The Beginner’s Guide to Online Reputation Management

Any business owner knows that maintaining a positive brand reputation is vital to establishing trust with new customers. 89% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase, and the internet offers limitless opportunities for customers to sing your praises—or convey their displeasure. For this reason, savvy brands are turning to online reputation management to control the way their businesses are perceived online.

Online reputation management consists of tracking reviews, mentions, press, and other ways your business can be found online, and creating response plans that paint your business positively. Think of it as light public relations—managing (on a smaller scale) your business’s image and building a narrative about how it relates to its customers.

Both overcoming negative and cultivating positive online reputations can be a difficult task. Luckily, we’ve put together this helpful guide for starting and maintaining an effective online reputation management strategy so that your business can attain a positive online presence.

Before You Get Started

It’s important to remember that your online reputation has everything to do with your relationship with your customers. Ensure that you are providing top-notch customer service before customers go online to discuss your brand so that they will always have positive things to say. Additionally, work toward establishing a positive brand community on social media to build a following of brand advocates who will be inspired to post positively on your behalf.

At the end of the day, there will always be individuals who cannot be pleased regardless of the quality service you offer, as well as individuals who want something your business will not be able to deliver. Your goal in managing your reputation is to show customers that you care about what they have to say and are willing to work toward a positive solution.

Step 1: Audit your existing online reputation

If you’re a brand new business, great! You likely won’t have any reputation online and can move on to step 2. However, if your business has been in operation for some time, you should take stock of your business’s existing online reputation and make plans for how to address it.

a. Locate all existing pages, accounts, and mentions of your business.

You can do this by a simple google search of your business name, or your business name + “reviews.” The first few pages of search should give you an idea of where customers are finding information about your business, whether it be through your social media accounts, online business directories, third-party shopping sites like Amazon or eBay, or review platforms like the BBB. Take note of what people are saying about you—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

b. Get access to all accounts and pages you can control.

You should already have access to your social media accounts and any shopping sites included in your omnichannel strategy. If you find your business listed on a directory or review platform, many of these sites allow you to “claim” an existing listing for your business so that you can update it.

c. Ensure that your listed business information is correct.

Address, phone number, email address—all of these details should be consistent across each account. Having a consistent logo and business description where permitted will also add credibility to your brand.

d. Decide how to address existing concerns.

If you haven’t been keeping up with customer comments or reviews on a particular channel, we suggest beginning to respond only to those made within the past month. This will allow you to begin working on more recent, still salvageable situations and avoid reminding unhappy customers of old, negative feelings that they may have since forgotten about.

Step 2: Devise a plan for monitoring new mentions and reviews

Adding reputation management to your strategy comes with an influx of new tasks to keep track of. Make a plan before you get into the weeds so you can ensure consistent visibility and a timely response rate to any comments or concerns.

a. Determine your reputation management bandwidth.

Maybe you only have an hour each week to sift through new activity, or maybe you have an employee who can devote 30 minutes each day. Perhaps you can only handle keeping track of a few channels, or perhaps you want to control as many channels as you can. Set a plan and a regular monitoring cadence for yourself so that these tasks don't fall through the cracks. Meanwhile, keep an eye on how often new activity occurs—you may need to adjust your strategy as you become more familiar with your customers’ engagement frequency.

b. Set up alerts to get notified immediately about any new activity.

Activate notifications for comments, messages, and reviews on the social media sites that will allow it. Additionally, set up Google Alerts for your business so that you are notified of any new online mentions. Most review sites will send you an email when a new review comes through, so make sure you have that setting activated. You can even set up a review-monitoring service like Yotpo to manage your reviews.

c. Prepare for frequently asked questions, comments, or complaints.

If a specific aspect of your business comes up quite often, draft a blurb ahead of time that you can use to respond in each instance it is brought up. For example, if your shipping carrier has been experiencing issues, save a blurb like, “Thank you for sharing this valuable feedback! We are aware of some shipping delays and are working with our shipping partners to address the issue.” that you can use if distressed customers begin to comment on your social media pages.

d. Create plans for negative press.

One of the best things you can do for your business is prepare for the worst. Establish a plan in case disaster strikes and you need to notify customers of a major change or respond to negative allegations, including who will be in charge of communicating (your marketing team? A PR or reputation management firm?) and the best channels to communicate through. Being prepared beforehand will alleviate some panic in the moment.

Step 3: Establish your customer review response plan

Customer reviews are the most important aspect of your reputation management plan since they offer direct, unbiased views of your business and products to potential customers. Your reaction to these reviews can portray you as caring, detached, or hostile, depending on how strategically you approach them. Once you’ve devised a plan to monitor new reviews, follow these steps to ensure that your responses are seen as customer-centric.

a. Respond quickly to new reviews.

If you don’t have the bandwidth to keep up with this frequently, don’t feel too bad—it is more important to work on providing a good customer experience on the back-end. However, the more quickly you can respond to reviews (especially negative ones), the better your business will come across.

b. Use a professional tone when responding to reviews.

Keep in mind that anything you post online under your company’s name can be seen as an official response. Unless your brand has a clearly informal personality, keep anything you say kind, yet formal. NEVER get defensive, call customers “liars,” blame them for problems, or release overly-detailed information about their queries.

c. Handle negative reviews with care.

Piggybacking off the last point, make sure that your responses in the case of negative reviews are polite and empathetic—it may be tempting to defend your business if falsehoods have been claimed, but responding defensively never reflects well on you. Publicly respond that you are looking into the matter and try to address the issue offline—if it is handled to the customer’s satisfaction, they may feel comfortable deleting their negative review entirely, and you may earn yourself a repeat customer.

d. Solicit reviews from happy customers.

The best way to make sure your online reputation is positive is by asking customers who have had a good experience to share their thoughts publicly. This is a great way to drown out any negative reviews that come through. Repeatedly asking for reviews also ensures that reviews for your business or products are up-to-date—there is nothing more sketchy than a business whose last review occurred five years ago.

e. Thank customers who leave reviews.

As you respond to reviews, make sure to thank customers for their feedback—after all, they did take time out of their day to share their experience, whether it was positive or negative. Thanking customers in either situation shows potential future customers that you value feedback and constantly strive to improve your business.

Step 4: Be proactive to prevent negative press and reviews

Responding to negative reviews online is a great start toward improving your online reputation, but preventing them in the first place is even better—and will save you time down the line. Here are a few ways to prevent negative experiences to reach the internet before they happen:

a. Provide quality goods, experience, and service.

The absolute best way to prevent negative reviews or press is to provide such an amazing experience that customers can’t find anything negative to say. Make sure your goods are created with quality and care. If the spirit of your store is selling cost-effective products to price-conscious buyers, make sure that is clear in the story you tell online so that customers aren’t surprised with products that are not of the quality they are expecting. Be transparent and communicative about your payment, shipping, and delivery process, and invest heavily in providing an exceptional customer service experience.

b. Solicit feedback early and privately.

Some people need to complain regardless, but you can sidestep bad online press by diverting their grievances to a private channel. Incorporate feedback surveys into your order process so that dissatisfied customers will have an outlet to vent through before they reach the web. (Of course, make sure that you also read and respond to their feedback so that they don’t feel ignored and decide to make their unhappiness known to everyone.)

c. Make sure your business is easy to contact.

Most people want their problem fixed more than they want to blast your business online—typically, negative online reviews occur when customers feel like they have exhausted all other options. If you have an easy-to-find phone number, email address, and/or chat function on your online store, customers will most often try to reach you directly through these avenues first to get their issue resolved.

Step 5: Generate positive press for your business

If you have the bandwidth, you can go the extra mile with a proactive approach that will inject more positivity toward your brand into the online realm. These suggestions are not vital to reputation management success, but can be great add-ons.

a. Leverage your positive reviews.

Getting positive reviews is great, but sharing them widely is even better. Post them as testimonials on your site or social media pages and include them on any marketing assets you create. When you get negative reviews, use them to inform your future strategy.

b. Let customers know about exciting company news.

Have you expanded your offerings to include something people have been asking for? Did you recently partner with an industry-leader? Post about it wherever your customers are most likely to see, whether that be on a blog or social media. If you are a larger company, a press release is another great option.

c. Help out in your local community.

Giving back is a great way to make customers associate your business name with positive feelings. Plus, it’s good for the world! Donate supplies or your time to an organization in need, and tell your followers about it—and how they can contribute too.

Step 6: Protect Your Brand Image

One of the most critical but commonly-overlooked forms of reputation management is copyright enforcement. To protect your brand, you should have your brand name trademarked with the US Patent & Trademark Office. Once you have the trademark, there are some protections provided by Google and Amazon for how your brand name is used on their platforms.

Be diligent about enforcing your copyright—knockoffs and imitators can do serious damage to your brand reputation. Furthermore, you do not want them to use your brand name in online ads—it creates confusion with customers and could be a huge headache for you.

In Conclusion

A positive online reputation can do wonders when it comes to driving customers through the sales funnel. It can also provide you with valuable testimonials and content for marketing initiatives. A negative reputation, on the other hand, can cause customers to seek out alternative options to your business. By prioritizing your business’s online reputation and driving the narrative surrounding your relationships with your customers, you can ultimately grow sales—and your business itself.