| Jul 20, 2016 | | 13 min read

What is Online Reputation Management?


How did reputation management become online reputation management? In the good ol’ days, a business’s reputation used to be what they said about themselves in their advertising (and PR campaigns) and the limited reach their customers had via word of mouth. Now, in the digital age, consumers have power (if not, the power) with their feedback. Rather than the business, consumers are now the ones pushing out a company’s reputation and image collectively by providing real-time feedback online through review sites, social media, forums and other channels.

A business's reputation is now crowdsourced, just like many things on the internet. Basically, if it is an online source and a consumer can say something about a business on it, then it is a channel where a business’s reputation should be managed (if possible). Since it is a very broad and all-encompassing subject, online reputation management can be an overwhelming topic for many businesses. Understanding how to tackle and manage a business's online reputation, while concurrently running all other facets of their business can seem like a daunting task indeed.

Digital Marketing and Online Reputation Management for Businesses

This shift in how consumers provide feedback for companies has created a change in the nature of PR and marketing work to include the field of online reputation management. Online reputation management is a part of a greater digital marketing strategy that works alongside review management, business listings, landing pages, paid search/ads, social media management and SEO to help a business stay competitive and relevant online. While businesses should be managing each of these segments of digital marketing to maintain their online presence and (consequently) offline reputation, many small and medium-sized businesses are not. Why? Major factors regarding the hesitancy of small and medium-sized businesses to adopt digital marketing include the openness of a business to adopt digital marketing and the challenges businesses face with digital marketing.

Newer Businesses More Likely To Adopt Digital Media

The latest LSA SMB Outlook Report found businesses that have been around for a longer period of time are more likely to stick with traditional media. No surprise there, right? As far as human nature goes (you know, the whole creatures of habit thing), this insight isn’t all that shocking, as the majority of us go with what we know, and so do older businesses. Conversely, newer businesses are more likely to adopt digital marketing methods. Whether these traditional means of advertising are actually effective for the business, businesses with a longer tenure understand the traditional method of print, newspaper and radios, and are hesitant to shift their budgets into the “unknown” (aka the world of online marketing).

What’s the big deal with advertising online, anyways? Well, more and more people are connected online today than ever before. Digital media consumption is encroaching more and more in people’s lives. US adults spend five hours and 46 minutes per day with digital media, which includes all online, mobile and other non mobile connected device activities (eMarketer). Not only are consumers using the internet to just “surf the web,” they are looking for relevant consumer information.

The Importance of Local Search

In 2014, Google commissioned Ipsos MediaCT to research and gain insights into consumers’ local search behavior across smartphones and computers/tablets. The research found customers highly in favor of local search across multiple devices and at various stages of the buying process. Google’s study uncovered that customers search with their location and proximity in mind, local searchers take action, local searches lead to more purchases than non-local searches, and consumers prefer and act on location-based ads. Four in five consumers surveyed use search engines to find local information from multiple devices to find store address, business hours, product availability and directions (Google).

Aside from the fear of the unknown, businesses ready to adopt digital marketing find themselves facing some transitional or adoption challenges that include: not enough time (40%), not enough knowledge or expertise (37%), ad budget not large enough (33%) and not enough resources to hire dedicated personnel (21%) (LSA).

(For the digital agencies and local media companies reading this right now, take note: only 33% of businesses admit to not having enough budget for digital marketing, which doesn’t include the options of either providing solutions in the form of software as a service (SaaS) or performing their digital marketing activities for them through an agency approach).

Online Reputation Management: Businesses Have Options

Successfully managing a business’s online reputation takes a lot of time, as businesses must be consistently and constantly proactive in regards to reputation management. Why? Because a business’s reputation can be affected at any time on just about any source across the web. Businesses can use products (SaaS), services (outsource services) or people (outsource or hire a digital marketer) to cut down on their online reputation management time expenditure. Trying to find and track all of the places in which customers can be talking about (or trying to talk to) the business can be daunting and, frankly, inefficient. Even if a business tracks and constantly checks on social media, there may be sources that the business is unaware of such as a new review site from a listing that the business never knew that existed.

Whatever route a business decides to pursue, maintaining a business’s online presence is one of the most worthwhile services a digital agency or local media company can provide a business, and is one of the most worthwhile services a business can invest in. Businesses should weigh the pros and cons of conducting online reputation management in-house or outsourcing, but there are definite best practices when responding to reviews that businesses should be aware of. As previously mentioned, handling a response improperly can have negative impacts for a business, however, a business doesn’t necessarily need to respond to every single mention. It’s the knowledge of knowing what to do and when to do it that can make or break a business’s online reputation management strategy.

Why A Business’s Online Reputation (and Online Reputation Management) Matters

Why do we mention reviews so much when we are talking about online reputation management? Well, it’s because reviews and online reputation management go together like coffee and cream, pie and ice cream, french fries and gravy… you get the point. One alone is okay, but there’s a lot more relevancy (or it’s just better) when there’s both. That’s right you gravy haters, french fries just taste better when gravy is involved.

A business's online reputation needs to be backed by reviews and ratings by consumers. Without them, there would be no reputation to manage and quite frankly, it would appear as if no one ever visited the business. Customers are fickle creatures and do not want to go into a ghost-town of a store or restaurant, they will think there is a reason why it is empty and no one is going in there. Don’t tell me that thought has never crossed your mind!

Ready or Not, Consumers Are Talking About Your Business (and What They See Matters)

Whether a business chooses to manage their reputation online or not, consumers are talking about their favorite and not-so-favorite businesses. In fact, some consumers talk about businesses just to have something to talk (or post) about. Have you ever seen people tag themselves on social media at a location with no real story to tell besides stating the fact that they were at that location? While sometimes pleading ignorance can get us by in life, ignorance in the form of online reputation management is not one of those things. In fact, if a business simply ignores their reputation online, the consequences can be detrimental. There have been cases where businesses have had to close up shop because of their negative reputation (and therefore lack of online reputation management strategy). Unmanaged negative responses can create an angry group mentality and bad word of mouth really does spread like wildfire

Put Yourself In Your Consumers Shoes

Have you ever tried contacting a business and felt like you weren’t being heard with your complaint (or even praise)? With more and more companies creating profiles on social media sites (or other channels), and other businesses responding to those consumers, being responded to online and feeling like you have been heard is now the norm. While a business may not realize how exactly one instance can affect their online reputation, it is possible that only one negative post on a highly ranked site can actually be what shows up near the top of a search results page when a consumer searches for that business’s name. Yikes.

The Paradox of Choice in Online Reputation Management

Can you imagine searching for a coffee shop and instead of seeing a listing of the site appear, an unmanaged Facebook profile appears with a poor review by a customer? Or even several negative reviews with no response by the company? Yuck, that would be enough to leave a bad taste in some consumers mouths for sure. As a colleague cleverly stated in a previous post about the paradox of choice in regards to reputation management:

“What we as consumers are doing now when we search online is outsourcing the due diligence of research to other people that have experienced the service of the business we are searching for. Their honesty speaks more volume than any secondary research someone could ever find, and it is more effective than any ad a company can pay for.”

These words could not sum up the process of searching reviews and looking for a business online better. It does seem rather strange that we trust a complete stranger if the pasta at a restaurant was good or not, but we just do. Think of it as the newer version of a stranger at a restaurant telling you to get the steak and that the steak is delicious. We trust the taste buds of a stranger (that could have a different palette) that the food is good. It’s the process of outsourcing our online research and the honesty of a stranger that we believe their word.

Offer the Best Customer Experience Possible

In our unmanaged Facebook review scenario, if a business had an unmanaged Facebook profile or unclaimed Facebook profile for that matter, and consumers were posting negative reviews, how likely would you be to visit that business? On the other hand, if you were to visit that same business’s Facebook profile and they had responded to those negative reviews and apologized with a reason, would you be more apt to give that business a chance?

Maybe that coffee shop’s regular coffee supply ran out and they had to offer a substitute of a lesser taste quality. Let’s say they admitted they made a mistake by using this substitute and will have their regular coffee back in a few days. It’s hard to say the circumstances as to why a business fell short or a customer felt like they could’ve had a better experience, but the fact is that the game has changed and businesses with better customer experiences will continue to have and keep customers, while businesses that don’t make the grade will not.

Consumers Control the Conversation and Everyone's Feedback Matters

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Foursquare have dramatically changed the way businesses communicate. A business’s reputation is both what they say about themselves, and what their customers say about them. Companies with successful social media management practices do not just manage their reputation, but use it to create brand equity as well as personify their brand to continue to fuel more brand equity with consumers. Social media is a two-way conversation — businesses can no longer broadcast the message they want people to see. There is a democratic nature to social, with brands, consumers and everyone having an equal voice in a shared space. Customers can rave about a business or let everyone know they had a terrible experience. Earned media—like mentions, reviews and shares—has empowered consumers to advocate for brands they care about. Today, consumers can converse with brands and vice versa as if they were talking to a friend.

Though some people think of online reputation management as a scary chore or a daunting task, instant feedback is something most business owners are constantly searching for (remember, businesses that are ghost-towns scare people away). Responding effectively to negative reviews and amplifying positive feedback is essential for success. Not responding to customers on review sites and social media is worse than having a phone line you never answer, because there are thousands of people witnessing your neglect in a very public forum. How many times have you tried contacting a business to discuss an issue but they never seem to answer? And how angry were you that you could never reach them? While some may argue that posting on a social media site is different from picking up a phone, more and more people (especially younger generations) use social media as a form of near-instant communication.

While review sites and social media are essential parts of managing a successful online reputation, monitoring a business’s digital profile is about much more than responding to reviews and social media. It’s about being proactive and creating an online image with the help of customers to get customers to keep coming back to your business (and attract new customers as well).

Reputation Drives Conversion

What people see online, matters. Approximately 74% of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations—this is a huge shift in thinking that has become more prominent as time goes on (Search Engine Land). This trust in reviews translates to dollars, as customers put their money where their trust is. A Harvard Business School study found that a restaurant that sees a one star increase on Yelp will see revenues increase anywhere from five to nine per cent.

As discussed before, many businesses find that cultivating their digital profile on their own is too time consuming. There are reputation monitoring tools that make keeping up with customers way easier, saving time and money. Whatever a business does, it is essential that the business is not (or perceived not to be) ignoring their customers on the platforms they use. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Really, ignoring a business's social reputation is the same as turning the radio up when hearing a noise coming from your engine: the longer you ignore it, the worse and more expensive it gets (and by expensive I mean lost sales). Customer experience is marketing. It is essential you help your clients realize the importance of their online reputation, understand where it currently is sitting, and help them maintain their online reputation and build their online presence.

What Makes a Good Online Reputation?

Okay we lied, about just the fries and gravy thing, it’s more like fries and gravy and cheese curds. Being present (listed online) and having a good reputation (reviews and online reputation management) go hand in hand... er in a bowl. For a business, not being listed on a reference site customers use is just as bad as having bad reviews on that site. In an effort to gauge how being listed online affects brand reputation, Placeable surveyed a sample of over 1,000 U.S. consumers and marketers. A harsh reality for business owners was uncovered as well as the large negative impact of incorrect business listings :

  • 73% of consumers lose trust in a brand when the online listing shows incorrect information
  • 67% of consumers lose trust in a brand if they get lost driving or walking to a location because of an incorrect business listing
  • Nearly one third of consumers blame the brand when there’s incorrect information on third party sites and directories such as Yellow Pages and Yelp

A business's information may be listed online even though the business may not have created or claimed their listing. How can that be, you ask? Well, this is due to the nature of the local data ecosystem. It could be incorrect information and a customer could then try to visit the business, blame the business for the incorrect information and then leave a negative review about the business on that listing site. Other consumers could read that review and perceive the company in a negative light. In the meantime, the business has no idea what is going on. Why? Because they didn’t manage their listings online to know that the listing information was incorrect.

What Can A Business Do to Increase Their Online Reputation?

When many of a business’s online profiles have user generated content like reviews, their reputation drives tangible results. Businesses need to maximize visibility and reputation simultaneously to help your local business clients stay on target with their online reputation management efforts. Building a consistent online presence and a positive reputation is important for both consumers and search engines. Some of the most important aspects of the online footprint include:

  • Number of business listings
  • Consistency of business listing information (name, address, phone)
  • Overall sentiment in reviews
  • Frequency or current velocity of new reviews
  • Overall volume of reviews
  • Social activity and engagement (especially with reviewers)

Nowadays, people trust traditional advertising far less than social recommendations and review sites. Advertising sure has come a long way. Things have certainly changed in the advertising world (as much as advertisers wish we were still in the days of Mad Men). If you are a nostalgic advertising, marketing and history buff, I encourage you to watch a few episodes. Customers view social recommendations and reviews as more genuine and authentic. Now, customers expect reviews to be a mirror of the actual customer experience that they would too experience themselves. This means that maintaining a business’s online reputation is becoming more important. Each and every customer review is a perceived snippet of what potential customers expects to experience.

Online Reputation Management: The Main Sell

Nearly two thirds of Americans are smartphone owners (Pew Internet), and nearly 95% of these smartphone users have looked for local information online (Search Engine Land). Google has reported that 9 out of 10 of those searches lead to action, and more than 50% lead to sales. (We could do the math on those stats combined to try and give you a number of how many searches lead to sales, but you get the point.)

Much of the time, a customer decides to purchase before even entering the store. If businesses have a good web presence, customers will come to them rather than the competitor. Once they’re in the store, 79% use their smartphones inside to look at reviews, compare prices and compare other metrics, and 74% of them end up making a purchase (Search Engine Land). The opportunity is clear: online reputation management is essential practice for your local business clients to get consumers in their door and let them make the sale. If you like infographics and want to see more numbers, we have a great infographic on online reputation management, reviews, and social media to dazzle you with.

About the Author

Heidi Abramyk is what some would call a content-a-holic. She is among the select breed that finds the subject of local SEO and business listing citations absolutely fascinating. Heidi enjoys words (especially the best ones), designing (in every form but hand drawing) and formulating content strategies to take over the digital marketing world.

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