Online reputation management can make or break your company’s image. There are now 2.4 billion Internet users across the globe, and that number is rising. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg further accentuated the move toward whole global Internet usage by announcing the establishment of internet.org — a consortium with handset makers, browser companies and network infrastructure manufacturers that will allow Facebook to connect the world to the Internet, despite economic hurdles.
Zuckerburg cites Internet connectivity as a “basic human right,” and says that the next century will bring about a shift from an industrial, resource-driven economy to a knowledge-driven economy. Even with the current numbers, the Internet stands as a driving force within the U.S. economy. Those connected to the Internet are actively seeking out information regarding the companies and brands they support. This legion of purchasers are more informed and aware that their buying decisions can make a difference, therefore, establishing relationships and paying close attention to online reputation can be the key component to being profitable.
What is Online Reputation Management?
Put simply, online reputation management studies your company’s reputation and branding online, using that information to create proactive engagements and quickly handle any bad press or reviews.
The Internet gives everyone the power to publish, so it is easier than ever for disgruntled consumers or former employees to voice their opinions of your products or services.
In the past, word-of-mouth could hurt a bit, but the viral nature of the Internet has made word-of-mouth reviews a powerful weapon — and the way that your company responds can actually create the largest impact. Good online reputation management is an ongoing process backed by the best in customer service. Superb products and great customer service are the best defense against bad reviews and negative postings.
When it comes to this area of reputation management, little has changed. When those who know your brand and believe strongly in your products and ideals are able to back you up, it is easy to dispel rumors and keep negative reviews from spreading.
Reputation management was originally a public relations function aimed at combating negative press articles or television exposés. One of the largest, and most studied, cases is the ABC News PrimeTime Live exposé involving Food Lion stores. Back in 1992, long before the mainstream availability of the Internet, ABC sent undercover cameras into a Food Lion store to broadcast gross mishandlings of food. The show was extremely powerful — during the week of the broadcast, Food Lion shares fell by $1.3 billion and profit losses nixed Food Lion’s expansion plans and led to the closing of 88 stores nationwide. Again, this was before the Internet age and social media. Can you imagine how much more devastating the story would be today?
With the mainstream nature of the Internet and the viral nature of social media, reputation management has become online reputation management and the story’s “reporters” are now everyday consumers — many armed with the hidden video equipment in their Smartphones.
Reactive Online Reputation Management
Most companies wait for a crisis to strike before they employ reputation management strategies. Reactive online reputation management is a lot harder, however. If your company does not have a solid basis built before a crisis strikes, there is little “reputation” to fall back on and Internet rumors will become rampant. Reverse SEO is one of the strongest weapons in the war of reactive online reputation management.
Using basic search engine optimization techniques, reverse SEO is aimed at creating content that will drive negative online mentions down in search, making it more difficult for the average person to find them when they research your company. Done successfully, reverse SEO techniques can help manage a company’s online reputation after a crisis by burying the negative news under company-provided material.
The first listing in Google’s organic search results receives 33 percent of all traffic, according to a recent Chitika study. The same study found that the second position garners 18 percent of all traffic and combined third and fourth place listings receive a resounding 20 percent. This means that 71 percent of all people only view the first four search listings. Taken further, 92 percent of all traffic from the average search focuses only on page one results. If your company can optimize content to dominate search, it is far less likely that the negative results will be seen.
Reactive online reputation management through reverse SEO is very difficult, however, because no Internet marketing firm or company is able to control search. Results will be completely dependent upon the validity and source of the negative information that is being combated.
Proactive Reputation Management
Proactive reputation management is an ongoing process and a best practice within the field of marketing. The proactive nature relies upon building a strong base of followers and providing meaningful interactions that will build brand image. To be effective, proactive reputation management relies heavily on monitoring, giving marketers insight into any problems that may be lurking and allowing them to build meaningful conversations with outspoken members of social media that are already supporters of specific products.
Many Internet marketing firms provide proactive online reputation management services, but most companies fail to make use of them. Instead, they wait for a crisis to strike and then fall into a pattern of reactive strategies that are far less beneficial. An active social media presence can be one of the biggest allies in a proactive reputation management campaign. By giving your consumers an approachable way to interface with you and your brand, your company can easily stave off negative viral reviews. But, presence on social media is not enough. A company must be an ongoing, active participant within a variety of social media realms to be genuinely proactive with their online reputation.
Where to Start
The best place to begin online reputation management is research and a basic SWOT analysis. Knowing potential hazards and building a plan to combat negativity will put your company far ahead of the competition.