Online Reputation Management: The Basics

A heart on a chain
A heart on a chain

Online reputation management (ORM) should always be a priority, but the 2020 rise of “Cancel Culture” proved just how important ORM really is - and just how delicate brands are - causing a surge of interest in this discipline amongst the c-suite.

If 2020 taught us one thing, it’s that a brand’s social media reputation can be made and slain at the tap of a tweet. So should we just give up on trying to gain control over our reputation in an increasingly volatile space? The short answer is no, however, “opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.” Meeting the challenges of 2020 and beyond means identifying potential reputation hurdles and planning accordingly. So what can digital marketing professionals do to protect themselves? Invest in online reputation management.

Read on to learn all you need to know about the basics of online reputation management.

What's the definition of online reputation?

A quick Google will reveal many takes on what is meant by ‘online brand reputation’, but I the following online corporate reputation definition sums up the term concisely:  “Online reputation, or e reputation, is how a company, person, product or service is viewed and perceived on the internet and across digital platforms.”

And what do we mean by online reputation management, how is this different?

Some people believe that e-reputation management solely means media monitoring while others argue its public relations. In reality, online reputation management it's a mixture of the two - and more. It spans across your whole online strategy and is impacted by everything from the content an organisation distributes, to what stakeholders’ externally comment on, to interactions with communities online.

While professionals may not agree on a solid definition, one thing is, the primary goal of online reputation management is to suppress any negativity directed towards your company and/or stakeholders.

Why is managing reputation so important?

Research shows that online reputation plays a prominent role in the consideration phase of the customer journey. When we consider the fact that 78% consumers state that social media posts influence their decision-making process, and 54% of people use social media to research products, it’s clear that your digital footprint and reputation has an impact on the bottom line. But asides from revenue, businesses that have a positive internet reputation can also benefit from the below.

Benefits of having a positive internet reputation

  • Having a strong e-reputation increases trust
  • Improved perceived credibility
  • Differentiation
  • Having you have a credible e-reputation, you have access to more business opportunities such as sponsorship deals
  • Increased loyalty
  • Lower marketing costs

Now the benefits of reputation management are clear, let’s explore how to go about making sure you have this covered for your organisation.

Dice with happy and sad faces on

What does reputation management actually involve?

We all strive to do our best, particularly when it comes to something as important as perception, however doing your best is sometimes not enough. ORM takes energy, strategy and a calculated approach. Maintaining your online reputation can be difficult and sometimes crisis erupt without warning or little can be done to mitigate the risk of one happening. That being said, if you’re prepared (and have a crisis comms plan in place), the damage caused to brand reputation can be reduced.

To help get your strategy off the ground, we’ve detailed some of the ways that businesses are going about ORM below:

  • Making a good first impression by surprising and delighting existing and potential customers
  • Addressing criticism publicly
  • Leading with purpose
  • Asking for feedback so as to improve your e reputation
  • Listening and responding to audiences
  • Having a crisis comms plan in place to protect your e reputation

Let’s review some of these in more detail.

The Dos and Don’ts of online reputation management

There’s a saying that “any publicity is good publicity” which simply isn’t true. Negative publicity can sink your company as so many brands in 2020 know too well. So with this in mind, here are some dos and don’ts of online reputation management.

The Dos of e-reputation management:

DO make a good first impression:

What first impression do you want your company to portray? … Time’s up. In the time it took you to read that sentence, your initial reputation could be tarnished since it takes less than 50 milliseconds to form a first impression. First impressions are so important because they give way to a ‘halo effect’. In a nutshell, the halo effect is a consumer's bias toward a maker's products due to a favourable experience with that company's other products. This means if you make a good first impression the likelihood of that consumer returning and buying another product or service in your portfolio is much greater.

DO partake in online review management and respond to negative reviews and comments:

Social media is a two-way conversational platform, so if your organisation is present there expect to respond to comments regardless of whether they’re good or bad. 37% of consumers who use social media to complain or question a company expect to get a response in under 30 minutes, so burying your head in the sand isn’t going to help, as Nestle found out…

A few years ago, Nestlé began to receive negative comments about their environmental practices. Unfortunately, they decided to ignore the comments and the public became more and more aggressive with their engagement—even posting altered versions of the Nestlé logo online. As a result, Nestlé was forced to take down their public page. What can we learn from this? It’s best to address public criticism as soon as possible in order to neutralise the situation and prevent it from growing into a major social media reputation problem.

A hand playing on a phone with a speech bubble featuring 5 stars

DO stay true to your core values and purpose:

Your brand is derived from a mix of who you are (your executives and colleagues), who you want to be (your values), and who people perceive you to be (user experience and brand perception). In a perfect world, your reputation follows the brand. Help this along by making your desired brand present across all customer touchpoints including how employees answer phones, what language they use when describing your services or products, e-mail signatures, social media presence, how you engage concerning your business online etc.

Remember, in order to truly be customer-centric, the brand is every employee’s responsibility – not only the communication team's. This means the whole company needs to live and breathe the corporate mission, vision, values, and goals.

Given the desires that segments like Gen-Z show for authenticity and accountability – we will see an increasing need for companies to not just speak about their values, but act upon them too. The Cancel Culture has given way to a demand for more purpose-driven marketing and in order for you to move the needle, you need to walk that talk.

DO ask for feedback:

Long gone are the days when companies would sell their products or services to a passive audience—now it is all about engaging with your customers, listening to what they have to say, and learning/growing as a result. Assuming you’re not in the middle of a big scandal that’s likely to elicit more negativity than you need, asking the online universe for feedback is a great way to elucidate your commitment to providing the best product or service possible. Try a simple Facebook post or a LinkedIn poll asking your followers what else they’d like to see from you or where you can improve. This shows initiative and humility, both of which play into your company’s trustworthiness and likeability.

DO listen and pay attention:

It’s important to keep track of brand conversations, interactions, and positive and negative brand sentiment so you can join discussions, answer queries, dispel myths, and actually see if your communications strategy is effective. Media monitoring tools let you view and analyze perceptions and activity around your company name and industry (while also determining ROI of your marketing/ PR efforts) – but more on that later! 

DO respect your community: 

Building a circle of influence online can have a massively positive impact on your organisation. We all know about the power of influence; it travels faster than ever in a socially-networked world. But as every PR and marketing pro knows, message virality is a double-edged sword.

The good news is that people who follow you on social are most likely already fans so it’s important to craft a social media marketing strategy that speaks to them. Converse with them in a timely manner, and always be professional and courteous (no matter what was said). Partake in discussions and offer a professional opinion on the topic. Try to avoid being too ‘salesy’ too by only recommending products or services when you feel it can solve a problem or encourage the discussion to move forward. Be sure to acknowledge positive comments just as you would the negative ones and build and nurture your ambassadors so they spread the good word about your company on your behalf!

The Don’ts of e reputation management:

DON’T spam search engine results: 

Visibility strongly contriubtes to how credible your brand is perceived which is why SEO is a top priority for marketing and comms pros. If you create a large number of web profiles in an effort to overwhelm Google or another search engine for that matter, you’re digging a hole for yourself. There are many reputation management companies out there that offer to build social media profiles, press releases, and other new content, and while it’s cheap, it’s also ineffective. Google, Bing and other search engines are smarter today, and they don’t fall for this technique anymore. Instead, your online reputation strategy should put particular importance on getting your Google search result listing to the top of the Google search engine page and making sure it stays there by providing varied, quality content, and doing the proper SEO legwork to increase visibility.

DON’T respond publicly if you’re upset: 

Some of the worst reputation problems happen when an employee responds to a bad Google or social media review, blog post, or article in an ill-advised manner (anger, sarcasm, or just badly worded responses). It amazes us how many people respond in ALL CAPS. Trust us, it’s a bad idea… always.

While 70% of the customers who leave negative online reviews hope they will get a response, do remember that some things are better left unsaid. Take Amy’s Baking Company as an example. While the company did the right thing and replied to a one-star review, their tone of voice was totally off and their response looked like what can only be described as a ferocious meltdown. Their insults were eventually picked up by the local media, and consequently, their public image suffered a massive blow. 

On the contrary, when one of Nike’s customers experienced technical difficulties using NikePlus they too vocalised their frustration on their social media, but Nike’s approach worked. Through social media reputation management, Nike was able to spot the negative comment and responded offering advice and pulling out the classic one-liner often used by IT departments, “have you turned it on and off again?”. This simple but effective response meant that the customer knew their problem was being handled by an actual human and not a bot, adding a level of authenticity. The push for transparency means that it's now more vital than ever that companies maintain a human approach to their brand image and reputation, and Nike managed to do just that in a few words while also continuing on to help resolve the issue.

The takeaway? Be mindful of the tone of your reply and content you respond with. When it comes to online review management, always look at problems as opportunities to turn disgruntled consumers into loyal ones. A negative review is a chance to show how eager you are to please your customers and resolve any issues they may have experienced.

A fist on a broken keyboard

DON’T delete negative online reviews: 

Speaking of online reviews, as much as you may want to, it’s best practice not to remove negative feedback as this can be more harmful to your social media reputation than leaving them for all to see. Although it can be damaging, removing them can make your company seem untrustworthy. In fact, 68% of consumers trust Google reviews more when they see both good and bad ones as it’s less likely that they’re fake reviews. As mentioned above, when it comes to online review management, feedback should be addressed and not taken down.

DON’T forget to have a crisis comms plan in place

An important part of good reputation management is contingency planning. As a business, you must be ready to face criticism and be prepared for the worst-case scenarios. Here are just a few questions you will want to consider:

  • What if your product or service causes too much criticism?
  • What if you receive an extremely negative comment that is unfounded?
  • What if someone with power or influence online publishes a negative piece of content about your product or service?
  • What if your employees act unreasonably or in a way that could harm your business?
  • What if your competitors take advantage of this?

View the Ultimate Crisis Comms Checklist here.

Media Monitoring and Online Reputation

As much as we want to be, we’re not superhuman and it’s impossible to know what people are saying about us online without the right tools in place. The easiest way to manage your online reputation and keep a watchful eye over what’s being said is to use an all-encompassing media and social media reputation management platform.

Media monitoring allows us to filter through the noise and specifically find and target those less than favourable comments/ reviews. Then when something bad happens you’ll know about it immediately and can take the necessary data-driven steps needed to mitigate the negative engagement and protect your internet reputation. Media intelligence tools are extremely dynamic and their analytics can be used for anything from creating content to market research to lead generation. From an ORM perspective, the following metrics can be analysed:

  1. Media Exposure: Using the media exposure tool, companies can view peaks and troughs in editorial and social media mentions, helping to identify key points of interest. For example, if there’s a large spike in engagement, this usually suggests that something good or something bad has happened which can severely impact your online reputation.
  2. Sentiment: Is your brand generating positive, negative or neutral sentiment? The sentiment metric gives brands a clear breakdown of how consumers feel about them. For that reason, this metric plays a key role in social media reputation management.
  3. Trending themes/keywords: What are the key themes in online conversations involving your brand? If you partner this metric is sentiment you can gain an overview of the negative themes associated with your company and work to address this.
  4. Top posters: Who are the most authoritative figures speaking about your brand. Looking at your top poster’s influence is particularly useful when prioritising which comments should be addressed first. For obvious reasons, you’d want to tackle the comments from people with a larger klout as the reach is much higher and therefore more damaging.

If you’re interested in seeing how media intelligence can impact your workflow while you’re protecting your online reputation, download our ebook: Using Media Intelligence to Manage Brand Crisis.

Crisis comms ebook cover

2021 will see a split between companies either rising to the challenge of meeting the consumer of today’s expectations, or failing to do so and compromising their good reputations as a result. So what camp are you in?

Want to learn more about managing your online reputation in 2020 or hear key reputation marketing tips to get you started, but don’t fancy scrolling through an endless list of search results? Check out this on-demand webinar recording which has all the information you need to be successful.