Protecting a business from the long-term repercussions of a PR or reputation management disaster is not exclusive to global corporations.
Every business, from mom-and-pop local shops to multinational enterprises, needs to put a plan in place to ensure their online and offline reputation does not suffer a hit that may potentially destroy a brand image and bring revenues down to the brink of disaster.
Proportional to the size and complexity of a business, full-time reputation managers for large companies, as well as small business owners, can benefit from the mistakes and successes of other businesses and apply their learnings to their ongoing online reputation efforts.
Let’s take a look at 9 business practices that will keep your reputation trending upward and will help you quickly tackle and remediate issues that could potentially explode into a reputation management disaster.
Tip 1: Monitor your reviews in real-time
One of the most common observations we hear during focus groups comes as a result of lack of proactive review monitoring and engagement.
Many businesses go weeks, if not months, without any awareness that someone has said something negative about their business. It is not until traffic and lead generation begins to decline, or someone outside the business organization points out the negative comment, that businesses are faced with the reality and strength of user-generated content.
Real time, comprehensive online review monitoring can help you save face by giving you an early alert designed to let you resolve problems and speak on behalf of your brand before things get out of hand. A negative review that includes an escalation is far less likely to deter a potential customer from selecting your venue if there is a response on behalf of the business that offers clarification, apologies, and resolution to the problem escalated by the customer.
Tip 2: Don’t standardize responses and engagements
If corporations are people, too, then it is essential that those who are tasked with reputation management and social media management engage with their customers and followers at a personal level.
There are many reasons responses must not be automated, template-based, or standardized, but the most important reason is respect. Respecting your customers by having a commitment to deal with them at a personal level triggers loyalty, improves brand recall, and sets the stage for brand advocacy.
Automation can come back and bite you in the worst ways. American Airlines learned this lesson in 2013, when they had set their Twitter account to auto-tweet positive responses when a customer made mention of their brand.
This resulted in a tremendous embarrassment when customers began to tweet negative tweets related to the merger with U.S. Airlines. Their system could not detect language nuances like sarcasm and double entendre, resulting in positive responses to negative tweets.
So don’t put your brand at risk by taking this shortcut. Investing in person-to-person reputation management efforts protects your brand and gives you a competitive edge by allowing you to connect with your customers in a meaningful way.
Tip 3: Be consistent across all review and social profiles
Inconsistency in pitch and pricing is a recipe for online reputation disasters. A significant percentage of negative reviews specifically relate to the failure of a business to deliver what they promised.
Inaccuracy and carelessness on your part is often perceived as poor customer service and dishonesty. Work on ensuring your content, menus, business information, and multimedia are accurate and truly represent what you have to offer your customers. A misrepresentation has the potential to generate a highly negative review, which can snowball into a PR disaster or other marketing conundrum.
Tip 4: Don’t play favorites
Exercising good judgment, discretion, fairness, and consistency when it comes to resolving issues and addressing negative customer feedback can save you from an online reputation disaster.
If customers feel like you gave them the short end of the stick, as compared to other similar situations, then be ready to receive reviews that reflect their disapproval and lack of appreciation.
Tip 5: Pick your reputation manager / brand ambassador with care
The person tasked with the management of your online reputation can make or break your business.
If you have already determined that online engagements are a meaningful source of leads, then you can’t take the risk of placing your brand in the hands of someone who is not well-versed, empowered, and able to engage with customers in a way that is conducive to reconciliation when things have gone wrong, and increased engagement when dealing with neutral or positive feedback.
The person responding to your reviews becomes your de facto brand ambassador. Make certain you are putting your best foot forward, and pay attention to details such as spelling, grammar, and tone.
A written response is there to stay and will impact your business for years to come. Make each word count for the best, and shelter your business from a reputation crisis by ensuring your responses are positive and completely support your brand’s mission and vision statement.
Tip 6: Don’t take things personally
If there is one lesson to be learned from the worst online reputation crises, it is to remember to not take things personally. A review response written in haste and with anger can come back and bite you in the worst possible ways.
Explosive, sarcastic, and uncaring responses have no place in any business of any size. Even if a review is unfair, inaccurate, or inappropriate, you should stick to a higher standard and always engage with decorum and grace.
Tip 7: See every customer as a potential influencer
The thing about online engagement is that you never know who happens to be on the other side of our communications.
When dealing with responses to reviews or other public online interactions such as tweets and Facebook posts, it is best that you handle every single customer as a potential influencer.
There is no telling what can go viral when served to someone who has high online reach. Viewing everyone as a potential influencer is not exclusive to negative interactions. If you do right by an influencer, then you stand a good chance of getting a deluge of great press and multiple positive online signals.
Tip 8: Avoid any communication that might be misinterpreted
Written language is dangerous when it comes to communication nuances. Without the feedback of expression, the reader is not fully able to interpret meaning accurately in every instance.
Given this limitation, writing review responses should be handled with great care, to avoid a crisis rooted in erred interpretation. Be polite, business-minded, and stick to simple and sincere language that is aligned with the brand and marketing objectives of your business organization.
Tip 9: Don’t fake your online reviews
Writing fake online reviews will place your business in the ultimate debacle. Fake reviews are illegal, and even if you don’t get caught, they represent a significant danger to your business and marketing model.
A fake review goes against FTC standards and can result in persecution and fines from local authorities. By faking a review, you are creating a false expectation in the mind of potential customers who are using review sites to size you up against their service expectations.
If you are unable to deliver to the same level portrayed in a fake review, then you can be certain your customer satisfaction will quickly drop, and before you know it your excellent fake review will be cancelled out by highly negative feedback of expectations not met. (Here are 9 ways faking online reviews will destroy your business.)
There are plenty of tried and true methods to secure high-quality, honest feedback. Work on delivering superior products and services, and seek out engagement with your customers while applying these best practices.