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Why Online Reputation Development Matters for Your Brand

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 31/03/2016 Brian Hughes

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Still think online reputation management is the same as social media monitoring? Think again. While social media does play a role, online reputation management encompasses more than just what customers tweet about your brand. Online reputation management is a proactive approach to monitoring what is being said about your business online and responding appropriately with positive material to bolster trust and credibility.
In today's highly competitive digital marketplace, online reputation management is not sufficient. Brands need to take an active role in developing - not just managing - their reputation. There's always going to be that one angry customer who simply doesn't like your business. Great reputation management is the difference between that one customer triggering a tidal wave of bad publicity or inoculating the public with a positive image of your brand to combat potential PR problems before they occur.
1. Use online customer service to your advantage. On average, a satisfied customer will share his or her experience with four to six people. For dissatisfied customers, that number explodes to nine to 15 people. That's some pretty powerful word-of-mouth marketing working against your brand! Here's the thing: many of these customer service complaints could have been avoided simply through more responsive care.
When customers are angry, frustrated or disappointed, they want a source for venting these frustrations. That's why so many angry customers take to Twitter to rant about everything from lost luggage to faulty products. Head off Twitter rants by monitoring for brand mentions. (If you don't already have a great social media monitoring tool, these are six great options.) Next, steer the conversation offline or to a direct message; which will help shield your brand from a negative PR onslaught and also make it easier for you to address customer concerns.
Finally, consider using a live chat service on your website. Live chat provides customers with 24/7 access to a customer service representative who can quickly respond to problems. When customers are upset, they crave immediate acknowledgment of their problem. Even if you can't make it right overnight, a prompt, thoughtful and empathetic response can go a long way to preventing a PR nightmare and keeping customers loyal to your brand.
2. Beat the new provider blues. As Rep Revive points out, customers often lack confidence when purchasing from a new provider. Small businesses then fall back on heavily discounted services or products in order to entice new customers in the door. The end result: heavy discounts can leave your business struggling to make a profit. Worse, should you raise your prices, customers may bolt to the competition?
Online reputation management turns this lose-lose situation into a win-win by generating positive word of mouth and early buzz about your business. Sure, you may only have a handful of reviews on Yelp after your first month of business, but 12 positive reviews is a lot better than no feedback! Prospective customers gain confidence when they read other reviews and feel more comfortable taking a risk on your business, no heavy price discounting required.
3. Get serious about CSR. Is your brand serious about corporate social responsibility (CSR)? While typically associated with large corporations, CSR is a modern business imperative for companies of all sizes. Consumers vote with their wallets: they want to feel good about their purchases and know their money is going to companies who share their concerns for environmental sustainability, employee welfare, and human rights.
For smaller businesses, CSR is an opportunity to make an immediate, tangible impact on a community level. Consider supporting a scholarship fund for local high school students or partnering with a community-based non-profit that aligns with your firm's values. Adopting greener business practices could even be considered a CSR. Finally, while corporation donations are great, consumers want to support businesses that are actively involved in their CSR efforts and not just writing a check. I like how the financial advisors at Raymond James Financial, Inc. demonstrates the firm's CSR impact by tracking donation dollars as well as volunteer hours and program participants in the Tampa Bay Heart Walk.
Bottom line:
In the digital age, responding to customer complaints is insufficient: brands need to proactively bolster trust and credibility through reputation development. This starts with communicating with your customers where they are. Monitor social media and be ready with a prompt response. Offer online live chat to address complaints securely and privately. Next, put the power of online reviews to work for your business.
Encourage customers to leave feedback and let them tell your story in their own words. Finally, get active with your community through a CSR program that aligns with your brand's values. Building a strong reputation through genuine customer engagement is the best shield against potential negative reviews and comments.

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