Simon Wadsworth, Managing Partner at leading online reputation management company Igniyte, offers his top tips.offers his top tips
1. Tune in
The first step is to be aware of what customers, peers and other market commentators are saying about you online. Simply Googling your company is not enough. Instead, use monitoring software to receive regular notifications about and track activity involving your company.
This doesn't necessarily need to be expensive; options range from free tools such as Google Alerts to easy-to-use packages like Mention and Trackur.
More complicated – often paid – services offer additional options to track employee, supplier and competitor mentions in the marketplace, but the starting point should be your own firm.
2. Get personal
With 55 per cent of the general population now viewing individuals as more believable than institutions, and a company's social media page more believable than advertising1, individuals hold increasing power in the marketplace.
This means that it's not just your business that needs to look good online; the social media activity of senior business stakeholders is closely linked to your company's credibility.
3. Think beyond your website
More often than not, the first thing that we do when an unknown company piques our interest is Google it to find out more. Around 50 per cent of the time, the company's own website will not receive the first click, however.
This is because when learning about a new company or brand, customers are firmly in research mode. They search for the company but, because they are trying to establish how credible it is rather than what it says about itself, they concentrate on finding out what others think of it. Company blogs, social media channels and other platforms that are open to comment have an important role to play here.
4. Control the conversation
Your website should still occupy the top spot in search engines, but owning the listings on the first page of Google with your own blogs, social media and LinkedIn profiles gives you greater control over what customers are influenced by.
A bad review as the second entry, for example, is likely to be an immediate deterrent. Dominating the entire first page makes it much harder for negative coverage to rank.
5. Target your engagement
When properly managed, a social media presence can be a real asset, raising brand awareness and offering customers alternative channels to engage with customer service representatives, but you need to be aware just how easily a careless response to a comment can turn into a PR disaster.
Opening these lines of communication offers you the opportunity to resolve an issue, turning it from potential complaint to positive customer outcome that they may publicly credit you for. If they are denied this route, customers may instead turn to third party sites which you are unable to control and have less access to.
Reacting is not always the best course of action, however. Depending on the nature of the issue, it may not be worth perpetuating online debate on a platform that is not visible to your target market.
6. Reviews: know your rights
If you do receive a negative review, it's important that it is picked up quickly and dealt with. After all, just one mention of your company name on a popular complaints site may mean that it ranks on the first page of Google.
The good news is that some of this online content can be challenged, particularly in the UK where we have defamation laws. Knowing your rights and reporting offences to Google can result in the item being delisted and removed from search results. A clear review management strategy will ensure consistency across the business.
It's important to note, though, that only unfounded, defamatory or malicious review links can be challenged in the UK. If a customer gives negative feedback following a poor experience, you can't challenge that as it's a consumer's right to offer a review that reflects their experience.
With that in mind, the best thing to do is to address the review by replying to it publicly and requesting the reviewer contacts you so that, together, you can find a solution privately.
After you've resolved the issue in private, you can then go back to the original review and post a positive comment e.g. “really happy we were able to sort this issue for you John Smith”.
7. Honesty really is the best policy
Yesterday's news no longer vanishes with the waste collection, so, in the event of a major event such as cyberattack, businesses must reassure people that it has been carefully dealt with. Be as transparent as possible and produce plenty of content detailing the steps that have been taken, what this means for your customers and any preventative measures put in place to avoid a similar scenario.