The Internet has proved to be a driving force behind economic globalisation, and has quickly become an indispensable tool for businesses all over the world. Most notably, it’s given small businesses the ability to directly connect with target markets and to compete with much larger competitors by effectively democratising mass communication.
Unfortunately, this unfiltered, fast-paced communication environment tends to amplify the most sensational and exciting bits of information, rather than the most relevant or truthful. Because of this, businesses need to get a head start on their reputation management if they want to control the narrative about themselves online. If you’re not careful, a single customer’s bad experience can cause serious long-term damage to your brand. No business is perfect, which means that, sooner or later, everyone will need to deal with an issue like this. To keep your business’ reputation intact, you’ll need to take steps to shape your brand’s image online.
1. Be accessible
Dissatisfied people don’t generally go through the trouble of voicing their grievances where no one relevant will hear about it. They want you to know if they had a bad experience, and they want your future customers to know as well. That’s a good thing, because it means you can influence where negative reviews and complaints will be posted. Become active on review sites like Yelp, and build and maintain social media accounts that are appropriate for your industry.
If you provide a clear platform on which they can engage with you and your market, an unhappy customer who wants to take their dissatisfaction to the web will likely use it. This means that you’ll likely be the first to become aware of the issue, giving you the opportunity to do something about it right away.
2. Get involved in any conversation about you
It’s never a good idea to ignore a negative review or a complaint. If something shows up on your radar, you should get involved immediately. If you aren’t aware of the issue that’s being discussed, publicly acknowledge that you’re aware of their concerns, and that you’re investigating it for them. This makes it clear that you take customer experiences seriously, and protects your brand from being viewed as a monolithic, abstract, and faceless entity.
Talking to customers directly, engaging publicly when appropriate, and generally just representing your business in a professional manner online is critical. Irrespective of exactly what you say, your presence and direct engagement alone humanises you to your audience, and puts the issue into a broader context. Additionally, it gives you the opportunity to show your audience how you deal with service issues, and can possibly even be turned around to reflect positively on your brand.
3. Promote positive customer experiences
Satisfied customers are far less likely to talk about their experiences online than people who had a bad experience. In order to keep dialogue about your business representative of people’s real experiences, you’ll need go out of your way to encourage happy customers to engage. A good way to do this is by soliciting reviews from past customers, working to drive engagement through events and promotional activities on social media, and by simply being active and communicating with people about your business online.
4. Don’t neglect internal branding
Branding isn’t just about lead generation and driving sales. Your business’ public image also affects your ability to recruit quality employees and the morale of your current workforce. Establish a presence on employer review sites like Glassdoor, and use these to help gather feedback about your company culture and work environment from past and current employees.
Just as with customer reviews, it’s also important to respond and engage with negative voices from within your organisation, even those of toxic employees. This makes you a part of the conversation, and shows that you’re interested in making sure that your business is a good place to work. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to give potential employees a clear view of exactly how you deal with situations like these. This is important, because, even if your industry isn’t dealing with a labour shortage, a reputation for a toxic work environment will deter the best employees: those with plenty of employment options.
Taking the time to get proactive about reputation management for your brand can make a big difference. By promoting productive discourse, addressing the concerns of people who’ve had negative experiences with your brand, and amplifying the voices of satisfied customers and fans, you can establish a solid and resilient reputation for your business on the web. Not only can this serve to protect your from negative attention, it also works to build your presence, and enhances your ability to generate leads and grow your business.