How You Appear Online Defines Your Reputation in 2021
What do you see when you search for your business online?
Whether or not you know the answer (all you have to do is a quick Google search), what shows up for your business in search results can have a huge impact on how your current and prospective customers perceive you. In 2021, the majority of prospective customers wanting to learn more about your business will go online to find out more – in fact, over 95% of people look online when they want to learn more about a business.
Reputation is generally defined as the overall opinion or perception of someone or something. As more of our lives move online, from connecting with loved ones to hosting work meetings to reading the news, how your business appears online will often be the first impression on a consumer, and a defining factor of your reputation.
In this article, we’ll define reputation management, why it’s vital for businesses in 2021, and what steps you can take to start managing your own reputation online.
What is reputation management?
Reputation management, also referred to as online reputation management or ORM, is the practice of influencing the narrative that defines your, your business’s, or your brand’s reputation online. Several elements can make up your online reputation, such as reviews, news features and coverage, comments and social media conversations – the list goes on. An effective ORM strategy ensures that your business is findable in search results, and that the results that appear for branded search queries – searches for your particular business – are representative of your business and positive in nature.
Depending on the needs of your business, ORM can be proactive or reactive.
- Proactive ORM: developing and maintaining a strong online presence and establishing your business and brand voice online. This can include creating and populating social media profiles for your business, improving your website, seeking out earned and sponsored media opportunities, etc.
- Reactive ORM: implemented in the wake of a reputation crisis, due either to a lacking online presence (thus increasing the prominence of negative results when people search for more information about your business online) or a prominent, dominating, or defining negative news cycle. This can include monitoring online conversations about and reviews of your business, responding actively to reputation threats, and proactively seizing opportunities to boost reputation and bring attention away from your negative news.
Whether your ORM strategy is proactive or reactive, the overall goal will be the same: to impact public perception of your business in order to put your best foot forward online.
How does ORM differ from SEO?
Your online reputation management strategy will often be made up of a combination of PR, branding, marketing, and SEO (search engine optimization) practices. SEO is a foundational element of your ORM strategy, as how you appear to search engines (and, thus, in search results) has a huge impact on how your business appears to users online.
Generally speaking, SEO targets one website or owned property of a business for a broad keyword or keywords that will bring people to your business. SEO keywords are generally competitive, with multiple companies trying to rank for a particular keyword.
ORM, on the other hand, generally targets multiple websites, properties, and other online assets for a more specific or branded keyword, working to increase the prominence of positive and owned properties over negative or unrelated properties.
Both SEO and ORM have to do with how you appear in search results, and both practices involve influencing these results.
Who needs reputation management?
Short answer: everyone. If you have a business, or if you have any reason to be online at all, you need to have a reputation management strategy.
Without a reputation management strategy, you are taking your own voice out of the equation when it comes to your own reputation. Think about it like this: you overhear two people talking about you. One of them knows you, but may not have the best opinion of you. One of them doesn’t know you at all. Without a reputation management strategy, you will let the conversation go on without interjecting. With a reputation management strategy, you can step in and give your perspective.
A reputation management strategy allows you to have a say and an impact on the narrative around your own business. The goal is not to remove any other opinions – be wary of companies that say they will do this for you – but to give you the opportunity to represent your business fairly in the online conversation around it.
Why is reputation management important?
Your online reputation doesn’t only affect customer acquisition and retention, but can impact investors, stakeholders, current and prospective employees, and the future success of your business.
The Real Impact of Negative Results
In an online world full of clickbait, catchy headlines, and new reviews and social media comments being posted every day, a small hit to your reputation can grow into a serious problem. One prominent bad review, a controversial headline, or an old mistake or misstep can all show up in your search results. If you don’t take the steps to maintain your online reputation, negative results can be prominent in your branded search results. With the top 3 results getting over 75% of clicks, where things rank in Google is (almost) everything, and a prominent negative results can define your reputation – fair or not.
We’ve talked about this before: the impact of negative results (news articles, reviews, social media mentions, etc.) on your business’s reputation can be extremely damaging. In a recent study conducted by Trustpilot, 90% of consumers reported not frequenting a business with a bad reputation, and 87% of customers will reverse a purchase decision after reading negative news or reviews about a brand, business, or product online.
While it may be difficult to determine when your reputation has tipped over to “bad,” online, it doesn’t take much. A study out of the University of Pennsylvania found that “negative information hurts…negative reviews, messages, or rumors hurt product evaluations and reduce purchase likelihood and sales.” This may not be surprising, as the effect of negative news on reputation is three times larger than the effect of positive news.
What’s more, if your business is featured in a negative article – or even an article that appears negative with a click-baity headline – there could be tangible consequences. Businesses with just one negative article online risk losing up to 22% of prospective customers, and this number increases quickly; businesses with four or more negative articles can experience a loss of up to 70% of prospective customers.
Internet lasts – even if a headline is older or no longer relevant, that may not be what a user pays attention to, instead paying attention to the negative headline itself. A negative review may have been published by someone who was having a bad day, or expected something different from you, but with 50+ people finding it helpful, it’s now a featured review.
The Benefits of a Good Reputation
Most conversation around online reputation management is negative, focusing on PR crises and negative results. But it’s not all doom and gloom. 95% of consumers report trusting a business with a positive online reputation. Presenting yourself well online, responding responsibly to feedback, and showing real change in the face of criticism can lead to greater audience reach, higher customer retention, and greater customer loyalty.
In a survey conducted by TrustPilot, having the best quality product or service offering was the fourth most important factor when consumers were considering whether or not to frequent a business. In addition to having a positive online reputation (the most important factor), customers prefer companies to:
- Have positive customer reviews
- Responsive customer service
- Be transparent about how it sources its products
- Have many customer reviews
- Respond to negative customer comments
- Prioritize the well-being of its employees
- Have a functional and easy-to-use website
Even when it comes to a negative news cycle or poor reviews, knowing how to respond can turn a bad situation into a good one. Taking ownership of a problem, responding to it directly and honestly, and providing a plan or solution moving forward can increase trust, transparency, and accountability for your business.
Reputation management is necessary in 2021. As more and more people go online to learn more about people and businesses, how you show up can have a huge impact on public perception of you, your business, and your brand. Investing in online reputation management should be part of your online marketing strategy.
What You Can Do: How to Manage Your Reputation
Managing your reputation online requires a multi-faceted approach. Though the specifics of how you handle your reputation and present yourself online will be dependent on your business and industry, there are certain steps to take that can help improve your business’s online presence and protect your reputation.
Generally, your reputation management strategy will consist of:
- Securing and optimizing your owned assets. These will include your website, social media profiles, Google My Business listing, and any profiles on review platforms, directories, or any other industry-specific websites.
- Monitoring your results. Keeping track of new news, reviews, and social media mentions can keep you up-to-date on the conversations around your business. This will help keep your actions and reactions informed and relevant.
- Responding when necessary. Whether it’s an unsubstantiated claim in an article, a negative review, or your audience asking for transparency, sometimes the best way to navigate sticky situations is to respond. Similarly, there are situations where the best thing to do is not to respond, and it is key to know the difference.
Here, we’ll dive in a bit more to some of the most foundational reputation management strategies to use for your business.
Know your results, and stay up-to-date
Understanding where you’re starting from is a vital step in developing your online reputation management strategy. Search for your business in an incognito browser with a cleared cache in order to get the most accurate results.
Before you begin improving and curating your online presence, you will need to make sure you’re findable. If your website doesn’t show up in branded search results, you need to check if your website is indexed in search. To check this, search “site:[your site]” in Google. If your site is indexed, but isn’t showing up in branded search results, or your other owned assets aren’t appearing, that’s where you’ll need to start. Read here to learn how to optimize your owned assets to make sure you appear in Google search results.
If your business does show up in search results, take note of what you see. Are the results about your business, or are they unrelated? Are the results owned properties (such as your website, social media, etc.)? Are they neutral, positive, negative, or a combination?
Searching for your branded keyword can help you define your goals. Do you need to refine your SEO strategy to improve your visibility in search results? Is there negative press you need to address? Do you need more positive reviews? Is any of the information outdated? Once you know where you’re starting, it becomes much easier to determine where you want to go.
Build and maintain a strong online presence
Your online presence is made up of owned assets: the assets that you have created and control. These are your website, social media profiles, contributor profiles, blogs, Google My Business listing, and any other assets that you alone can update, edit, and post from. These properties give you the opportunity to present your business, establish your brand, and share information with your audience.
First things first: make sure you have a website, and that your website is updated, accurate, and optimized for SEO. This means that your website must run quickly, be formatted for desktop and mobile users, and include any relevant or necessary information in an easily accessible format. Your website will (almost) always rank at the top of your results for branded search queries and can help you control your first impression, as the number 1 spot in search results earns 31% of clicks.
In addition to your website, you will also want to create profiles on relevant social media and review platforms, even if you don’t intend to use them right away – having those usernames secure will mean you will be able to use them whenever you’re ready to. Once you’ve created your profiles, it’s time to optimize them. To get the most out of your social media profiles: 1) make sure your username contains your brand or business name and be consistent across platforms. If you use different usernames across platforms, you risk confusing or alienating customers, and harm your efforts to establish a consistent brand. 2) Write a strong description. While the word count will vary – longer word counts on Facebook and Linkedin, not so much on Twitter – make sure to include your brand or business name, and utilize the space you are given. 3) Fill out each profile as thoroughly as possible. Include a profile photo, location, media, a description (optimized for your target keyword or keywords), and any other information that can be hosted on your profile. Any section that is not filled out on your profile is a missed opportunity, so make sure to complete your profile as thoroughly as possible.
Once you have created and optimized your owned assets, make sure to keep these assets up-to-date and active. Websites that show inaccurate information, load slowly, or otherwise appear to be outdated can deter users. Similarly, social media profiles that have outdated information or do not appear active may work against you as well. While you want to do everything you can to create a great presence online, quality is (almost) always better than quantity, so only take on what you can manage.
Be smart about what you post
While you may not be able to control what others say about you, you can control what you’re posting online. Social media posts, blog shares, and other media (such as videos, podcast, infographics, etc.) can all help you to improve your online presence, establish your brand, and present your business how you want to online.
To get the most out of your content, identify three or four themes you want to create content around and brainstorm topics that fit into these categories. Consider what unique perspective you can bring to your content – how can you help your audience, and how can you help them better than your competitors? Create a content calendar, and try to create content regularly (though do not sacrifice quality for quantity, as low-quality content won’t help you). As you create content, make sure to use it to its fullest potential; if your business is featured on a podcast, consider transcribing that podcast for a blog post.
When it comes to social media, be sure to establish a brand voice and stick to it. Pay attention to which posts get more engagement than others, and make sure to stay aware of current events and industry news to avoid making an insensitive or tone-deaf post. To avoid any unnecessary headaches, keep your personal accounts private, and remove any photos, posts, or tweets that could be misconstrued or taken badly.
Respond well to feedback
Good or bad, responding to customer feedback is one of the best ways to build trust with your audience and, when it comes to bad reviews, turn a negative into a positive. As we mentioned earlier, negative feedback online can actually present an opportunity for your business to take responsibility and show accountability, which can improve public perception of your company’s trustworthiness and reliability.
How you respond will depend on the situation, but here is some general advice if you’ve decided to address negative news, reviews, or feedback:
- Get ahead of the problem. Once you are aware of a negative result online, develop a plan of action. Negative news often gains traction over time, so taking steps to handle and address the problem early on can help limit the impact on your reputation.
- Take responsibility. When necessary, take responsibility for the problem. Whether it’s a claim in an article or a negative review, ignoring or refuting claims that end up being true can add fuel to the fire when it comes to a reputation hit. While admitting fault can be difficult and feel risky, it is often not only the right thing to do, but the best thing you can do for your reputation.
- Propose a solution. If it is within your power, suggest how you will solve the problem. Indicating that you have acknowledged the issue and plan to address it with a specific plan will increase your trustworthiness and will give you a direction to go in to move on from the negative result.
- Follow through. False promises can hurt your business’s credibility and reputation almost as much as negative news and reviews. But the opposite is true as well – if your business follows through, it can help improve your credibility and rebuild your reputation.
All this said, while some negative claims about your business will call for a response, some will not. Learn to parse out what requires attention from what doesn’t. Ask yourself:
- How legitimate is the claim?
- Are people engaging with the article, either in the comments section or on social media?
- How prominent is your business’s feature in the piece?
- How prominent is the piece in search results?
- Can I remedy the problem?
All of these questions can help you discern when something is worth addressing and when you can allow it to blow over. Not all negative results are created equal, and you want to be wary of feeding the trolls.
An effective reputation management strategy is consistent, iterative, and ongoing. Though the foundation you create will serve you well, you will always need to stay up-to-date on conversations and responses to your company. Search results change (sometimes multiple times in one day), and your company will grow and change, too. Make sure that your online presence is representative of the most current version of your brand, and always be aware of the conversation around your business so you can respond accordingly.
Should you hire a reputation management firm?
In some cases, managing your reputation is better left to the professionals. A reputation management firm like Status Labs can help you assess and address how you appear online to help you put your best foot forward.
When considering if a reputation management firm is the right fit for you, consider:
- Do I have the understanding to develop an online presence?
- Do I have the time to maintain an online presence?
- Is my business experiencing a reputation or PR crisis?
If carrying out an online reputation management strategy doesn’t feel possible, or if your business is facing a reputation crisis, an ORM firm could be the right choice for your business. Status Labs can help your business identify the current state of your online reputation, areas where your online presence could be improved, and develop and execute an effective online reputation management strategy on a timeline that will ensure your results are maintained.
If you’re interested in hiring an online reputation management firm, schedule a free consultation with Status Labs to determine what course of action is right for you.