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“You’re getting a bad rep, young man. Smoking in the toilets. Bunking off early. Listening to rock and roll music. What are you rebelling against?”
“What have you got?” you reply as you kick-start your motorcycle and zoom off to an early death, leaving a trail of dust and alienated friends behind you.
You think you’re so cool, and you probably are, however your brand isn’t in the business of selling cool... Unless of course your business happens to sell air conditioning units or Ray Bans... Unfortunately your business sells bespoke handcrafted scratching posts for kittens, so that argument is moot.
You’re giving the wrong impression.
And by ‘wrong’ I mean one that you didn’t want to give when you started out and continues to develop.
Reputation management is about creating a perception of your brand, one that you’re happy to cultivate and present to the general public and one that falls in line with your own goals.
NB: This post was originally published in October 2014 and has been republished as part of an experiment.
Why is reputation management important?
Because a poor reputation can damage sales.
Say your restaurant has a few bad online reviews from your early days. Things may have significantly improved since those apprehensive first steps but because those reviews happened to be widely read and shared, they linger near the search engine results page whenever someone Google searches your restaurant name.
A bad online reputation can stick like glue.
A more extreme example is if you have an unpredictable chairman who offhandedly makes a comment that your products are “total crap”. You can then expect your brand to lose £122m and close 330 shops.
If you Google search for ‘Ratners’ right now, most of the results are for ‘crap-gate’.
Some companies are so massive that they’ll always be divisive. Even at Apple’s peak, there was always an enclave of people that outright detested the hype around each product launch and midnight queue.
Now Apple is defending itself against two major high-profile news stories surrounding the security of its iCloud and forcibly inflicting a new U2 album on the world.
Apple has enough good will in the bank to weather the storm and there are enough people out there who will never give up their iPhones (this writer included) thanks to previous form and the strength of its products.
Apple has this credit of goodwill because of its reputation management.
Can reputation be managed?
People will say bad things about your business no matter what you do. Dollar Shave Club has one of the most instantly likeable campaigns from the last few years, but if you read the comments on this content marketing strategy article you’ll see that it still has its detractors.
Sometimes trash-talk is unfair, sometimes it’s entirely justified. Unfortunately we don’t have a lie detector built into our brains so whenever we read anything negative about a brand we have no reason not to believe it.
All it takes is for one disgruntled customer to kick up a stink on Twitter and soon a storm will erupt around your poor customer service and end up trending for the remainder of the day and then end up on ruthlessly eviscerating round-ups of social media fails.
Reputation can be managed though.
It’s all about how you plan your brand awareness and how you deal with the fallout when something goes wrong.
What can you do to manage reputation?
Some reputations can be damaged through poor customer service or poor products. Some company names can be tarnished because of their own poor working conditions or unethical practices.
If your brand is one of the above, then these are problems endemic to the business you’ve built. If you don’t want people to complain about your crappy products, make better ones. If you don’t want people to protest the opening of your new dirt-cheap high street fashion shop, then stop exploiting people.
For the rest of the brands out there trying to do good and providing a quality service or product, there are many practices you can undertake to manage your reputation.
The public face of your brand. Here is where your previously anonymous company, which has been pumping out dry-bones press releases for years, suddenly adopts a voice and personality.
Your customers now have a channel that they can communicate with you on and you in turn can respond to them.
Giving customer service on social isn’t really an option anymore. You will be asked questions on it, and if you can answer those questions (and complaints) in a speedy, personal and helpful manner then you’ll be on to a winner.
Social customer service is a massive subject so check out this best practice guide for further guidance.
Of course social isn’t just about customer care, it’s about presenting your best possible side. The personable, helpful, entertaining and most of all engaging side, that people will connect with, share and foster a deeper loyalty with.
Don’t just communicate with the people who @mention you directly. It’s also vitally important to monitor social media for indirect mentions of your brand name. It’s a startling statistic that 31% of tweets containing company names don’t include their Twitter handle.
It’s naïve to expect every single customer that deals with your company to be 100% happy with their experience. As streamlined, well strategised or well trained your customer service teams are, there will always be human error.
The key is to be able to deal with unhappy customers as swiftly and as satisfactorily as possible.
You can’t stop someone posting a bad review on your site or on TripAdvisor, nor should you. In fact the most important thing to do is allow customer reviews on your site in the first place.
User reviews increase conversion, they eliminate doubts other customers may have about your service or product, and customers are more likely to purchase from a site which has user reviews.
If you have negative reviews, don’t ignore them. Engage with the commenter and make amends. If the commenter doesn’t reply, well then at least the last word was yours.
If your site is flooded with bad reviews, well the bigger picture is that there’s clearly something wrong and you need to have a major rethink about your service.
Here’s Graham Charlton’s guide to why online reviews work so well.
Running a blog can be a great way to maintain a positive brand perception. Much like your social media profile it shows your more human side. It can be a personal introduction to the personalities behind the brand, it can give insight into your operations or way of thinking, it can be entertaining, funny or helpful.
The other bonus for doing this is that it provides regular content which you can publicise on social channels and also fills up search engine results pages with your own controlled content when a searcher types in your brand name.
Engage your community
Galvanise your fans. Make them a part of your brand. Thanks to YouTube, Vine, Instagram and other social video platforms it’s become incredibly easy to develop creative relationships with followers on social.
Either partnering with a creator to make a video, or running a competition where you ask users to submit their own videos, which you will then publicise on your channels, will help drive loyalty, create brand ambassadors and prove how community focused you are.
LEGO has a fantastic commitment to community and this even extends to giving its fans the chance to design and make decisions on the sets it produces.
Is it ethical?
It depends on how you’re using it. The methods above are totally above board and are examples of good brand management. However they are also subject to abuse.
Say the SERPS for your brand name are filled with negative reviews. Running a campaign where you flood the SERP with perfectly search engine optimised blog posts and knocking the negative reviews off the page makes perfect business sense.
However you are directly tricking future customers into your using your product, manipulating the SERPs artificially and putting off the inevitable - the need for you to actually solve the problems of your business rather than cover up the holes with a bit of masking tape.
Some businesses can pay reviewers to leave positive reviews on sites where the negative ones are becoming detrimental to the business. Again, this leads to the same problem as above.
Generally speaking, customers can see right through fake positive reviews, especially if they follow a few terrible ones. This does absolutely nothing for your own integrity and people will end up not trusting you.
Unethical reputation management will ultimately do you more harm than good.
You can learn more about managing brand perception at our two day Festival of Marketing event in November. Book your ticket today and visit the Social stage.