High Stakes: Reputation Management in the Digital Age

Every business’s customers live online 24/7 – and so do brands’ online reputations. So how can companies protect and fortify their online reputations in this challenging non-stop digital environment?

Online reputation management should be part of an overall digital strategy that encompasses social media, online reviews, content, search engine optimization and earned media. Ensuring that all these factors work in concert and tie back to an overarching digital strategy will make your online reputation easier to manage successfully; collectively they are powerful and actually reinforce each other.

Digital Strategy

Before an organization embarks on improving its online reputation, it should stop and make sure its overall digital strategy is carefully planned and documented. This strategy should include:

  • Website
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Crisis Response Plan

Website

Arguably the most important factor in online reputation is your website. Your reputation will suffer right out of the gate if it isn’t as easy as possible for visitors to accomplish their online objectives (which may be to find directions to the business, to make an appointment, to buy a product, to reserve a room, or something else).

Many digital marketing initiatives – including reputation management – fail because the website has not been designed with the user experience in mind. This is especially true of sites that are not easily viewable and usable on mobile devices. All websites today should be built with responsive design so that they render equally well on mobile, tablet or desktop. A poor user experience on a website will damage perception of a brand.

A corporate website should also reflect the organization’s brand persona. This means that the personality and corporate values of the brand should permeate every part of the website. The messaging, imagery and content of the site should all authentically reinforce this and lay the foundation for digital reputation reinforcement.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

For most corporate websites, organic search (usually through Google) is the first way people encounter a brand online. So a careful audit of what shows up on the first page of Google search results is an important first step in evaluating online reputation.

It’s also essential to keep up with the latest changes in SEO strategy. Recent changes to Google’s algorithm suggest that the best strategy is to create quality content that is useful to your users and to focus on their intent. One can match a user’s intent by offering webpages that meet their desire to do something, know something, or go somewhere. By matching the users’ intent with the most relevant search results, businesses can enhance their online presence through rewarding and satisfying customer experiences.

Self-generated content, which can take the form of videos, podcasts, blogs, white papers or webpages, can also show up near the top of organic search. Creating on-brand content that is easily indexed and found by Google represents another important way to take charge of a business’ online reputation.

In addition to relevant web pages, search queries often display online reviews. While it’s difficult (not to mention unethical) to suppress or remove poor online reviews, companies can enlist happy customers and employees to leave positive reviews to mitigate damage done by negative ones. But monitoring and reacting to online reviews is a key first step in this process.

Online reputation is also determined by news stories featuring your company, which frequently rank high in Google search results. A damaging news story can easily be among the first items returned by Google. That’s why having an effective, proactive public relations strategy is a critical component in protecting and enhancing online reputation.

Social Media

Selecting the proper social media channels for a business is important, and it’s vital to determine how the organization wants to use each online outlet. How carefully a company monitors and responds to customer feedback on its social media platforms can significantly impact online reputation.

The first benefit of social media is its use as an unfiltered way to tell your brand’s story. Tying social media messaging to a brand persona will make clear to all its followers and fans how a business wants to be perceived online.

In addition, social media has “sparked a culture of calling out businesses… Situations involving bad customer service and rude employees no longer take place in isolation. The prevalence of social media now ensures that every unhelpful, insensitive or downright inappropriate interaction has the potential to go viral for the world to see.”

But rather than perceive this as a risk, companies aware of their online reputation should view this development as an opportunity to improve consumers’ perception of your brand. That means actively monitoring and responding to customer complaints should be part of every organization’s social media strategy; because almost all online complainers just want to be heard.

And if they feel acknowledged, there is tremendous upside for your brand. According to Sprout Social, “[W]hen asked what it would take for people to buy from a brand once they’ve seen them called out or read a negative review on social, 44% of people said that a great response would do the trick and 42% said other, positive reviews could rectify the situation… Consumers want to see brands assume responsibility, speak directly to their customers and apologize when necessary.”

Crisis Response Plan

Similarly, social media can also serve as an early warning system for threats to online reputation. A social media monitoring tool, such as Nuvi, can help identify situations that could metastasize into full-blown media crises and position companies to quickly contain or even solve the problem.

If a threat develops despite the best social media efforts to identify and contain it, a legitimate crisis may result. But, rather than just issue news releases or try to bury it online, social media can serve as an effective channel for responding to the crisis. Amazingly, social media can, if handled properly, serve as a calming influence.

Facebook, Twitter and other platforms also provide instant feedback during a crisis, allowing companies to identify and correct misinformation or clarify messaging that does not appear to resonate. In short, crisis management can be made easier by employing social media properly.

Expectation vs. Performance

All of the following components for an online reputation management strategy will not work, however, unless the underlying brand is sound. That means if the expectations consumers or journalists have of the brand do not match its actual performance, then no amount of website content, social media chatter or crisis communication will counteract that disconnect.

Online reputation management should focus on ensuring that your brand is accurately represented wherever customers (and potential customers) are online. To learn more about online reputation management strategy and how to incorporate digital best practices into your business, contact us today.