To find a great electrician or the next great takeout restaurant, people used to phone friends and colleagues and ask for recommendations.
That’s changed over the years, and people now largely rely on the opinions of total strangers to make those same recommendations, thanks to the broad reach of the online, community-driven landscape.
Get familiar with the info about your business that’s already online—or add it yourself if you’re new
Maintain an active role in online conversations about your business
Be transparent and authentic to build trust and boost your online reputation
Digital marketing—including online reviews—is the new “word-of-mouth” marketing, and it’s here to stay. Consumers are less likely to make a phone call and more likely to open an app like Yelp to find what they need, so it’s important for businesses to pay attention to their online reputation.
If you follow a few simple steps, it can be just as easy to build, track, and maintain a great reputation online as it is for customers to leave a comment.
Research your online presence
When it comes to online reputation management, the first step for established businesses is to know what kind of opinions and reviews are already out there on the internet. Search your business name, the company owner’s name, and any subsidiaries or keywords associated with your business to establish a baseline. It’s a good idea to search your competitors’ online presence as well, to see what’s being said about their business and to know how to differentiate your business from the competition.
If you’re a brand-new business, you’re starting with a clean slate, which can be both good and bad—good, in that there’s nothing false or misleading to clean up; bad, in that there’s no mention of you anywhere.
In either case, once you’ve seen the information and reviews that currently exist, it’s important to set up a mechanism to follow your reputation. These tools will let you know when there’s any mention of your business or industry online, so you can get a jump on a response, if needed.
Set up alerts to ensure you’re notified when your business is mentioned online. You can enable Yelp notifications to receive an email when a new review about your business is posted—in addition to alerts for other consumer interactions.
You can also set up a Google alert with your business name, the owner’s name, and any competitors you’d like to follow. Follow your industry both nationally and locally too, which can be as simple as setting up an alert to follow “Plumbers, Atlanta, GA.”
Assuming you’ve set up your social media accounts already, take ownership of your name online by setting up a few branded hashtags. This makes it easy for your followers to promote your business on their own social media pages and for business owners to do quick searches to see the latest comments, questions, or reviews of their stores or product.
Find something that makes sense for your business, like #dogdaysbuckhead for the Atlanta-based dog daycare Dog Days, then do a quick search to make sure it’s not already in use by a similar company. Include this hashtag on all your social media platforms, your email marketing, and any print advertising you do. Encourage your patrons to follow you and tag your business any time they interact with you, whether by online shopping or physically coming into the store.
Participate in online conversations
Once you’ve established the baseline of your online presence and reputation, it’s time for some active participation.
If you’ve found some reviews on the internet and you haven’t yet replied or commented, now is the time to respond. Negative or positive, each mention of your business deserves a thoughtful and professional reply.
Your online reputation depends not only on how promptly you respond to questions, comments, or reviews, but how you deliver those responses as well. Choose a “voice” that best represents your business and your target audience. For example, if you have a more upscale clientele, it’s better to refrain from being too tongue-in-cheek with your replies and maintain a more professional sound.
Larger businesses with multiple employees handling social media platforms must be sure everyone is trained on the proper way to respond to your patrons. It’s often helpful to use a social media management app like Hootsuite, Sprout Social, or Mention—tools that allow you to accumulate all social media posts across multiple sites—making it easy to view and respond to those posts.
On the technical side, if your business website isn’t optimized for mobile viewing, consider doing so. More and more often, people are using their mobile phones to find and do research on products and services—and even for direct purchases. Mobile-based sales are expected to reach $345 billion dollars in 2021, up from $148 billion in 2018—that’s more than two times the spend in just three years.
Be transparent and authentic
After finding your voice and establishing your presence, your online reputation will begin to grow—and nothing helps feed growth more than transparency and authenticity. Online audiences expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from the businesses they search and patronize. They want to know as many details upfront as possible, and that information should always match up the actual experience they have with the services or products.
You should also inject your own personality and flair to help build your reputation and familiarize consumers with your business as a whole, but note that it’s a good practice to keep politics, personal issues, and opinions off of your business pages, unless directly related to your business.
Ultimately, the easiest way to build your reputation online is to do what you do best—be an expert in your field. Feed your social media pages with examples of your work; write blogs about what’s happening in your industry and how you’re adjusting; and provide helpful information to your customers, even if it means putting in some DIY tips. Customers will remember you for being helpful and authoritative and will come back to brands and businesses they trust.
After establishing and nurturing your online reputation, it’s a matter of lather, rinse, repeat. Monitor and participate in all commentary related to your business, and expand your marketing footprint by providing authoritative posts and content—and then watch your business thrive.