work to do than they realize.

That’s why your first step should always be to take stock where the client’s brand is. You’ll want to do two things:

  1. Audit the client’s online reputation
  2. Implement reputation monitoring

An audit needs to happen first. Without one, you don’t know where your client stands with customers or how they stack up against competitors.

You should also add reputation monitoring as soon as you can. An audit can tell you where your client’s reputation is right now. Monitoring can start feeding you data about how perceptions are changing over time.

Both data points are crucial as you set out to make a plan. Not knowing where your client stands could mean you tackle the wrong goals or indicators. You could create a plan to tackle problems that don’t exist—or one that ignores other problems.

Knowing how your client’s brand reputation is faring over time is also important. This can give you insights into what factors most affect their brand reputation. Has their reputation been getting worse, or is their star already on the rise? Knowing this could change the steps you add to a reputation management plan.

Once you have completed an audit and you’ve started monitoring, you can begin drafting your plan.

Step 1: Set goals for your online reputation management plan

Almost any action plan starts with goal setting.

Why?

It’s hard to outline a plan of action if you don’t know where you’re trying to go.

Reputation management is no different. You can write a plan with no goal. It will be hard to see if it’s actually having any impact in your client’s business.

What kind of goals should you set in your online reputation management action plan? You might want to consider one (or any combination) of the following:

  • Getting a set number of reviews in a certain time
  • Getting a percentage of customers to respond to a request for review
  • Improving your client’s rating on Google
  • Increasing accuracy of online directory listings
  • Improving search results
  • Increasing customer trust
  • Increasing positive comments about your client’s brand

These goals are specific and measurable. A goal like “improve client’s brand reputation” is too vague and much harder to measure. That can cause issues down the line (Corporate Finance Institute).

Set benchmarks

Once you’ve picked a goal or two, you’ll want to figure out how you’ll know if you’ve achieved the goal. What indicators will tell you if your action plan is working?

Benchmarks are also useful. Instead of waiting a year to see if your plan improved a client’s online reputation, you can use benchmarks to track progress.

Step 2: Prioritize certain online reputation management tasks in your action plan

Your next step is to determine which online reputation management tasks matter the most to your goals. If you’re trying to increase the number of reviews a client receives, then focusing on SEO might not be the best use of your resources.

For most brands, there are many important online reputation management (ORM) tasks to complete. You’ll have more than one task in your plan, so it helps to rank them. An easy way to divide tasks is to use the following four categories:

  • Quick wins: Easy tasks that have a noticeable impact
  • Big bets: Tasks that take more time but have a big pay-off
  • Fill-ins: Tasks that don’t make a huge splash, but they’re also easy to check off
  • Thankless tasks: The “grunt work," tasks that take a lot of time and have relatively little impact

An example of a “thankless” task is keeping online directory listings up to date. This is a big job. It requires some care, and it needs to be done on an ongoing basis. All that said, making sure your client’s information is accurate may not change their online reputation that much if you’re not also managing their reviews and brand mentions.

Something like a new review strategy can be a “big bet.” It might take time and effort to respond to reviews, but the pay-off is well worth it. Almost 50 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that takes time to respond to negative reviews, for example (PR Newswire).

Step 3: Create communication policies and response plans

Now it’s time to look at your communication policies. This includes your response plans.

Communication policies are a key part of reputation planning. They give your client, your team members, and anyone you’re working with a guide for:

  • Interacting with social media posts
  • Responding to customer comments
  • Asking for reviews and feedback
  • Responding to positive and negative reviews
  • Getting ahead of the conversation

If you don’t have a response plan, each team member might approach reputation management differently. One person might be too polite and give customers too much information. Another team member might respond to a customer’s bad attitude with their own.

A policy can help employees find the right tone. It can also give them guidance about when to offer solutions and what kind of solutions to offer. Finally, it also provides guidance on how soon they need to respond to customers. For guidance: The majority of customers expect a response within a week (Search Engine Journal).

Responding to positive reviews and comments

Guidelines are important when it comes to responding to positive reviews and comments. Your team should strive for a friendly—yet professional—tone. Someone who responds too casually might turn off customers.

Timing rules also apply here, as well as guidelines about when to offer information or how to approach it.

Responding to negative reviews

Most communication policies are aimed at responding to negative reviews. All too often, brands try to “fight fire with fire.” They’ll respond to criticism in a defensive manner and with negative comments of their own.

Neither of these approaches helps your client’s reputation. Instead, your team should strive to be friendly and professional at all times. Policies can guide employees on when to offer a solution, when to take a conversation private, and more.

Having these policies in place make your plan more actionable. If “reply to reviews” is the what of your plan, then a response plan is the how.

Step 4: Build on the positives

It can be easy to think of a reputation management action plan as a kind of “crisis management” blueprint. A solid online reputation management action plan will help manage crises, but that’s not its main purpose.

Remember when you did your reputation audit? Your key takeaways focused on the problems you want to fix, but you also noticed positive data points too.

Take the time in your action plan to focus on what’s “going right” with reputation management already. What is the client doing well? If they’re killing it in the reviews department, then try to capitalize on that momentum.

An example might be to use reviews to springboard a conversation on social media. Adding reviews to your client’s website can increase trust from consumers and search engines (Search Engine Land).

You can also think about why the client is getting so many reviews. How can you capitalize on this? Maybe you can ask some “superfans” to provide more feedback. Can you get them talking on other platforms to help spread the word? A review management service might be able to help.

Encourage more reviews

Getting reviews is often a struggle. Your happy customers outnumber the dissatisfied ones, but it's tough to get them to review.

In your action plan, take a look at both the client’s own review strategy and how their competitors are faring. If someone is getting a ton of reviews, think about how they’re encouraging that—and how you can adopt the strategy or technology that allows them to get more reviews.

Ask for customer feedback

If you’re getting negative reviews, it might be time to take it to the streets. Ask the client’s customers for feedback. Some people might not want to post a public review, but they will share insights with you.

This feedback can help you identify things your client does well—and where they can improve.

Actively manage your client’s profiles

If your client has online directory profiles, social media profiles, a Google Business Profile, or they are active on any other platform, it’s time to take charge.

If you don’t manage these profiles, then someone else might take the liberty of managing them for your client. This can lead to confusion among their customers, especially if there are duplicate profiles. Active management also keeps their information up to date across platforms. Finally, being active can encourage people to interact with the brand more often online.

Step 5: Monitor progress and adjust your online reputation management plan as needed

You’re already monitoring your client’s reputation, and you should keep collecting data as you put your plan into action. Use the benchmarks you identified in Step 1 to help you track your progress toward your client’s goals.

Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan if you’re falling short of your benchmarks. A small tweak could go a long way to improving your client’s reputation and meeting their goals.

Step 6: Keep improving your action plan

Finally, don’t think of your plan as a “set it and forget it” type of document. Much as you should keep adjusting it, you can keep improving it as well.

Learn about new tactics and strategies

New tactics and strategies emerge as platforms shift their algorithms, new technology arises, and consumer demands change. This can fuel the rise of “bad” tactics, some of which can help in the short term (HBR). You’ll want to learn about which tactics to adopt and which to avoid.

Staying up to date on this front will help you ensure your plan is always effective for your clients.

Keep an eye on competitors

A little bit of research goes a long way. Keep an eye on your client’s competitors, and make note of where they’re finding wins in the reputation game. Are there strategies they’re using that you could adopt?

Keeping an eye on competitors’ reputations can also help you understand what makes the client’s brand unique. From there, you can build their reputation to appeal to their customers.

Bonus: Use reputation management tools to jumpstart your plan

A plan is only as good as the people executing it. Your team is great, but they need the right reputation management software to help them manage ORM activities effectively. The good news is there are great tools out there to help you with every aspect of managing your client’s reputation.

Summing up: An actionable plan for managing online reputation

Reputation management can feel overwhelming, which is why a plan is crucial. With a plan in hand, you’re in a better position to tackle even the most arduous of ORM tasks and make an impact on your client’s brand.

Frequently asked questions

What is a reputation management plan?

A reputation management plan is a strategy that outlines your reputation management goals and the steps to reach them. It usually includes reputation monitoring and benchmarks for marking progress.

How do you write a reputation management plan?

Write a plan by outlining the 6 key steps:

  1. Goals
  2. Tasks (ranked by priority)
  3. Communication policies and response plans
  4. Positives and how to build on them
  5. Monitoring
  6. Plan improvement

These steps will enable you to determine what you want to achieve and break down the steps to take to get there.

About the Author

Solange Messier is the Content Strategy Manager at Vendasta. Solange has spent the majority of her career in content marketing helping companies improve how they connect with their prospects and customers. Her diverse background includes magazine publishing, book publishing, marketing agencies, payment processing, and tech. When she's not working, Solange can be found spending time with her family, running, and volunteering.

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