The Internet has the potential to make or break your online brand. With the advent of social media, it has become even more easy to build (or destroy) your reputation. That’s the reason online reputation management has evolved to become a specialized service.
Your reputation on the Internet can be subject to a lot of volatility. Do something awesome, and you’re liable to get liked, shared, and followed by a huge number of loyal fans overnight. But if you do something off-putting … BOOM! Down goes your carefully constructed professional image.
If you think your online reputation is doing all right, you might be correct. But you might not. While you may be seeing positive reviews about yourself or your business, you need to really “listen” beyond “what you can hear” because the Internet is populated by all sorts of noises.
Someone could have posted defaming statements against you somewhere. There might be negative posts on certain social media about your operation. While you only checked out the first page or two of Google search results for anything about your business, the pages further down might be sprinkled with content that could prove damaging to your reputation, both on and off-line.
The key to keeping your Internet reputation sparkling clean is to pay close attention to what people say about you.
Paying close attention should be something you do concurrently with your efforts to fill the search engines and social media venues with positive information about your activities. Your success online rests on how well you optimize your site for the key terms that you would like your business to dominate.
However, it’s equally crucial to address any questionable issues that might be raised about your business — and you must address them quickly.
How do you set out to listen in on what people are saying about your business?
As e-Commerce evolves at dizzying speed, it spins off new acronyms and even new fields at an amazing rate. A new subdivision of Public Relations, largely the offspring of SEO, is the field of reputation management. This new type of public relations activity addresses the matter of negative search engine results, which can be devastating to e-Commerce success.
Many sites ask for feedback in the increasingly interactive arena of cyberspace, and of course feedback can be positive or negative. Any e-Commerce vendor wants to publicize its positive feedback and hush up negative responses. E-Commerce sellers thrive or wither on the basis of customer feedback after purchases.
Your first step is to correct the problem that the bad review is complaining about. This is just common sense and applies to a brick and mortar business just as much as to an e-Seller. If you can turn a dissatisfied customer into a happy one, he or she may remove the negative feedback item, and perhaps even submit a new review gushing over your responsiveness to feedback. If posted information is simply incorrect, it may be sufficient to point that out, and the slur may be removed. Legal challenges of libelous sites are even a possibility.
Another corrective measure might be garnering positive references on authoritative third party sites. Press releases are a time-honored tool of public relations, and they can be used in this way. Like any other tool of public relations, reputation management can involve abuse. Sellers have been known to offer discounts as rewards for positive reviews.
John Morgan of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, with his colleague Jennifer Brown of the same university’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, studied feedback processes in connection with selling activity on the best-known site for e-Sellers, and found that positive feedback was being bought and sold through discounting practices. Items were being sold for as little as a penny, simply in order to generate a positive feedback blip, thus raising the positive feedback percentage, a crucial matter for an e-Seller.
Fake reviews and even fake bloggers, talking up a product or service, are sometimes employed. Of course the ethical boundaries are very fuzzy here. Just what constitutes a “fake” blog? Not every hired blogger is misrepresenting the truth, but some are.
The new term for this type of activity is “astroturfing,” taking its cue from the way astroturf masquerades as real grass. An astroturfing site strives to hide its connections to the individuals that produce it, and particularly to hide its basis of financial support. Astroturfing can be used by competitive rivals who upload fake reviews trashing other suppliers in the same field.
Strong-arm techniques are not unheard of. A spam bot can harass a site so seriously that it has to leave the web entirely, or submit to demands to remove content.
After all, what’s the best solution for the small time e-Commerce entrepreneur, who may not want to pay top dollar for a Reputation Management concern? Here are some possibilities that can be part of a do-it-yourself portfolio:
With a combination of the new techniques of Reputation Management, used ethically, and the time-honored techniques of garden variety public relations, you can keep your e-Commerce entity in the clear with a good online profile and healthy search results.
Google Alerts. Google Alerts is a marvelous online tool that enables you to zero in on any topic or news area you want. It’s highly customizable, so you can set an alert for any topic that interests you, including yourself or your company.
The alerts are sent to your email at whatever frequency you prefer. One of the great things about Google Alerts is that you receive alerts on the freshest news or commentaries that are published on whatever topic(s) you register to be alerted on.
Social media tools. These days, it’s impossible to ignore the enormous opportunities that social media has to offer. It has served as a medium for businesses to promote their products and services, and customers are largely choosing it as their most preferred tool for airing their complaints.
You can program Twitter and Facebook, two of today’s leading social tools, to track mentions about your business. You can also use these sites to track mentions about your competitors and study what the public is saying about them.
By using social media to track mentions of your business, you can respond to consumer concerns immediately, show your appreciation for any positive comments, and defuse threatening discussions that could potentially destroy your reputation.
When you’re proactive in this way, and you maintain a high profile across the web, this shows potential customers that you stay fully aware of any issues relating to your business, and that you are always ready to resolve them with people in a quick and timely manner.
Make the most of the tools available to you on the Internet for proper online reputation management. They are at your disposal so you can pay close attention to what people are saying about you and your business, and most of them are free to use.
Employ them to your advantage before the damage gets too costly to handle … or recover from.