Reputation: a valuable business asset

The old expression:

“Your reputation is all you have”

has never been more true.  In years past, you still had a reputation, but it was spread very organically.  Literally by word of mouth.  To “repair” your reputation if it were damaged, you worked hard to make what was wrong right and hopefully over time you could turn it around or you could simply move to a new town.

Today, reputations can change by the minute and spread virally, plus it is much more difficult to run away.  The Internet is worldwide and quite permanent.

Fortunately, however, building a positive reputation or fixing a bad one is quite doable — but, it does take attention, effort, knowledge of the rules and commitment.

Today’s marketing environment is dramatically different from that of only a couple of years ago.  Before, you could advertise or use coupons to get customers in the door.  People would “give you a try” if they had an emotional motivation or incentive to do so.  Treat them well and they would come back.

Today, people don’t have to give you a try.  They let others try for them.  All they have to do is look you up online and dozens of review sites will have the opinions of perfect strangers who are all too happy to let you know the good, bad and, sometimes the ugly.  It is great for the consumer.  He or she does very little work to get lots of information.

When you consider how many searches are made every day, it may be surprising to realize that 25 percent of them are for local businesses.

For the business, the new marketing environment can be great too.  It replaces tons of advertising dollars, is available 24/7 and makes for better businesses.  If you know that anyone and everyone is now a critic, you, and hopefully your staff, will simply do a better job.  Those not willing to accept those terms, frankly, will not survive in today’s competitive marketplace.  There is literally no place to hide.

Businesses are reviewed all the time — whether they want to be or not.  Ignoring online reviews is very dangerous.  You won’t know what is being said about you and the consequences can be financially devastating.   Participating is relatively easy and  inexpensive compared to what you are paying for advertising now, and very beneficial for your business.

Sadly, only 24 percent of business actually pay attention to their online reputation.  And, while only five percent get professional help doing so, that represents an expenditure of over $700 million dollars.

These numbers will dramatically change over time.  The strategy of pulling customers in with advertising and paper coupons will simply stop working.  Being visible online with third-party endorsements and the ability to offer digital coupons is absolutely the wave of the future.  Business owners, increasingly focused on running top-notch businesses will relegate reputation marketing to third parties, much like they use advertising agencies today.

Reputation Management vs. Reputation Marketing

You have heard radio advertising offering to bury bad online reputations or even to eliminate them.  People who respond to those ads are already in deep trouble and are hoping to fool the public into thinking they are not.  Rarely can a legitimate negative statement be erased.  Illegal or libelous statements can be, but they are rarely the cause of anxiety for the businesses involved.  The cost of fixing these things can run into the thousands of dollars.  This is reputation management in the extreme.

For most businesses, however, negative reviews are more likely to deal with badly prepared food, an unclean room, messed up billing or a surly employee.  Some are totally true; some are just the opinion of a cranky customer.  Prospective customers see these things in context.  If the negative comments are surrounded by glowingly positive ones, very little damage is done to the business being accused of an infrequent lousy dining experience.  In fact, because reviews are generally posted in some chronological order, the negative ones can be “buried” by the positive ones.  But, letting negative review sit “on top” is a damaging oversight.

In fact, that is exactly what those companies who charge thousands of dollars actually do.  They create or encourage lots of positive “noise” on the Internet to literally bury the negative on the back pages of Google making it much less likely that a prospective customer will ever see it.  The negatives don’t really disappear, they just get buried.

That falls into the category of “Reputation Management”. It is more of a defensive posture; reactionary to overcoming a negative event.  On the other hand, “Reputation Marketing” is inherently proactive.  It involves actively promoting the positive about a business — and encouraging customers to express that positive experience online.  In some ways it is the difference between simply lying around and exercising.

Unfortunately, the customer just expects a positive experience when he or she patronizes a business.   So, when the business delivers great service, it is “normal”.  Only when there is a slip-up of some sort does the customer pay particular attention.  That is why it is 41 percent more likely that a review on line will be negative than positive.  It is simply human nature.

Proactively encouraging patrons to report on their good experiences will turn the process from Reputation Management into Reputation Marketing.

With some review systems, a single positive review from a single customer is viewed with some suspicion — simply because it is positive.  People just don’t do that normally and review systems like Yelp and Google factor that cynicism into their algorithms.    Negative reviews, however, are viewed with less suspicion.  It is just normal to complain more than compliment.

Using systems like Reputation Vigilance help business owners to garner positive comments in far greater numbers and learn about negative experiences before the customers leave the premises and in most cases preventing negative experiences from reaching online review sites.

Monitoring Your Reputation

There are easy (and free) ways to monitor your reputation online.   One program is right in your Google Dashboard.   Start by finding the “Me On the Web” section and click where it says “Set up search alerts”.  Then select the check boxes beside the alerts you want to receive and include your name and email address.  You can optionally add any other information for which you want Google to alert you when it shows up on the web. The one weakness to this option is that if your business name is not stated in the review it won’t get picked up.

You can select how often you want to be alerted and tell Google where to send an email when an alert is available.  Make sure to click “save” when you are done.

Microsoft offers another free program that allows you to track when and where your business shows up online which is called “Brandify”.   This is easy to set up, too.  Just go to www.brandify.com and enter your email address.  Immediately, you will receive an email with a live link to the sign up page.

There are services that will keep an eye out for you, as well, and notify you by email when you have a review posted on virtually any review site.

Google’s Challenges

Think you know all about Google?  Think again!  In fact, even Google does not have a solid handle on what they are doing these days.  Ever since they changed their whole algorithm for local search on May 30, 2012 when they changed from Google Places to Google+ Local, it has been difficult to figure out what they are doing and how it impacts local businesses.

Reputation is the life-blood of modern business today.  Those who do not study the process and stay very aware will be seriously challenged. With Reputation Vigilance you can be assured that your business stays ahead of the curve in managing and marketing your reputation.