Why managing your online reputation matters

Customer reviews are a defining feature of today’s internet. Social media, micro-blogging, and online directories offer an avenue in which every day consumers can provide feedback to businesses. Think of it as a virtual soap box where consumers, for a brief but glorious moment, are free to criticize or praise the pizza they just ate or the symmetry of their most recent spray tan. Like it or not, more than ever businesses are susceptible to anonymous attacks and slander. Management beware: this is not a fad.This is the future of the consumer-business relationship. Your business will sink or swim on the merit of your online reputation.

Consumers are relying on online reviews at an increasing rate. This virtual “word of mouth” is far more powerful than traditional methods of advertising. Consider the following situation. Joe walks into a sushi joint and has a negative experience. While he’s dining he posts a picture of his meal on Twitter with the comments “stay away! I could smell this sushi before I walked in the front door!”. This Tweet is then linked directly to his Facebook page where hundreds of his closest friends and associates can see. A few of them even comment or re-tweet this review. Then Joe decides to check in to Foursquare where he leaves a negative comment in the “tips” section. In an instant, Joe’s negative experience has been exposed to hundreds if not thousands of potential clients.

As you can see in the above example, a negative review has the ability to poison the well.These reviews are a thorn in the side of business operators. The truth is that you can’t please everyone. Even great companies make mistakes. The solution is to work dilligently to identify the problem and reflect on the core issue. Following this step you can more effectively respond to a specific query. Finally, it is important to overwhelm any negative reviews you may receive with positive reviews from your good clients.

Identify the problem

First you need to identify what type of criticism you are receiving. Is the customer voicing a legitimate concern or is it an ex employee seeking retribution? Do you suspect the review is from local competition or a genuine customer experience? Once you have identified the type of review you are dealing with, it is important to reflect honestly on the feedback. I can’t stress enough how important it is to treat reviews of all stripes, even negative reviews or those from spiteful ex-exployees, as an opportunity to improve your business.

Respond to the problem

Now that you have identified the problem and have used that information to reflect about the nature of the feedback, you are ready to actively engage the customer in “damage control”. This is where you can right a wrong and prove to future clients that you will learn from your mistakes. Tell your clients, “hey I messed up. I’m sorry for that, and here’s how we intend to resolve this problem”. Engaging in direct dialogue with an unhappy client and resolving the issue in the public sphere shows an honest, transparent approach to conflict resolution. Future clients will know that you are in touch with their needs and serious about customer satisfaction.

Bury negative reviews with positive reviews

So far I have focused primarily on negative reviews. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a positive review has the power to convert internet traffic into revenue. This is why you are on the internet. It is incredibly important to effectively manage reviews in order to turn positive feedback into sales. Here are some tips to help you do that.

  1. Show off your positive reviews. Treat these reviews like a new set of shoes or a fancy diamond ring.  Showcase your positive reviews and create buzz about your business. Get your reviews on your site, spread them across your social media outlets and include them in your newsletter.
  2. Encourage your good clients to review your business in a variety of different mediums.
  3. Incentivize the review process. People are lazy! Provide them with a little incentive to review their experience, such as discount coupon or a small donation to charity.

The key to dealing with reviews is to actively manage them. For those who are intimidated by the free and open nature of the internet, it’s not as scary as it seems. With a little work and a healthy dose of patience, you can effectively manage reviews and control the online reputation of your company.