The need for a company to have and maintain a good reputation can  not be over emphasized. Maintaining a positive brand image is key to a company’s success and growth. However, developments in the Digital Age have tremendously changed and expanded the whole idea of a company’s reputation.

The Internet has given the consumer more power and say over products and services. Power has shifted away from businesses and toward consumers when it comes to voicing a company’s marketing message. While traditionally,  companies used to be able to carefully craft their message and then promote it using traditional advertising methods such as billboards, radio and TV, new platforms and channels for communication have largely transferred that power to consumers.

Business reputation has moved to the online sphere and it is now easy for consumers to share their thoughts and opinions with others online. While positive reviews would translate to great exposure for a business, negative reviews on the other hand can have a significant impact on customer retention and new sales. Online reviews are right up there with word-of-mouth advertising in terms of their influence.

Online reputation management is therefore a strategy and process of monitoring, identifying, and influencing a company’s digital reputation and credibility online. An effective online reputation management strategy can also provide the company with new opportunities and insight on increasing its brand awareness.

It is therefore important for companies to include online reputation management as part of their overall reputation management efforts. This would mean focusing on monitoring online reviews and responding and resolving any issues in a timely manner.

1. Monitoring Online Reviews

As a company, you need to know what other people are saying about the company out there. More and more consumers read online reviews in order to determine the quality of a local business. Many consumers are researching brands, services, and products online before they make the final purchase decision.

More than just consumers, current and potential investors, other companies, banks, and the general public are all going online to research your business before doing business with you. It is therefore important to keep tabs with what is being said about the company and its products.

Conduct a quick search of your company on the Internet and see what comes up. Is the company easy to find? If not, invest in search engine optimisation techniques. Embrace social media platforms. They have revolutionalized the way consumers relate with companies, and are a great channel through which a company can create an online presence. Ensure your company has social media profiles setup at as many social media channels as possible, and encourage search engines such as Google to rank them highly in search results by linking to them from your website, filling them out thoroughly with your company information, and posting to them regularly with quality content.

Identify and monitor keywords and hashtags related to your brand, products, employees and competitors to monitor conversations that are taking place on social networking sites.

What is the first impression a consumer gets when they come across online reviews regarding your company? Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and look at the reviews through his eyes. If you have a Web page or a blog, are they kept up to date? Is your business reviewed on online forums or blogs?

Build systems to keep you alerted and automatically inform you when your business is mentioned in a review, blog or online publication. Enlist on review sites that keep you updated whenever a review is posted.

2. Managing Online Reviews

Managing the online reviews is even more tricky. The fast-paced and public nature of social media requires companies to not only respond quickly, but to also resolve the customer’s concerns effectively.   Businesses therefore need to be proactive about customer service and respond to reviews and other online feedback.

Do not ignore comments, whether positive or negative

However, give special attention to negative reviews. The Internet makes everyone a citizen journalist and you should now worry about negative content spreading like wildfire online. A single negative comment can go viral within hours and cause so much damage on a company’s reputation.

Hostile critics are bound to be there

At all times, avoid personal confrontation and respond to the critics in professional way. Engage with them in a respectful and courteous manner, your personal feelings notwithstanding. Go ahead and listen to the consumer. Understand his concerns, apologize for the inconvenience and try to win him back. Unless the negative comments are downright uncalled for (such as being racist in nature), do not delete them, lest it comes off as an admission of guilt or hiding something.

Do not post false reviews

Fake reviews, when realized by consumers, can lead to massive damage in a company’s brand.

Look out for patterns

Are consumers constantly complaining about poor customer service? Are they praising something that you can emphasize to differentiate your business? Look out for such patterns and tailor your business to meet their specific needs.

3. Promote The Company

As mentioned above, online reputation management can also provide the company with new opportunities and insight on increasing its brand awareness. These same channels used by consumers to give their feedback can be exploited by companies as marketing tools.

As a company, you can enlist on review sites that allow you to highlight a favorite review to appear at the top of your page.

You can also mine customer information from these sites that can prove useful for the business. You can keep track of page views and offer promotions to loyal customers. You can also monitor periods when there are spikes in the site traffic. You can use tools that will allow you to see what pages your clients are coming from before they check on your site.

With the rise in use of social media, and the popularity of user-generated review sites, monitoring and managing your online reputation is more important than ever.

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