Although businesses spend billions of dollars each year on advertising campaigns, the most important type of marketing costs nothing at all. Word of mouth marketing is so valuable that nearly two-thirds of marketing executives believe that it’s the most effective marketing medium in existence.
As a business, you’re only as good as your reputation, so it’s in your best interest to make sure people only say good things when discussing your brand.
When it comes to your reputation -- both online and otherwise -- you have two options. You can have a passive reputation, which means simply doing a good job and hoping people talk favorably about their experiences. Alternatively, you can engage in reputation management which means actively monitoring the Internet for discussions about your business.
The reality is that every business, no matter how popular or well-loved, should make reputation management an important part of their marketing plans.
Because a competing business can easily destroy your company’s reputation online. And even if your business isn’t under attack from a competitor, it only takes a few bad reviews to outweigh several dozen glowing testimonials.
In short, a bad reputation costs your business money. Here’s what you need to know about reputation management.
The Levels of Reputation Management
Most people associate reputation management with customer reviews on sites like Yelp. However, reputation management goes way beyond this one factor.
Consider your average mid-sized company: individual sales representatives have their own reputations to manage, and their actions can influence the company’s reputation on a larger scale. Then you have the reputation of the product itself -- whether the product works, how it’s priced, its prestige factor. There’s also the brand’s reputation and whether or not it constitutes something desirable. Above all that is the company’s reputation as an employer which is defined by how employees and prospective workers perceive the company. And at the top is the company’s corporate reputation, including the business as a whole and the views of the executives that lead the company.
It only takes one of these factors to go slightly askew for the dominos to start falling.
Take Google, for instance.
The CEO, Sudar Pinchai, is the ideal rags-to-riches story. However, digging a bit deeper into Google’s reputation, the cracks start to show: Google’s business model poses massive privacy concerns, the depths of which can’t even be comprehended by most people. Google’s reputation as a great employer is under fire in light of walkouts and allegations of sexual harassment. At a certain point, the bad starts to outweigh the good, and even loyal Google users have to decide whether or not they want to continue to use Google’s services.
Sometimes, only one comment is all it takes to turn an entire company upside down.
It doesn’t even have to be the CEO that tarnishes their company’s reputation. A bad employer reputation can damage the reputation of the company’s brand as a whole. Amazon, while lauded for its fast delivery of products, faces daily protests over the treatment of its workers.
Online and Offline Reputation Management
Reputation management takes place everywhere.
Any place where users have the ability to speak out is a checkpoint for reputation management. Social media accounts, comments on blog posts, and forums are often host to both positive and negative comments about businesses. Your company’s website is another way people can send in negative feedback or fill message boards and chat sessions with negativity. Google, Yelp, and other major review sites are only a small part of the picture.
Even the good things your company does require reputation management. Press releases promoting the company’s innovations can trigger negative responses, both online and offline.
Events and sponsorships are done with the best of intentions, but can sometimes lead to criticism, warranted or otherwise. A smart business keeps tabs on all of these factors and stays vigilant in tracking down any type of discussion regarding their organization.
Attacks from Competition
Competing businesses will use any means necessary to boost their own businesses -- and that often means attempting to discredit other companies in the marketplace.
It’s easy to carry out attacks against competitors, the costs are low, and the rewards are massive. A few negative reviews here, a fake profile or two there, and before you know it, the good name of your business is completely tarnished.
Negative reviews are the most common type of attack on a business, and the newer a business is, the more impact a negative review has.
If your company has ten Yelp reviews and one is negative, it’s a lot more damaging than one negative review out of a hundred. Studies show that 94 percent of consumers have cited a negative review as a reason to avoid a business. But there’s a lot more to worry about than just online reviews. Competitors can also spoof your business and create fake representatives and fake online profiles to spread negativity about your company.
There’s also negative SEO, which can completely destroy a company’s reputation within search engines. Negative SEO constitutes everything from a competitor hacking your company’s site and changing the site’s code, to competitors linking to your site from link farms (spammy URLs designed to hurt your ranking with Google). Staying on top of these threats is a necessary part of reputation management.
Reputation Management and Spending
No company wants to spend a lot of money on reputation management until they suddenly start losing customers and can’t figure out why. By then, they’re happy to invest in reputation management.
However, by that point, the damage may be done.
It doesn’t take much for bad publicity to snowball, and a small fire can quickly become a raging inferno without the proper reputation management infrastructure in place.
The good news is that it’s much easier to get in front of these issues before they arise.
Reputation management services and software are priced based on how much damage they have to undo. It’s significantly cheaper to address problems before they get out of control. Additionally, staying on top of reputation management means that any attacks can be addressed and neutralized before they truly affect the widespread perception of your brand.
The Spread of Negativity
It’s human nature to focus on the one negative thing amidst many positives. Reputation management is no different. One item that damages the company’s reputation spreads faster than the many more good things that are done to bolster that reputation.
That being said, nobody is going to criticize the company for staying out of trouble. Reputation management is about highlighting the positives while recognizing and dealing with the negatives.
Reputation Management as a System
The Internet is constantly changing, just as we are evolving as consumers. Reputation management must also evolve in order to keep up with modern times.
Many of the reputation management strategies that worked three years ago are already obsolete. Staying on top of any potential threats to your brand’s reputation is of the utmost importance.
Consistently building your brand’s reputation can help you to mitigate threats as they arise. It’s a good idea to send out automated emails or texts encouraging satisfied customers to leave reviews on Yelp and Google. Responding to every negative review on any major review site is a must, as is responding to negative social media posts on your company’s social media accounts. Requesting the removal of any fake reviews will help to keep your company’s reputation intact and safe from unscrupulous competitors.
A word of mouth recommendation results in five times as many sales as a paid advertisement. Consumers are 90 percent more likely to make a purchase if the brand comes from a trusted recommendation. These aren’t just stats -- they’re words for businesses to live by. Any factor that interferes with word of mouth advertising poses a serious threat to your company’s livelihood. That’s why reputation management is so important.
Simply doing a good job isn’t enough to protect your brand from competitors. To reach your full potential as a business, you need to stay constantly aware of threats -- legitimate and false, innocuous and serious. A continued dedication to reputation management will help your business to avoid these landmines, allowing word of mouth to deliver a steady stream of new customers.