“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well”—Jeff Bezos

The importance of online reputation management cannot be understated. Thanks to sites such as TripAdvisor, it’s easier than ever for customers to post their comments and criticism online. And, as many businesses have discovered, negative reviews can have a disastrous effect on revenue.

Even the courts are beginning to acknowledge the seriousness of online reputation damage. In July, French blogger Caroline Doudet was forced to pay a restaurant €1,500 in damages after posting a critical review on her blog.

Building a Reputation

The best way to build a solid online reputation is to solicit a large number of positive reviews. Unfortunately, as any business owner will tell you, there are no shortcuts. Only satisfied customers post good reviews—so you must strive to provide an excellent service.

However, this is just the first step. Negative reviews are always unsolicited, and are usually written by customers who want to vent their frustrations. In contrast, very few people will feel compelled to leave a positive review without first being prompted.

Business owners must ask customers for their comments. There are several ways to do this effectively:

  • The longer it’s been since their visit, the less likely your customers are to leave a review. Combat this by setting up a computer or tablet at your business, specifically for people to post their comments.
  • Companies which collect customer email addresses are at an advantage. For example, a hotel owner could email patrons after their stay, asking politely for a review.
  • Ask your customers for a review at the point of sale. You could print a friendly reminder on the receipt, or provide a separate card with the relevant information. Many businesses offer a small incentive in return for a review.
  • Ask your social media followers for a review. Be polite—you’re essentially asking for a personal favor.

Responding to Criticism

Even the best businesses can attract negative comments. However, by responding in a fair, polite, and apologetic manner, you can actually have a positive effect on your online reputation.

TripAdvisor reviews are often particularly scathing. The following excerpts were taken from a review of a small Indian restaurant:

“… the Chicken Tikka… was under-cooked to the extent that it was inedible. We took it home and re-cooked it and even then, it was clearly of an inferior quality…I prefer the…Tamarind or Gaylord…in London.”

The restaurant owner chose to respond with the ill-advised comments below:

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As the old saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” However, a negative review of your business can feel like a personal attack, making it difficult to respond calmly and objectively.

Never respond immediately to a bad review. If necessary, physically move away from the computer. In the heat of the moment, it is tempting to send a fiery response. However, this can negatively impact your business’s reputation—particularly if the situation escalates.

A good response should be both brief and polite, and contain the following points:

  • A “thank you” for visiting your business, and a sincere apology for their disappointing experience.
  • A direct response to each of their complaints. These should be polite and honest – if you feel as though the criticisms are unfounded, diplomatically say so.
  • An explanation for the poor service. However, don’t use this as an opportunity to make excuses.
  • An invitation to return, with your compliments.

Generally, you should respond to every negative comment you receive. However, if you suspect you’re being trolled, don’t reply. If you feel you have been the subject of an unfair review on TripAdvisor, you can report it.

Monitoring Brand Mentions

All too often, companies don’t realize their online reputation has been damaged until they’ve suffered a drop in revenue. Negative reviews won’t just drop into your inbox—monitoring your own online brand mentions is absolutely essential.

Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to help you keep track. Google Alerts is perhaps the most popular, although Social Mention, Topsy, and Tweet Alarm are also useful. Each service will scan the internet for your chosen keywords, highlighting any new comments or reviews of your business.

Generally, all complaints should be dealt with in the same way, whether they are made online or in person. Remain courteous and polite, take a step back from the situation if you find yourself growing angry, and never bury your head in the sand. As in the real world, the best way to manage your online reputation ultimately is to provide an excellent service.

How does your business manage its online reputation? Do you use one of the tools mentioned above, or do you have another suggestion for other entrepreneurs? Tell us in the comments below!

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