It’s better to take steps to build a better online reputation now instead of waiting for a crisis to blow up your business. Here’s how.
I’ve helped several brands with their online reputation management (ORM) during my digital marketing career.
Unfortunately, most of this work involved trying to help the brands recover from a crisis.
Even more unfortunate was that the damage to their reputations could have been greatly mitigated with some proactive effort.
What follows is a basic, three-pronged approach to a proactive ORM strategy.
1. Own your name
Often, what looks like a reputation problem is more of an SEO problem related to entity optimization. Because the search engines seek to understand brands as entities, it’s important to amplify the signals that help them know who you are and what you do.
For most businesses, using Organization schema is a significant first step in letting the search engines know who you are.
This simple tagging system hides in the source code of a page on your website and acts as a data feed to show information about your brand or business.
At a minimum, the following information should be tagged:
- Link to your logo.
- Links to official active social media sites (and to Wikipedia if you already have a page).
Another aspect is to claim your business name on major social media sites. Even if you don’t use a channel, it’s a good idea to grab your brand to keep someone else from trying to impersonate you.
If your brand is big enough, it would be beneficial to ensure your Wikipedia page is correct and up-to-date or, to have one created if there isn’t one already.
Directly making and editing pages by brand representatives is frowned upon and problematic, so hiring an agency specializing in this type of work would be best.
If you are part of a brand with well-known leaders, claiming domain names and social media sites under their names should also be considered.
Politicians, especially, seem to forget this step and often have to contend with parody and impersonator sites set up by their opponents.
Lastly, owning your main website’s .com, .net and .org versions is a great idea.
Global brands may wish to extend this to ccTLDs where the business operates or may operate in the future.
For even more insurance, it is helpful to buy domains with negative messaging like:
- ihatebrand.com or i-hate-brand.com
- boycottbrand.com or boycott-brand.com
You may think those last examples are a bit extreme, but I’ve seen brand detractors go to great lengths and spend much of their own money to set up hater websites on domains like these.
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2. Own your story
In SEO, we say, “content is king.” This concept is also true in ORM.
Owning your story often means creating content on your website that will potentially outrank any negative content that others may post online.
The more content you can rank in branded searches on owned and controlled channels like your website or social media accounts, the more you can push negative content off Page 1 of search results and out of view of most searchers.
As the old joke goes, the best place to hide a dead body is on Page 2 of Google search results because no one will find it there.
In extreme cases, it might become necessary to create content to hit on a specific topic around which a brand detractor has generated a lot of content.
When this happens, bringing in an ORM and SEO expert would be helpful if you don’t have that expertise in-house.
What looks entirely innocuous for the casual website visitor is a targeted volley against negative content. For example, don’t strike back directly if a hater created content around alleged food poisoning targets your restaurant.
Create content on your website highlighting the brand’s commitment to food safety and the number of passed inspections conducted by health officials.
3. Own your reviews
Some businesses revolve around reviews. For them, this can be life or death.
I’ve worked with many brands that had trouble recruiting. The reason? Too many negative reviews on Indeed and Glassdoor.
If you think your company doesn’t live and die by reviews, I recommend you take heed anyway.
One primary key to reviews is to respond to each one. Respond to positive reviews with a quick “thank you” and move on. Negative reviews take a bit more work.
Many negative reviews are the result of missed expectations. You can often diffuse the negativity of the review by how you respond. A simple apology, an offer to make things right, and an invitation to give you another chance can mitigate the hit of a negative review.
It’s important not to be too defensive or shift the blame for the problem back onto the complainant. This will nearly always backfire.
Hint: Don’t respond when you’re angry!
Some businesses, especially those in regulated industries, must be careful how they respond.
Thus, a response guide is critical to help everyone stay within guidelines while responding effectively to reviews. An invitation to contact a customer support rep via phone or secure message would be appropriate.
4. Prepare for a crisis
Another critical process in proactive ORM work is to prepare for a crisis before it begins.
Set up documented procedures to guide the entire company when a situation occurs. At a minimum, the plan should include:
- Who will monitor for potential crises?
- Who needs to be informed when one comes up?
- Who will do what during the crisis?
If you can also include potential scenarios that might come up, all the better.
The more you prepare, the easier it is to walk through a challenging time.
Already in a crisis? Please don’t panic
A vital part of any ORM strategy must include reviews of all content written about the brand. This information can be an invaluable part of a business.
Your customers are the best focus group you can get. They don’t have to pay for them to tell you about your business.
You can do this efficiently by setting up Google Alerts to notify you anytime your brand or key people are mentioned by name.
Taking criticism and plowing it back into product and service improvements can help ensure your reputation stays positive.
According to speaker and author Jay Baer, some brands even reward their detractors because of the valuable information they provide.
A great resource to help you get started in a proactive ORM program is Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation by Andy Beal. Considered by many to be the “godfather” of online reputation management, Beal’s book is filled with great information and helpful tips to get your business moving in the right direction.
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