In the old world (you know, before 2000), reputation was generally spread by word of mouth and in print – magazines, guidebooks etc. Today, reputations are a matter of public record. And they are easy to research. A bad reputation could hurt sales, and possibly destroy your business.
There are many online channels for customers to share their experiences, a lot are vertical specific. Here are a few popular ones:
Social Media Sites – every social site can make or break your reputation since the public can basically say whatever it wants. Social sites are also building functions specifically for spreading opinions. For instance, LinkedIn now has the popular endorsement feature which allows people to vouch for the skills of others. This could be very helpful when people are seeking out new vendors. If someone is looking for an injection molder with excellent in-house engineering capabilities, and you have a high endorsement rating – that could help land new customers looking for that specialty.
Yelp! – a user review site primarily for B2C/retail companies such as the local restaurant or auto mechanic. It draws over 70 million users a month!
Zagat – Google purchased this “power brand” last year “to bring the power of Google search and Google Maps to their products and users, and to bring their innovation, trust and wealth of experience to our users,” according to former “mastermind” Google exec and now Yahoo! “top dog”, Marissa Mayer.
Ripoffreport – another negative only based website where unhappy customers share their horror tales.
TripAdvisor – this one is for the travel industry. It’s a personal favorite of mine – a great place to read reviews about places to visit, stay and dine. (I know, it doesn’t have much to do with our industrial space, but you do escape every now again, yes?)
Why Should You Care?
Well, if someone went around town telling everyone that the local diner has, “roaches the size of rats, and rats the size of cats”, you probably wouldn’t eat there, right? However, if the word on the street was, “the portions are so huge that you always need a doggie bag, and the food is delicious and cheap”, you just found your new favorite eatery.
But there is much more to it than just buyer perception. With Google’s insatiable desire for quality experiences for its users, it will give preferential exposure to companies with better reputations. But how does it know? Very simple – by looking at the reviews and scores that you receive on the networks mentioned previously among others. Companies with better reputations are likely rank better and get more exposure, even they are paying for it via PPC/AdWords.
Protecting Your Rep
This is no easy task, since it’s hard to police everything anyone says about you online. But here are some things you can do:
Monitor your brand mentions, respond accordingly – you can do this through software or the help of an agency. If you happen to find a negative comment, write one to neutralize it. For instance, if a customer says “this company shipped the wrong parts to me”, you may respond, “We apologize for the inconvenience and did ship you the correct parts overnight the next day at our expense.” In this case, you take the focus away from the mistake, and on to HOW you dealt with it. Prospects walk away thinking, “Sure, we all screw up, but I like the way they handled that – good customer service.”
Secure your brand name in social sites and directories – this clever tactic helps push down any negative reviews about you – hopefully off of the first page should they come up in a brand name search. Don’t just register the name – fill out the basics too. Search engines are more likely to rank these pages higher if they have content.
Encouraging your happy customers to write legitimate positive reviews. Something I learned as a kid while working at a catering hall: “for every good party we do, we’ll book three in time. For every bad one, we’ll lose TEN!” Why? Simply because humans are unfortunately more likely to complain about bad experiences than they are to brag about delightful ones. Since folks would rather write negative ones, encourage legitimate positive ones to balance them out. No gushing here – just the facts.
Stuff the sites with fabricated reviews. “This was the best company that I ever dealt with and delivered their products on time, with superior quality and on budget!” Yeah. Right. People are much smarter than we think when it comes to reviews and can spot a fake a mile away.
Delete negative reviews. This will only force the enemy to come back stronger with more negative reviews. It’s best to neutralize them – again, the reader is likely to be more concerned with HOW you respond. However, if you have lots of negative reviews, and you can admit to yourself that they are true – you probably have much bigger problems to address than online reviews. Your customers are talking, you need to listen to them and change accordingly in this scenario. If you are that diner, it might be time to get an exterminator (organic, Mother Earth friendly, of course), change the name and get a new manager – then unfurl that “Under New Management” banner!
Get salty and argumentative – nobody wants to read cranky responses. Use your positive voice when responding to negative comments. This will go a long way.
Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
© 2012 Phil Paranicas