Somewhat ironically, the term “reputation management” doesn’t have the greatest reputation. Many brands and business owners associate reputation management with “crisis management” aka it’s not something they think about until there’s already a problem.
The reputation management industry has long reinforced these negative habits of thought, stoking fear that our brands will be hobbled and our businesses shuttered by bad press or scathing reviews. As brands and business owners, we’re made to feel desperate, whip-sawed by forces beyond our control. And rep management providers swoop in to sell desperate solutions to desperate buyers.
We don’t have to go too deep into a Google search of “reputation management,” for example, to find ourselves rubbing elbows with shady outfits peddling black-hat SEO tactics, offering to buy five-star reviews from workers in the Philippines, proposing to suppress legitimate content with fake content, legal action, etc.
But in a world where consumers have immediate and total access to information at their fingertips, there’s a sea change afoot in how we think about our reputations, both personally and professionally.
Reputation, consisting of mentions, comments, recommendations and reviews across a buzzing, shape-shifting universe of online publishers and apps isn’t a problem center but a value center for brands and businesses. Our online reputations are our key differentiator in the marketplace, whether we’re selling doodads in Dallas or applying for a job in Jersey.
Increasingly, brands and business owners recognize this fact: every day, our reputations are bringing opportunities to our doors or diverting them to our competitors.
In today’s environment, it’s no longer sufficient to think about reputation management like we think about crisis management. We need to think about our reputations as a constant, competitive advantage; a driver of growth and prosperity; and a strategic asset. We need to think about reputation marketing.
The Shift From Management To Marketing: Focus On The Highest Impact
What happens when you start thinking about your reputation the way you think about your marketing? Well, the first issue you confront is that as a marketing channel, reputation is an odd one. It’s not like any other. A brand’s or business’s reputation relies entirely on what others say (or don’t say) about it. The “voice of the customer” is not something you can buy or control or will into existence.
This concept is not new. For decades, marketers have tried to leverage customer “word of mouth” with mixed success. What is new, though, is the prevalence and power of word of mouth in the digital age: it is now amplified a hundred-fold.
We know, we know: you’ve heard this one before, right? “You’ve gotta be on social media! You’ve gotta be on the first page of Google!” But this phenomenon goes beyond social media or even search engines and SEO. Online review sites like Google, Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, etc. have become beacons for consumers seeking to discover and evaluate companies, products and services. And, for better or worse, consumers trust what other consumers like themselves have to say more than they trust you, your ad writers or even the experts.
Online reviews therefore have insane influence over consumers’ beliefs and behavior. Reviews determine not just whether a brand or business is visible in search engines and social media, but how people perceive it and whether or not they would buy from it.
So if you want to start somewhere with reputation marketing, start with customer reviews: that’s where you’ll see immediately the power of devoting some attention to this channel.
Okay, But What Do I Do? What Does Reputation Marketing Look Like?
Customer reviews are perhaps the most potent medium for building and displaying a brand’s or business’s reputation, so we’ll focus our examples there. But the following three concepts apply equally well to other venues for the reputation-building, like social media mentions, online forums and traditional press.
Monitoring: Know What Your Customers Are Saying
Keeping your finger on the pulse of customer reviews can be a challenge, especially when your brand or business footprint stretches across dozens of online review sites. For small businesses with minimal marketing budgets, monitoring online reviews can be a strenuous manual process.
But given the stakes of the game, marketers and business owners absolutely must know what’s being said about their business in online reviews. Why? Because those reviews are being voraciously consumed by potential customers at the very moment of their highest purchase intent, directly alongside reviews of your competitors.
If you think it doesn’t matter what a prospective customer encounters on these review sites, or that you have “plenty of happy customers” out there putting in a good word for you elsewhere, or you just don’t want to hear another word about the power customers have over your business, we get it. But you might as well stop reading now. This article is for pragmatists.
Technically, you can monitor reviews by simple habit, by claiming your listings and relying on alerts from those review site publishers that send them, or by using an automated solution that gives you a centralized “command center” for reviews.
The point is: monitor them. Monitoring ensures that we can maximize every opportunity that this potent medium gives us to influence our prospective customers. For example, if a disgruntled customer posts a negative review with a blanket complaint of the “terrible service” they received, we wouldn’t want it dangling out there in public too long with no response, would we?
Instead, we’d want to chime in and maybe acknowledge the problem, say that we’re sorry and will strive to improve. Oh, and what would you recommend to make your next transaction a better one? In a majority of cases, engaging an unhappy customer in constructive feedback not only turns that customer’s opinion around, it shows onlookers how much we care about getting it right. And a small exchange begins to build trust that simply cannot be built in any other way. True, it’s just plain old-fashioned customer service, but now that exchange lives for posterity in front an extremely important present and future audience.
Acquisition: Get More Reviews
Getting positive online reviews is a challenge for every business. Ideally, we’d have passionate and engaged customers who would sing our praises without our prompting. But reality is, well, reality — it sometimes stands in our way.
Ask happy customers why they didn’t write a review of a business that deserved one and they’ll tell you: They didn’t think to do so, or they forgot to do so, or they just found the process too difficult.
Each of these objections suggests an obvious counter-tactic: simply ask, remind and guide customers through the review process. In fact, these three things alone can be surprisingly effective as a review acquisition strategy in a “no duh” kind of way. Try them and you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing them all along.
Still, implementing these tactics is not necessarily easy given everything else we have to do as marketers and business owners. And there’s more to it: Brands and businesses must still earn their reviews in the first place.
So while we know that many popular solutions automate review acquisition tactics give you a “review funnel” system to automate review acquisition tactics, an automated solution on its own is not sufficient. The brand or business still has to do the heavy lifting. The brand or business still has to provide a great product or service. Any customer who isn’t an aspiring pundit really needs to feel well-served, even “delighted,” and perhaps a personal connection to the business if she is going to be motivated to write something publicly about her experience.
A genuine, personal and well-timed request for a review from someone who has developed a strong relationship with the customer is therefore still the single-most effective trigger for acquiring new reviews. But to be successful, it requires follow-through: be clear and non-sleazy about exactly what you’re asking for and where; make it as easy as possible for the customer to complete the task; and send reminders.
Amplification: Use Your Reviews In Your Sales and Marketing Funnels
While online review sites provide an important vector through which customers discover and evaluate a brand or business, “social proof” is the broader force at work here. Why should consumers choose our product or service over a competitor’s? Because it’s better. And how do they know that it’s better? Because a strong social signal confirms that it is better.
Well, we can amplify that signal.
You might think that testimonials do the job. But these days, consumers are too savvy. Unless you have a top influencer giving them, testimonials seem “fake” to discerning consumers. We’ve all seen it before. A glowing but vacuous comment, sometimes attributed to a company, sometimes to a specific individual. Without substance, we assume that the typical testimonial is likely fabricated.
Online reviews drawn from third-party sites, on the other hand, are different. Regardless of how a prospect finds a business, whether by a personal referral or a Google search or by clicking on an ad, brands can gain credibility by foregrounding independent, third-party reviews that demonstrate real, vetted social proof of our brand or business.
Exactly how you amplify your reviews depends on the broader marketing mix you employ. If you have a sales and marketing funnel on your website, embed your reviews on your conversion pages. If you participate primarily in social media, turn positive reviews into social media posts. If you distribute white papers, make sure your reviews are part of the front matter–or at least the back matter.
The only rule is: use your reviews.
Today, a reputation is one of the most valuable marketing assets a brand or business can have. But too many marketers and business owners remain in the mindset of “managing” our reputation, that is, we tend to it only if problems arise.
Instead, we should be seizing this moment of seismic change in what attracts and influences customers to our brands and businesses. With a little adjustment in thinking, we can start to see the marketing opportunity in building a reputation, and we can win the future by asking our customers to speak up and by amplifying their voices.
Originally published on Aug 2, 2016 10:00 AM, updated Sep 1, 2016