Experts and consultants are touting solutions to online reputation defense and management, but are they really addressing the whole picture, or just a piece of the puzzle?
by Scott Allen, Momentum Factor
The continued growth of social media has turned the once-simple issue of a company’s reputation into a mare’s nest of search engines, social platforms, review sites and more. Anyone can say anything they want to about a company — true or not — publish it to the whole world in an instant, and it will likely live on, in one form or another, forever.
This ever-expanding challenge has given rise to a cottage industry known as “online reputation management”, or ORM for short. Dozens of companies have started offering software and services as solutions for the problem, but most of them are dealing with just one piece of the puzzle. This can be confusing when evaluating vendors, only to find that you’re not comparing apples to apples, because they’re dealing with completely different aspects of the problem, not merely different solutions to the same aspect.
This executive summary and more detailed series to follow will provide you with a complete picture of the reputation management landscape so that you can make a better-informed decision as to how to address your company’s particular needs.
Why Reputation Management and online reputation defense Matters
A 2013 survey found that 88% of customers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Another study found that 62% of consumers say they’d change their minds about buying a product or service after reading between one and three negative reviews of it. And that’s for consumers. For B2B, it’s even more relevant, with 93% of B2B buyers saying reviews drive major purchase decisions.
If you have one or more negative search results showing up for a search for your company name on search engines or YouTube, or a disproportionate number of negative reviews on a review site, then it’s costing you money — a lot of it. How much is, say, even 50% of your potential new business worth?
The impact isn’t just limited to sales. Job seekers are now checking out potential employers on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. 52% of job seekers report looking at Glassdoor reviews, and of those, 50% will not apply at a company unless it has at least a 3-star rating. And given that they’re more selective, those are probably some of your better candidates.
Negative online reviews can also impact business partnerships, particularly when your bad reputation starts affecting the reputation of the company that’s using your services. For example, the reputations of companies such as third-party market research companies, customer satisfaction survey providers, mortgage servicing companies, collection agencies, etc. — all of these potentially reflect on the original supplier. When they start getting negative reviews because of you, they may start looking for another supplier…with a better reputation.
Bottom line: it’s affecting your bottom line.
Components of Reputation Management
While the studies above talked about “reviews”, what constitutes a “review” is now very, very broad, as are the various ways that people can find and read those reviews. A review may be:
- A review on a mainstream review site (Yelp, SiteJabber)
- A rant on a negative review site (Ripoff Report, Pissed Consumer)
- A review on an employer review site (Glassdoor, Indeed)
- Better Business Bureau
- An article in an online media outlet (Huffington Post, Examiner)
- A personal blog post
- A forum discussion
- A YouTube video
- A Facebook post or even a single tweet.
And people may find those reviews by:
- Search engines
- Looking up the company directly on review sites
- Social media
- Referral from a related site
As you can see, there’s far more to it than simply “doing social”, or search engine optimization, or review management, or brand monitoring. A complete online reputation management must address each of these four key areas.
Search Reputation Management
How does your company appear in the search engines? Are there negative results showing up in the first two pages for a search for your company name? What about alternate versions of your name? Your product names? Top executives? What shows up in the drop-down box on Google when you start typing the company name? What about the right sidebar and the related searches at the bottom of the page? Does the entry for your company website show just a basic single paragraph, or does it also show direct links to multiple pages within your site?
All of these affects prospective customers’ impression of your company, long before they ever get to your website. And all of these can be improved, with time, expertise and effort.
SOLUTION: Specialized search engine optimization (SEO) services focused specifically on branded searches.
Social Media Response Management
Search engines provide a static snapshot of a company’s reputation, but every day, nearly a billion people use Facebook, and Twitter handles over 500 million tweets. Thankfully, those don’t all show up in the search engines, but they do show up to someone. Reputation management isn’t just static, it’s also real-time.
That’s why a comprehensive reputation management plan must include social media monitoring and response. You don’t have to have a full-time person monitoring 24/7, but you do need to set up for timely monitoring and response. The response part is critical — what’s the point in knowing that people are saying something negative about you if you’re not prepared to respond in a timely manner?
SOLUTION: A social media monitoring tool staffed with a skilled response team, plus ongoing strategic analysis.
One thing a vendor can’t (legally) do for you is write reviews. What they can do for you, though, is work with you to develop a strategic plan to encourage more reviews, capture and publish them in the right places, track them, and promote them, all in compliance with FTC guidelines. They can also help you navigate the posting policies of specific sites, such as Yelp, to make sure that the positive reviews people post get published, not filtered.
It would be great if it were as simple as saying, “Here’s a link — please go write a good review there,” but it isn’t.
SOLUTION: Strategic advisory on incorporating review gathering into business processes, plus “review funnel”
How others use (or misuse) your brand affects your company’s reputation. What about things like domain names? Social media account names? Unauthorized resellers of your product? Misuse of your brand by partners, affiliates and distributors?
There’s more to it than just news and social media monitoring. You need to monitor these other channels and issues, as well, and need to enforce compliance when your brand partners are in violation of your brand guidelines.
SOLUTION: Brand monitoring tool with skilled staff plus consistent enforcement with brand partners.
An Integrated Approach
All of these factors need to be considered as part of your online reputation management program, whether you’re doing it in-house or with outside vendors. While you can get “best in breed” solutions in each of these areas, there’s also a fair amount of overlap between them. Using a single vendor ensures an integrated approach vs. the risk of having non-complementary or redundant strategies from multiple vendors. You’ll also typically realize substantial cost savings by using a supplier who can address all of these areas, rather than just one of them.