Keeping your business’ online presence in line with your vision and values can often be a tricky experience. Richard Harrison, Manging Director of reputation.com, takes a look at how you can help to keep yours in check.

Managing your reputation online isn’t just about elevating the good news. Yes, how you appear in the first page of a Google search is important, but customers are too savvy to base a purchasing decision on a single variable. They’ll also look at user comments and reviews and, crucially, how you respond to them.

Just take a look at Patrick Doyle, CEO of Domino’s Pizza. Like others food chains before it, Domino’s fell foul of employees acting inappropriately, in a way that contaminated Domino’s pizzas. They were caught on camera and photos of the incident subsequently went viral, making Domino’s a trending topic for precisely the wrong reasons.Online_112692424

But what makes this incident stand out from other food chains that have endured similar fates?  It was how Doyle addressed the issue: quickly, decisively, smartly. He posted a two-minute response on YouTube very quickly after the event, apologising for the actions of the employees. He also reported that the employees in question had been fired, that police action was being taken, and what would be done to ensure Domino’s food wasn’t compromised again.

His immediate and transparent response translated into minimal reputation damage for the business.  In fact, the majority of comments to the video were positive, focusing on how Domino’s had acted following the incident.

The point? Managing your online reputation means jumping on negative issues – taking responsibility yourself before public pressure requires you to do so. Most companies probably won’t face a Domino’s-level crisis.  But even a dissatisfied customer can deflate the balloon of your reputation with the simple sting of a lacklustre review.

If you leave a negative comment unresolved, it could come back to haunt you. No one knows this better than United Airlines. The likeable (and inventive) Dave Carroll, whose guitar was broken by ground handlers while he was on a United flight, created the now-infamous “United Breaks Guitars” song as a way of getting the airline’s attention, after emails and phone calls were ignored. Swift action by the airline would have avoided the three music videos, 15 million views, and endless media coverage.

True value in online reputation management comes from creating a smart routine of daily engagement, monitoring and management. This helps develop a community that respects your brand and will give it the benefit of the doubt during tough times.

Manage your reputation online with these five straightforward steps:

Create your voice
How would you like others to describe your public voice?  Is it a bit edgy but still professional? Informative, humorous, personal? What you choose should become the lens through which to examine all your social media commentary –before you post. That includes both content you’re pro-actively pushing, and material you’re using to respond to others. Consistency is key!

Take a deep breath and think
Sometimes it’s easy for people to forget that real human beings are on the receiving end of their internet ire. As a person responding for a company, it’s also very human to feel defensive, even angry, when reading something that seems unfair or over the top, so just take a deep breath and think before you post. Consider context too. If a hotel restaurant just had a widely-publicised kitchen sanitation issue, then a Facebook post about “delicious deals!” is probably inappropriate.

Content is king
It’s not enough to be established online in all the relevant social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Social media is a hungry baby that never, ever gets its fill. You need to feed it quality content constantly. But how do you add value to attract and retain users? If you build a reputation for sharing diverse and useful content, those users will come. If you’re a hotel chain, share a blog about the best things to pack for whatever season you’re in, the top five things holiday makers should remember to do before going on holiday, or the three secrets to getting a free room upgrade.

Ignore reviews at your peril
Whether it’s a one-star review on TripAdvisor or a customer complaint to BBC’s Watchdog , you need to pay attention and react – even if it was a one-time mistake. Reviews are a front-row seat to customer perception. They are literally telling you (and everyone else) what went wrong, in a totally candid, unvarnished way. Listen to them carefully. Reviews are an opportunity to correct a mistake, which can soften (or even reverse) a bad impression. They also give you the chance to step up and show potential customers how responsive, professional and courteous you can be. Remember, the issue itself may not kill you – it’s the tone-deaf response (or lack of it) that can be fatal. Research conducted by the Jim Moran Institute suggests 95% of customers will give you a second chance if you handle their complaint successfully and in a timely manner. Turn your customers into advocates.

Ask for help
Part of outreach is, you know, actually reaching out. We’ve found that in many industries, people who pro-actively review a company are motivated by a negative experience. In contrast, for businesses that have been around for a few years, there is typically a large satisfied customer population who just don’t think to write reviews. This is an untapped opportunity to get more feedback, and positive feedback. But you need to make it extraordinarily convenient for them to do so. Put a kiosk on site, send out emails, or ask for reviews as part of a checkout process. You’ll see the good results online. Just keep in mind: don’t incentivise for reviews and only ask for accurate feedback.

The most crucial thing to remember is that managing your reputation isn’t about hiding the truth. It’s about how you respond to the truth and, if necessary, how you make changes to your business for the better.