Before the Internet, it took years of good customer service and advertising to create a successful business. Now, with the addition of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, LinkedIn and Pinterest, getting a company noticed is easier than ever before.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and while word-of-mouth used to travel slowly, the social media that makes advertising easier can also spread negative reviews lightning-fast. An angry customer who might have shared a bad experience with a few friends can now condemn your company to hundreds of people at a time.
Below are 10 recommended ways to protect and improve your company's online reputation.
1. Start on the Inside
Employees behaving badly on the Internet can destroy a respectable company, making it important to establish a "no Internet sharing" policy with everyone hired.
Have all employees sign a legally-binding privacy agreement to refrain from discussing anything about your brand online while employedâ€”and if they leave.
2. Assign Online Representatives
It's important to have an online presence to promote your company, but make certain nothing is posted that might insult customers.
Choose or hire specific employees to monitor and establish your online reputation, and never leave this task to a single person, because what one person may find harmless can offend another.
3. Positively Use Social Media
When used correctly, social media can brand a business and improve an image. Facebook and Twitter giveaways can especially enhance your status.
Be sure to post winners of contests in a timely manner so people aren't left wondering who won. Confirming winners shows integrity, and is a great way to earn customer trust and respect.
4. Good Words Earn Rewards
Because word-of-mouth is powerful, some companies offer free or discounted products/services to loyal customers willing to give them a review.
Ask customers to e-mail links to comments or reviews they've posted about your business on Yelp, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, and offer incentives for these brand-bolstering words.
5. Own It
If a customer complaint is posted on your company's Facebook page, for example, apologizing and promising to try harder next time can go a long way. People are surprisingly forgiving of minor offenses as long as remorse is shown.
Offering displeased customers a free product and asking for a second chance can also win back a person in the process of walking away.
6. Use It
Having a sense of humor about a bad review will occasionally work to a company's advantage by showing customers you can have a laugh at your own expense.
One example of this positive spin would be the New York restaurant owner who wrote on the chalkboard sign outside of his restaurant, "Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life."
Because people realize that taste is subjective, the sign intrigued them by creating curiosity about the sandwich, increasing sales.
7. Consider Professional Assistance
There are companies who specialize in search engine image protection who can increase the positive results for your company and reduce the negative feedback.
If your company's reputation has been damaged beyond what you are capable of repairing on your own, a professional online PR company can reduce potential losses.
8. Always Be Available
Respond immediately to any negative comments on your company Web site or Facebook page, because people perceive failure to respond as a lack of concern, which will only make them more frustrated.
If you respond quickly and kindly, it will also improve your reputation and image in the eyes of everyone else reading the comments.
9. Communication and Contact Count
Good communication is crucial to a good reputation. Contact information should be easily available on everything representing your business on the Internet, and customer e-mails should be answered promptly.
Also: Consider hiring a phone service to assist customers so they can always reach a representative. This shows people that you care about their business, no matter what their schedule.
10. Track the Talk
You can't fix a bad reputation if you don't know that you have one. Setting up a Google alert can help you find out what's being said about your business.
Technorati and BlogType can also alert you to blog comments about your brand, and Twitter mentions of your company can be tracked via search engines like Tweetdeck.
The online threat of rapidly-traveling negative press makes it important to protect the image of your brand, and avoid making mistakes that might lose your company valued clients and money. Use the image-improving tips above to keep your reputation golden and your customers coming back.