Managing Your Online Reputation

marketing Jul 04, 2015

Build your online reputation based on confidence, acceptance of criticism and appreciation of honesty. Bend to nobody and remember, when emotions rise, intelligence drops. Stay cool. Sounds like a few good rules in life to follow, but these are pretty much all you need to know about managing the online reviews of your business. While many small business owners lose their cool and publicly flip out, ridiculing a patron who gave an honest review of their experience, others just ignore such reviews assuming they have no effect on their business.

The truth is, most have no clue what’s being said about them online. In this article, I’ll breakdown how you can manage your online criticism for the best outcome to serve your business and your clients, customers, prospects and staff.

No matter how you cut it, your customers will talk about you one way or the other, your ability to maintain control regardless of the content they post about you can bring about an outcome that can harm or grow your business. It’s up to you. And interestingly, this goes for both positive AND negative reviews.

Responding to every positive comment simply looks like you’ve got too much free time on your hands. More interestingly, it also goes against the law of scarcity, a leadership principle that says in order to maintain the perception of authority by your audience you can’t make yourself too readily available. Be present when it counts, only when you can add value to your customer and prospects experience. Otherwise don’t let them become complacent with your presence and answering every review does just that.

You shouldn’t respond to positive testimonials unless there is something that stands out in a review that gives you the opportunity to engage the entire readership by offering a response that a.) reinforces the reviewer’s comments and b.) delivers a lesson or value that would have otherwise not have been delivered to the reader. You have thus built more obedience from your reviewer by validating their message and rather than being seen as someone who doles out alot of “thank you’s” instead, you’re an expert who has once again seized an opportunity to deliver value to the audience your business serves. You’ve strengthened your role as an authority, versus weakened it.

The same exact principle holds true for negative reviews. Be selective and seize the opportunity to turn a customer who had a bad experience into your biggest fan. When the crowd is witness to your ability to handle irate, often times irrational critiques, you once again earn your place as an authority in what you do.

Accept what they say without sarcasm, appreciate their willingness to take time to honestly critique your business and be very forthright in the fact that you will leave no stone unturned until they are your biggest fan. But know full well, you can’t please everyone nor should you try to! Be selective and don’t waste time.

So how do you easily manage this content as it most certainly does have an influence on your prospective customers?

Here are 9 tips for managing your business reviews online.

The very first step is realizing that people are talking. They are talking about you, your competitors and local businesses you may be involved in. Avoiding the fact that criticism of your business exists online and simply blowing it off because you haven’t got the time is downright dumb business.

Once you’ve recognized where your customers are talking about you, take control of that environment. An example might be Yelp. I was reading 5 reviews of a martial arts school recently on Yelp but this school didn’t have claim to their own Yelp account. Not a good idea. Yelp generates your business location automatically and people will write on this page about their experience with you.

Two years ago a client who owned a commercial trucking business asked me to help grow his dwindling online business. For some reason, business had screeched to a halt one week over six months prior and he had no idea why. He could literally point to the exact week this happened. With a little research, I discovered that a disgruntled customer had not only left a bad review, but had also uploaded and image that simply said “LIAR” on my client’s Google Places page. Of course he had no clue what Places was at the time, nor did he care. He does now.

If you don’t claim these accounts, then the hosting sites will allow anyone to upload photos of your business in your stead. Find where you’re being talked about and take control of your name and space! When you do, your review page will appear more professional, you will have control of the imagery your prospects see and a customer will feel less inclined to leave a bad review knowing that your site is updated and maintained with frequency by you.

Don’t get emotional
This may be the most important of the 9 rules. Remember, when emotions rise, intelligence drops. More often than not, a bad review never reveals the true reason why the patron was unhappy. Ask any marketing professional and they’ll tell you that a successful transaction is based entirely on emotion. When a person posts a bad review, they are not going to say you hurt their feelings, so instead they’ll dig for some other reason that is often times completely inaccurate.

I’ll bet my kids that if you look at the root cause of the last negative review you gave something, you’ll discover an emotional trigger within you that caused the negative outcome versus a quantifiable flaw in a system or product. With this in mind, stay humble and take the high road.

Recognize most bad reviews as opportunities to generate new, qualified prospective clients or customers. Sounds nuts, I know, but there’s a formula to do this. You may not realize it, but when a person posts a negative review, they are anticipating a response from you. Just like a child acting out, they are looking for your attention. Think about it. They’ll be checking their review hourly to see if you responded. Remain humble and follow the right equation for fielding their comment and you’ll be amazed at the outcome.

Don’t get stressed and let someone’s bad remarks cause you to lose traction in your goals.

Let the bitches bitch
Pretty self explanatory. If someone is complaining about something that lacks rationale or are using vulgar, offensive or threatening language, don’t respond. First, these types of responses are usually against terms of use within the sites hosting the reviews, so a quick report can have it removed. It usually takes time to do this, so be patient. But even still, people like this only come across as childish. Ignore them and do not reinforce their negativity.

Also, don’t get all, “I’m going to sue the crap out of you because you hurt my feelings.

Wrong move. Also, don’t stoop to their level and up the force multiplier with a  “You don’t know who you’re talking to asshole?” type response. Both types of responses are damaging to your reputation and can’t be undone.

Go on the offensive
Customers who are offering insightful feedback that doesn’t fit your business code of conduct or business paradigm should be dealt with. Constructive criticism should not only be responded to, it should be welcomed. Suck up your ego and make your business stronger.

First, if your resolution to their complaint offers you no opportunity to post a response that is crafted to deliver to the crowd some insightful and useful knowledge, then contact them directly and resolve their complaint through email. In this case, don’t do it publicly. Tell them you want to resolve their dissatisfaction personally and see to it that every experience they have with your business is exceptional, you want them to brag about their time with you. Admit your mistakes and make good. The next step is critical. Then… go beyond what they expected without them expecting it. There’s a very specific reason for this called the law of reciprocity.

You see, once you simply fulfill their expectation, they can leave the experience saying,  “Hah! My negative review worked and I got them off their ass to fix problem and got my money back.” You may never see them again and they’ll walk from the experience feeling empowered over submitting you. Instead of appearing on the defensive, you must be on the offensive and over deliver beyond what they expected. Make them walk from the experience saying, “Wow! I didn’t expect them to do that for me. Wait until the guys at the office hear about this.

By being on the offensive and over delivering, a subconscious response to reciprocate will go into effect and they will either remove their comment on their own, or write a follow up explaining how much ass your business kicks and how well they were taken care of by you.

If there is a chance for you to build value based content with a video or some other means as a response to a complaint, go public with it. If not, stay private. An example might be a customer who complains that the the new shirt they bought on sale didn’t fit right and it took two weeks to get the correct fitting shirt. (Well, actually what they’re saying is that they were embarrassed about how they perceived themselves, remember – emotional trigger) In this case, I would tell the shop owner to seize this opportunity to respond with a few sentences followed with a link to their store’s blog or Facebook page where they will post a YouTube link to a video they’ll make on the inspiration behind the prodcut line they chose, possibly something from the designer and how the shirt they chose was a brilliant and upscale choice, while building a value based lesson that serves other customers and prospects in the crowd. Of course you are going to invite this customer back to your store and you will fix the problem personally and swiftly.

Seems like a lot of work huh? But it’s not! Customers are in your shop each day. Why not pop out your iPhone and make the video explaining the qualities your customers appreciate in products and why your service and expertise, explaining why your products are cut a certain way or fit the way they do – do this during business hours, possibly engaging same satisfied customers o the floor and you’ve got a power packed video.

Next step is important. Quickly transcribe and optimize your text associated to the video while uploading it to YouTube. Create the link in your blog that feeds out and your FB page that hits your network. Then reply to this new customer on Google with the video. You’ve just created a ton of value based content, positioned yourself as a local business owner who listens to their customers and helped your SEO at the same time. Sweet.

Accept when you’re wrong
Accept your mistakes or the mistakes of your staff, apologize and move on. Sometimes the demonstration of humility is the best solution and will motivate the customer to remain with your business based on your willingness to show integrity. It’s as simple as that.

Be mindful of your apology though. Don’t get sarcastic in your response or minimize their concern in any way. Also, if the wrong doing was through one of your staff or management, the last thing you want to do is offer a sound apology followed by letting them know you’ll be dealing with the half-witted dip-shit who made the mistake. No, don’t say that.

Say it to my face
In the next few years we’ll see sentiment mining and consumer / crowd review sources demanding less anonymity. The more personal detail that accompanies a testimonial, the more validation comes with it in the eyes of the crowd. Google loves reviews because the crowd is doing free work for them, but they also recognize the value behind validation and this space is going to grow huge.

Here’s what I mean; if you read a review from someone named razrbld69 and that’s all you know of them, there’s little validation to what they say. But if it’s from John S. then it gets a little more agreeable with you. If it’s John Simmons, Danbury, Connecticut then it’s pretty well authenticated. If the review came from John Simmons, Danbury, CT and there’s a photo of John smiling next to his name, you can’t get more cred then that.

Why am I pointing this out? Because after you take control of your review pages, post guidelines for your reviewers and readers. Tell them you welcome reviews of your business, but only those willing to actually leave their name. Think about the message this sends. If they don’t have the guts to say it to your face then diffuse them before they even post it. Period. This drives to the pyshe of the disgruntled customer before they type. If a person has not left their name, then their poor review is immediately discredited by your readers as they didn’t follow your request.

Social proof barrier
This is a pretty cool principle that will help you in many ways. First, get everyone you’ve done business with, clients, customers, trainers, people who have done workshops in the past, fellow business owners in your network… to go online and write some ‘honest’ reviews about your Dojo. When you ask, provide them with a clickable link so they don’t have to go looking for your page. You’re going to be amazed at what happens.

In my Dojo, I did this and in two days I generated 23 five star reviews on Google. This alone got me #1 positioning on Google searches for martial arts business in my part of New York, but it also built massive validation in both the eyes of my current students and future prospects. Cool, huh?

But that’s not why I’ve included this strategy here; it’s because if you have 20 five star reviews of your Dojo up, who then wants to be the jerk who puts up the 1 star review? … Nobody!  Just like when you were in school and the teacher asked a question, everyone raised their hand except you. What did you do? Exactly, you raised your hand because you didn’t want to be that person.

A word of advice on this. Of course the search engines understand this tactic and when your business has zero reviews since the internet came into being, then within 24 hours you get 30 five star reviews, that will get flagged. Stagger your requests, stay persistent and make it as easy as possible for them to leave a review.

Regarding the poor review you may have, if your growing five star review timeline beats down any current poor reviews with piles of new five star reviews, someone who was emotionally upset at your business today will be less likely to post a negative review among a crowd of super happy customers.

Every word is an opportunity
I truly believe that if someone is taking time out of their life to write about you, they want you to see it, they want you to change for the better or they want you to know they appreciate you. They want to be your fan. Otherwise, they’d just walk away and never pay you any attention again. Therefore, grasp this opportunity if for no other reason than as one to learn how to better serve your target audience.

Being ignorant to the sentiment of your customers is bad business and never before have business owners had such an opportunity to gauge the pulse of their market. Take advantage of this and watch your business grow.

There’s alot there, so let’s summarize:

  1. Bend to nobody and remember, when emotions rise, intelligence drops. Stay cool. Recognize that people are talking about you online.
  2. Control the environments they are reviewing you in.
  3. Don’t get emotional, accept criticism and appreciate your audience.
  4. Let the bitches bitch, let them burn themselves. No need to reply. Report vulgarity or threats. Be patient.
  5. Go on the offensive, reply in private to legit concerns unless you can create something to position yourself further as an authority. Over deliver on expectations and build reciprocity.
  6. Accept when you’re wrong and move on. Customers, prospects and the crowd appreciate integrity.
  7. Say it to my face. Set the terms of your review pages to lessen the chance of bad reviews and dilute the validity of those who leave bad criticism but don’t put their name to it.
  8. Social proof barrier. Ask for reviews! Build a strong timeline of 5 star reviews. Nobody wants to be the 1 star jerk.
  9. Every word is an opportunity. Accept the fact that every review is meant to draw out your attention. Accept everything with an eye on the opportunity and don’t let your ego spoil it.

Let me know what has worked for you! – Adam


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