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Your quick guide to online reputation management

By Alexandra Gavril - July 19, 2017

When your potential customers are searching for your business online, what do they see? Is a hate site the number two listing on Google for your business name? Or is a bad review from a customer telling the story of how you do(n’t do) business?

We can only imagine how unsettling it can be to wake up one day and see defamatory remarks appearing online about your business. Even worse, those negative reviews usually appear on sites that rank high in search engines, so anyone doing a search on your business will probably see them. Whether the comments are true or false, they can jeopardise your brand’s online reputation.

The results of a negative online reputation can be as subtle as a potential customer clicking on a competitor’s search result instead of yours, and as obvious as having your brand’s credibility called into question, which can both cripple your business.

So what can you do? In this post we’ll explain how you can deal with bad reviews, attack sites and social media complaints that can affect your online reputation and prevent potential customers from choosing to do business with you.

Bad reviews

There’s no way around it: bad reviews happen, no matter the size of a business. While years ago, you may have gotten an angry letter or a call, review sites like Yelp and Trustpilot have changed the business landscape forever. Now an unhappy customer has the power to create a wave of distrust with only a few well-placed reviews.

But it’s not just that negative reviews can affect your credibility and sales. As a small business, you work hard to ensure your customers are happy, so the idea that some are so upset that they choose to speak out to the world about it can be painful to deal with.

Read on to learn how to find the review sites where your customers might be sharing negative feedback and how to best deal with it.

How to find review sites

The easiest way to find the review sites where your customers are talking about your business is to run a search on Google using the keywords “your business name reviews”.

Here’s an example:

review sites

Go through the results pages to see what people are saying about your business and which review sites they’re using to share their thoughts on their experience with you.

You can also include words like “scam”, “bad” or “unhappy” with your search to see what shows up.

You can also go directly onto major review sites like Yelp, Foursquare, Yahoo! Local, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor and Trustpilot to see if there are any bad mentions of your business.

How to respond to bad reviews

When receiving a negative review many businesses prefer to take the easy (and terrible) approach of getting the review removed so other users don’t see it. But here’s the thing: the problem isn’t the bad review but whatever happened between your customer and your business that resulted in that bad review. Your job now is to focus on the problem and find ways to make things right.

But there are businesses that are more concerned with being right than with making things right.

Here are the WRONG ways to respond to bad reviews:

  • Getting defensive and listing all of the reasons why the upset customer is wrong.
  • Not responding publicly
  • Taking too long to respond
  • Using an automated reply for all negative reviews
  • Insulting the customer and telling them to go elsewhere
  • Getting into an argument over who is right. This will make you come across as petty, harsh and unprofessional.

And here are the RIGHT ways to respond to bad reviews:

There’s this fantastic and highly-effective technique pioneered by the Walt Disney Company that you can successfully use when dealing with bad reviews.

  • Hear: Allow the customer to tell you their entire story without interruption. Sometimes, we just want someone to listen.
  • Empathise: Use phrases like “Your reactions are completely normal…” or “I’d be frustrated, too” to convey that you understand how the customer feels.
  • Apologise: Sometimes, this is all the customer is looking for – a sincere apology. Even if you didn’t do whatever the customer says you did, you can still apologise for the way your customer feels. Use phrases like “I’m always sorry when a customer feels upset”.
  • Resolve: Resolve the issue quickly and don’t be afraid to ask the customer what you can do to make things right.
  • Diagnose: Figure out why the mistake occurred and avoid blaming anyone or pointing fingers at your employees or other people. Instead, focus your energy into fixing whatever it is that went wrong so it won’t happen again.

The reality is that you can do everything right and still receive a negative review. But instead of trying to remove or to amend bad reviews, why not drown them out?

This means focusing on getting more positive reviews. After all, every positive review takes the sting out of a negative one that you have. Think about it: ten positive reviews and one negative review might a customer pause; but 100 positive reviews and ten negative reviews isn’t such a big deal. Read our post to learn more about the importance of customer reviews and how to get more positive reviews for your business.

And here’s another thing to consider: online reviews shouldn’t be your only method for receiving customer feedback. Take a few minutes to follow up by phone or email after closing a sale. This can help head off unflattering reviews and provide an opportunity to satisfy frustrated customers before their feedback goes public.

Attack sites

Attack sites are sites created to attack a particular brand. For example, paypalsucks.com and verizonpathetic.com are just two sites created by angry customers:

verizon attack site

As a small business, a lack of proactive reputation management can leave you in the position of a sitting duck. With little more than a website to represent you online, you’re in a precarious position if anyone – whether an angry customer, an unhappy former employee or even a competitor – creates a site to target you with the purpose of destroying your reputation. An attack or hate site can rank for your business name in the search results, and can drive potential customers away.

It takes nothing for an angry customer or a competitor who likes to play dirty to start a website and post all kinds of negative reviews about your business. Hate sites can be extremely detrimental to your reputation, so it’s important that you do what you can do get them taken down quickly.

Here are some ways to deal with attack sites:

  • Ignore the site. If the site isn’t getting any attention and if it doesn’t show up in the search results, then you can just ignore it.
  • Contact the site owner and try to resolve the issue, if they have valid concerns. If the site owner is an unhappy customer or former employee, get in touch and try to find a way to make things right. Open the conversation and ask how you can fix whatever it is that has made them so upset as to create an attack site, and then ask for the site to be taken down.
  • Get positive coverage on authoritative websites in the hopes that those articles or sites will rank more highly and thus burry the attack sites. By creating great content on high ranking sites, you can bump the negative site down in the search results, reducing the likelihood that it will ever be found.
  • Take legal action if the site makes use of copyrighted material. Be careful though, sometimes taking a legal approach to things can attract more attention to the issue, making things worse for your business.

Social media complaints

In today’s online-focused world, any complaint or negative feedback can shortly become a reputation crisis thank to the real-time nature of social media. A negative comment on social media can do great damage to a small business, which is why it’s important to communicate and to respond quickly.

Here are some quick and effective ways to deal with social media complaints:

  • Monitor social media mentions. Make a habit out of keeping an eye on what people are saying about your business on social media. Check out these tools for monitoring mentions on social media.
  • Respond as quickly as possible as the longer they have to wait for a response from you, the more frustrated they get. This can lead to further negative comments, which will only exacerbate the situation. In addition, prospective customers can see your business as unresponsive and will avoid using your products or services.
  • Always respond publicly first. While you can discuss the issue in detail in private, make sure to first reply publicly and ask the customer to provide more information in private so you can help solve the issue.
  • Keep it friendly yet professional. Always remember that every comment you make on social media is public and will be read by everyone, not just the person you’re addressing it to. So keep calm and never let your emotions get the best of you while you write out a response.

For more tips, read our post on how small businesses can handle social media complaints.

Wrapping up

If you don’t take control of your business’ online reputation, someone else will. So make sure you start by setting up a Google alert for your business name so you’re notified whenever someone is talking about you online. While you have limited control over what people say, you are hardly helpless when it comes to improving your online reputation.

Want to share your own effective online reputation management tips? Tweet us @123reg.