“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” — Benjamin Franklin
Online reputation can have a massive impact on your bottom line yet maintaining clean search results is particularly challenging for direct sales companies.
Fully 88% of the Global 100 have at least one negative search result on the first page of Google; do the math and that means hundreds of thousands of people are being turned away from direct selling companies because of what they find in search engines. Clearly, this is a challenge not just for individual companies but the industry as a whole.
We’d all like to think online negativity is the stuff of professional industry haters, but for the most part those aren’t the ones ranking in search engines. The vast majority of negative sites and reviews are from people who had a bad experience with the company.
Cleaning up search results after they show on search engines can be challenging for direct sales companies. The far more effective—and cost-effective—approach is to prevent those problems before they happen. You may not be able to eliminate the issue entirely, but every problem that’s dealt with before it shows up online is money in the bank.
Here are the Top 10 ways to protect your good name:
- Reputation isn’t a marketing function, it’s a corporate function. Your executives on board with the idea that reputation is important system-wide, and that every department has a role to play. What is the role of each department? What are the key metrics that will impact reputation? How will you hold people accountable? Creating a corporate reputation plan is a great way to align the entire company around this core mission.
- Embrace your critics—to a point. Your online critics aren’t all haters—many are customers or reps who had a problem that hasn’t been solved. You can learn more from them than you can from the people who never say anything. Analyze each situation: what was your company’s part in it? How can you handle issues like that better in the future, or prevent them entirely? Think big picture. Again, the long-term effect of public negativity may be far greater than the short-term expense of simply making the customer happy. And be very careful of calling in the lawyers, a cease-and-desist or strong letter is often the worst thing to do and is at best a last resort.
- Judicious application of good online customer practices can be helpful. You probably don’t want to add fuel to complaints on negative sites like Ripoff Report or Pissed Consumer, but a timely, courteous response on sites like Yelp will help mitigate the effect of the negative reviews. You have to monitor them regularly so that those responses can be timely—making a comment weeks or months later doesn’t help. And once it’s online, it’s still not too late to be nice.
- …but a well-meaning field can make things more difficult. Very often the field, passionate as they are, take it upon themselves to defend the company’s good name by actively posting and replying to negativity in an effort to correct misperceptions, or right a wrong. Unfortunately can have the opposite effect of actually boosting the search ranking of the offending site. Comments and replies to negative forums and social media should be reined in by corporate when possible, and any activity to defend the company should always be reviewed by a qualified online reputation expert.
- Make it easy on people, especially when they’re leaving. The majority of negative reviews online about direct selling companies have to do with issues with returning product, getting a refund, or canceling their autoship or membership. Even when they have other complaints, this is almost always the trigger that sends people to their keyboards. You may feel inclined to stick closely to the letter of the contract, for fear of abuse, but that approach can be penny-wise and pound-foolish. The matter of a few dollars often makes the difference between someone telling friends when asked simply, “It wasn’t for me,” versus posting their experience online, where it will impact hundreds or even thousands of future prospects. Focus on service and forgiveness—it’s a better pay-off in the long run.
- Commit to compliance. The other major cause of online complaints is over-promising by the field. Misleading statements or income and health claims not only disappoint newcomers, they are often illegal and put the company in harm’s way. Social media posts are often the most prolific sources, and blogs and review sites can misinform people enough to cause real harm to brand and company. Relying on the tattletale method and a few Google searches is no longer sufficient—companies must develop a proactive approach to monitoring your field’s online behavior.
- Rock out multiple social media channels. Your social media channels are the best sites to rank for your name. Your main corporate site, replicated sites on a different domain, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and a couple of positive reviews or press, can often be enough to fill the front page of a search engine. Those sites have to be actively maintained with real content. Commit to understanding social media fully and creating a sustained ongoing presence.
- Develop brand-building behavior. Train your field on how to properly interact with and share your social media. Rather than simply banning personal blogs, consider showing people how to use them correctly. Provide training on reviews and testimonials and encourage people to post them on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, BBB and Google. There’s only so much you can do yourself. The bulk of the power is in the hands of your field—they just need proper guidance.
- Recognize that a certain amount of criticism can be justified. Online negativity today comes with the territory for any business. By recognizing that some of it is valid, not just the ranting of people who will never be satisfied, you can improve your business and prevent much of it before it ever happens. You can also build up a strong positive reputation as a buffer against future negativity, and that’s far more effective and less costly than trying to clean things up after the fact.
- It starts at the top. The CEO has to be on board, particularly in how they communicate to the field and the general public. The CEO should be well-versed in the boundaries regarding product claims, income claims, and other regulatory guidelines. More than just visionary and cheerleader—he or she is the primary spokesperson and sets the tone for the whole organization.
As always, focus on character. As an individual, your reputation begins with character. As a company, focus on and consistently demonstrate your corporate character first, and you may enjoy fewer reputation challenges later.
We can help. Our BrandDefense practice leads the direct selling industry not only in removing negative links on search engines but in preparing your company to fight the good fight. Contact us for a complimentary reputation analysis.
Original article first appeared on MLM.com.