How to Start a Blog to Improve Your Reputation

December 27th, 2014 Comments off

When someone searches for your company name on Google, is your website listed first? If not, you might have to do a little SEO work to ensure that you’re controlling your reputation. This post is a great place to start if you’re looking for some simple SEO tips, but I wanted to expand upon one of these tips today: starting a blog.

Adding a blog to your website is one of the best ways to solidify yourself as an expert in your field, because it allows you to showcase your knowledge and address customer concerns. Google loves to see websites that are updated regularly, so having a blog can also bring in search engine traffic, and often, blog posts are more shareable than press releases or pages on your site, so it helps you on the social media front as well.

Don’t worry; starting a blog is much easier than most people think it is!

Step One: Choose a blogging platform.

You don’t need a blogging platform to start a blog, but coding it by hand is clunky and time consuming. Luckily, there are several free options for your blog. My personal favorite is WordPress, but you can also add a blog using Blogger, Tumblr, Typepad, SquareSpace, Drupal, and more. This is a really great list of the blogging platforms out there.

Most blogging platforms allow you to customize your blog using themes, which control the colors, layout, fonts, and more. Many platforms also have plugins, which allow you to further customize your blog. If you aren’t a designer, don’t worry – most of the popular blogging platforms make it very easy to get started for free.

Step Two: Brainstorm post ideas.

Don’t make the mistake of only updating your blog with company news. This is your chance to build your reputation as an expert, so people trust your company. Posting information about your company works well in some cases (for example, if you own a bar, you might post weekly drink specials), but if that’s all you post on your blog, you’re not using it to its potential.

Here are some questions to help you get started brainstorming ideas, along with examples for different businesses:

  • Why is you service/product important? Example: If you’re a mechanic, you might write “Why Regular Oil Changes are Important”
  • How can people save money? Example: If you’re a contractor, you might write “10 Tips to Save Money on Your Bathroom Remodel”
  • What are some secrets about your industry? Example: If you’re a lawn care company, you might write “5 Secrets to Greener Grass in the Summer”
  • What pricing information to people commonly want to know? Example: if you’re a wedding planner, you might write “How Much Does a Wedding Cake Cost?”

You can also write about your company in interesting ways that promote your products/services without being just promotional. Tell feel-good stories about your customers or staff. Describe what makes your products better. Answer questions that are commonly asked. Remember, the more interesting your posts, the more they’ll shared on social media.

Step Three: Write, write, write!

The more you write, the more traffic you’ll attract to your blog. Do not sacrifice quality for quantity, but make sure the perfectionist in you doesn’t take over. If the information is good, most people will look over a typo or two.

Remember, blog posts need to be easy to skim. People are busy, so they want to quickly look at your post to see if they’re worth reading. Use headers, bullet posts, numbered lists, and short paragraphs. Big walls of text are intimidating for most Internet readers.

If you’re really stuck, you can hire a write to help you develop your ideas or to expand upon blog posts you’ve written. You can also consider starting a podcast to “speak” your posts if you aren’t a strong writer.

Step Four: Promote your posts.

Share your posts on social media so you can reach your followers, send an email to your list, and otherwise promote what you write. The “if you write it, they will come” mentality doesn’t work well, since there is so much content out there.

Another important aspect of post promotion is internal linking. This means that every blog post should link to other posts you’ve written so people can find more information. At first, this is hard, since you won’t have many posts on your new blog, but over time, it becomes easier to find posts to promote through internal links.

External links are, of course, even better. These are links on other websites that lead back to your posts. The best way to get external links is to write really amazing stuff, because people will naturally want to promote your work. Build relationships with other bloggers in your industry so they are aware of your posts and link back to them occasionally.

Step Five: Monitor your blog readers.

At first, you might get little to no traffic to your blog, but keep up with it! If you update regularly and promote your posts, you should see your traffic grow. Monitor your traffic by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Where is the traffic coming from?
  • Where is the most quality traffic coming from? (i.e. traffic that leads to sales)
  • Which posts are most popular? What sets these posts apart?
  • Are people reading several posts or leaving after reading one post?
  • Which posts received the most social attention?
  • What keywords are people typing into search engines to find my posts?
  • What is the conversion rate? (i.e. how many readers take action by signing up for an email list, downloading a coupon, purchasing something at my online store, etc.)

All of these questions – and more – can be answered using Google Analytics, which is free to use with your blog.

Make sure to also monitor comments on your blog. Respond to questions and concerns to let your blog readers – current and potential customers – know that you are listening to them and care what they have to say. Comments are also great for generating ideas for new blog posts.

Remember, manage your expectations when it comes to your blog. In some industries, blogs are just not as popular as they are in other industries. However, even if you only update once a week, your blog can be a very powerful tool for not only generating leads (i.e finding customers), but also helping you to manage your online reputation. You can’t control what people say about your online, but you can control what is on your blog.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

Categories: Online Reputation Tags:

What to Do About Negative SEO

December 24th, 2014 Comments off

Most business owners never have to worry about negative SEO. If you have your own website optimized for search engines, you probably never have to give another thought to SEO. But just in case you are attacked by a competitor who wants to play dirty, let’s talk about what you can do about negative SEO.

What is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO can take several forms, including:

  1. Hacking your website and posting content that makes you look like a spammer in Google’s eyes or deleting content that is performing well with search engines
  2. Linking to your website thousands of times from sites that Google considers to be spam or using linking techniques that Google flags as spam
  3. Copying your content and distributing it across the Internet so Google thinks you aren’t original
  4. Removing legitimate links to your website that are helping you rank higher on Google
  5. Pretending to be you online so traffic that should go to your site goes to their site instead

Let’s look at what you can do about each of these issues.

1. Stopping the Hackers

You’re using a strong password, right? And you’ve protected your site with an antivirus to prevent malware, right? And you’re making regular backups of your content, right? If you answered, “Right!” to all of these questions, you have nothing to worry about. If you didn’t, consider this a little kick in the pants to get things in order. Most hackers will move on if your site is protected. They’re looking for easy targets; don’t give them one.

You should also monitor your website traffic. Someone can slow down your website by sending automated requests, and Google doesn’t like a slow site (not to mention, your server could go down). I like Pingdom for monitoring site traffic.

2. Disavowing Spam Links

Someone building links to your website sounds good…at first. However, Google considers certain links and link activity to indicate that you’re trying to game the system. For example, if you have tons of links coming from low quality sites or it looks like you’ve paid for links, Google might blacklist you, which means that you won’t appear in search results.

Luckily, Google has created a disavow tool, which allows you to say, “Hey Google, I didn’t ask for these links, and I don’t want you to consider them when you look at my site.” It can take a few months after clean-up for Google to start including your website in their rankings again, but they will work with webmasters who are being attacked by “black hats” who are creating these links specifically to discredit your site.

3. Deleting Copied Content

Google puts a lot of value on original content. Unfortunately, writing original content is a lot of work, so “scrapers” take content posted on other sites and post it on their own site as though it is there own.

The good news is that most of the time, Google can tell which is the original content and which is the scraped content. However, you can also use tools to find this scraped content and get it removed. Better safe than sorry! Copyscape is great at finding scraped content. Then, start by reaching out to the webmaster and asking them to remove the content.

If that doesn’t work, you can contact the website’s host. Most have a specific process to report that someone is copying your content. But, since plagiarism is illegal, they will help you get the content removed.

It might not be worth your time to go after every piece of scraped content out there. Prioritize by going after anything that actually hurts your reputation, such as mentions of your product on a site that is x-rated, anything that will create brand confusion, or using your copy to promote their own products.

4. Ensuring Your Links Stay in Place

When you get links from really great websites, it can help your rankings on Google. If your competitors know this, they may try to get these links deleted. Your very best defense is to actually get to know the people who linked to you. Build relations with these bloggers and webmasters so that no one can reach out, pretending to be you, and ask them to remove the link. Saying thank you when someone links to you has the added benefit of encouraging them to link to you again!

5. Stopping Copycats

Lastly, it can be damaging to your reputation, not to mention confusing to Google, if someone is pretending to be you online. When someone types your name or your company’s name into Google, your website and social accounts should top the list. Of course, if you have a very common name, you might be competing for the top spot, but if someone is pretending to be you, you have bigger problems.

If you haven’t already, make sure that your company name and product names are trademarked. This protects you from having these names be used by others. For example, I can’t start up an animation studio and call it “Disney” or any variation that a judge will deem to be too close to the Disney name. If someone is pretending to be you, you’ll be able to get a lawyer involved if your company names are protected.

Is someone pretending to be you on a social network? Most networks have ways to report this, so fake accounts that look like you are quickly removed.

I hope you never have to use my tips to help you deal with negative SEO! But if you do, remember to be patient. Search engines want to help you – they want their rankings to be the best they can be – but it can take time to overcome anything a black hat is trying to do to discredit you.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

What’s the Difference Between a Community Manager and a Reputation Manger?

December 20th, 2014 Comments off

Not every company needs a dedicated online reputation manager, but if you’ve decided that it is time to hire one, your first step is to come up with a job description. As you’re writing a list of duties, however, you might discover that what you really need is a community manager. What’s the difference between these two jobs? And does it matter for your company?

Who’s Doing the Talking?

A community manager’s main job isn’t to talk to your social followers or respond to comments, believe it or not. Rather, it is to foster a sense of belonging – to make being a member of your community a “club” so to speak. Yes, they respond to customers at times, but their real focus is to get people talking to each other.

A reputation manager is more like a social media manager in that they are more interested in one-on-one conversations. They want people talking to the brand. They have more control over the conversation, but there isn’t that warm fuzzy feeling of being part of something. While a social media manager focuses specifically on marketing using social networks, a reputation manager typically has more of a customer service focus and using more than just social media to speak with customers.

Where is the Talking Being Done?

Community managers and online reputation managers use some of the same tools to reach customers and potential customers. However, a community manager focuses more on places where people can connect, like Facebook pages and forums, while an online reputation manager focuses specifically on places where people are talking about the brand, like Twitter and Yelp. A community manager is also often responsible for company-owned places for customers to gather, like a blog. Typically, a community manager creates more content than an online reputation manager does.

Of course, an online reputation manager might respond to a comment on Facebook and a community manager might foster conversation on Twitter. There are no hard and fast rules about which tools these employees can/should use. It depends on the tasks for the day.

What are the Conversation Goals?

One of the biggest differences between a community manager and an online reputation manager is their goal for conversations online. A community manager’s goal is to keep the good times rolling. They may address concerns, but they primarily play offense, looking for ways to keep the community’s happiness spreading.

An online reputation manager, on the other hand, plays defense. They respond to negative reviews and comments, handle PR problems, and turn bad feelings into good feelings. A good online reputation manager might help a community manager come up with strategic ways to keep the community happy, and to keep negative community members from infecting the rest of the community, but the focus is on potential reputation problems.

Is Growth a Factor?

If your tasks involve growth, you’re probably looking to hire a community manager. A community manager works to connect with people on social networks, forums, a blog, etc. so that you’re reaching more and more people. They may work closely with a social media manager and other member of a marketing team to do this, and a good community manager cares not only about quantity, but also about quality. In other words, they don’t just want more Facebook likes or Twitter followers. They want people who are actually commenting and speaking to one another.

An online reputation manager typically doesn’t look at growth (at least in most cases). He or she is more concerned with sentiment, or the overall feeling about your company as expressed online, whether you have ten social followers or ten thousand social followers. This doesn’t mean that stats aren’t tracked at all. An online reputation manager uses tools to track what people are saying online, but typically has different goals that aren’t centered on size of the community.

A Single Role

Yes, it is possible for a single person to take on all community management and reputation management roles. In fact, you might have the same person doing social media management and other marketing tasks too. At a small company, employees have to wear many hats, and, frankly, you might not have a big enough customer base yet to justify several employees. However, if you are considering having one employee for all of these roles, make sure you clearly define which roles are community management and which are reputation management. Usually (not always, but usually), you’ll want reputation management tasks to take priority.

As your team expands, defining these roles also allows you to more easily split the position into two roles in the future. It can always be awkward to take tasks away from an employee to give to a new employee, so defining the roles and each employees’ goals can make the transition much easier.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

How to Own Your Brand’s Search Engine Results

December 15th, 2014 Comments off

When you need to find a new hair salon or hire a plumber or book a caterer for your wedding, how do you do it? Chances are, you do what most people do and head to Google.

What happens when you Google your company name? If the first page of Google includes negative reviews, links to your competitors’ websites, and irrelevant information that has nothing to do with your business, you’re essentially sending customers away. You need to “own” your brand’s search engine results, so that when someone searches for you, they find your website, your social networks, and good reviews about your products or services.

There’s no definitive way to actually own your brand’s search results – i.e. to ensure that your site appears on the first page when someone searches for your business name on Google or any other search engine. Any search engine optimization (SEO) company who promises they can do this is lying to you. However, you can “own” these search results in the sense that you can put a few tips in place to make it very likely that you’ll rank high when someone searches for your brand’s name on Google.

Start with creating a website if you don’t have one already.

Your URL should be as close to your company’s name as possible, and a .com, rather than a .net or other extension. Make sure you add some content to this site, including an about page and contact information, and sprinkle the name of your company within this text on your website.

You probably already have a website, so what can you do to make it even stronger? First, link your name to other places online where your business is mentioned, like Yelp. Make sure that you’re directing people from third-party sites to your own website, because this also helps Google understand the connection. You essentially want to tell Google, “Hey, this is information about my company, but my main site is somewhere else.”

Consider starting a blog on your company site. Blogs are not online diaries, as some people may think. In fact, what you’re reading right now is a blog. They are simply a way to post information regularly in an organized manner. For example, if you own a restaurant, you might post your weekly specials, information about drink deals, and even fun recipes that people can try at home. Google likes websites that are updated often, and a blog gives you a way to do this.

Next, sign up for social networks, again, using a name that is as close to your business name as possible.

Use the same name across all networks if you can, which is helpful for brand recognition. It also helps to use the same profile picture for your business across all networks.

Even if you think you don’t have time to use them, start claiming your name so they appear in Google’s search engine results. Fill out the bio information with a little about your business and, if nothing else, a link back to your main website. Again, this tells Google that there’s a connection.

Once you have your website and social networks set up, it’s time to start building a web presence. You want your name out there in conjunction with your industry as much as possible so that when someone searches for “Harvey’s Cupcakes” they don’t get a few links to your website/social networks and then a bunch of links to irrelevant pages, like pictures of some kid named Harvey who had cupcakes at his birthday party. Here are some of the best ways to build your web presence:

  • Comment on other blogs in your industry. Leave meaningful comments, and always remember to link back to your own site. This tactic doesn’t typically drive tons of traffic, but it does allow you to show up on Google. Keep in mind that some bloggers don’t like it if you comment as “Fun in the Sun Tanning Salon” instead of a name because it looks like spam. Instead, comment as “Jane from Fun in the Sun Tanning Salon.”
  • Get mentioned by others online. Do interviews (HARO is a good place to find opportunities), offer guest posts, and write blog posts that incite debate.
  • Start creating YouTube videos. This one takes a little more effort, but since Google owns YouTube, it can bring you a lot of search engine traffic if you create a channel there. Google loves showing videos in search results.
  • Mention your presence on review sites. Most sites like Yelp discourage asking for reviews, but you should mention that you’re on these sites so that customers take a minute to leave a review. Sites like Yelp have a lot of weight with Google, so they’re likely to show up on the first page.

Google doesn’t change instantly, so give your efforts a few months to take effect. If you’re still not appearing on the first page when you type you name into Google, you may need to dig a little deeper to figure out why. This is where an online reputation management company or consultant can help you, though remember that anyone who promises results on Google is not telling you the whole truth, since no one can promise those results.

Some people devote their entire lives to search engine optimization, so this blog post is just scratching the surface. For most small business owners, scratching the surface is all that is needed. If you want to learn even more, talk to a reputable search engine professional about how you can turn Google into a lead generation magnetic.

Categories: Online Reputation Tags:

Online Reputation Do’s and Don’ts

December 10th, 2014 Comments off

Gordon Platt has written a short but sweet article of things to keep in mind about your online reputation.

The point about our personal and professional lives merging is especially worthwhile.

You’re Tracking Your Reputation – Now What? How to Take Action

December 4th, 2014 Comments off

Last week, we published a list of handy tools you can use to track your reputation online, which I hope you were able to put to good use. But now that you’re tracking your reputation, what next? How can you take action with all the data you’re tracking

Set Goals

Once you have a baseline of how your brand is doing today, you can set goals for the next three months, six months, one year, and beyond. Analyze you collect to figure out weaknesses and strengths so that the goals you set are realistic. Remember, they can be adjusted later, but you need to start somewhere. Some goals you might consider include:

  • More social interaction
  • A higher ratio of positive comments to negative comments
  • A reduction in negative reviews
  • More mentions on blogs and podcasts
  • A more positive overall sentiment for your brand

With goals, always use the SMART method. SMART says that every goal you set should be…

  • Specific – Don’t be wishy-washy. Give exact numbers or percentages.
  • Measurable – Make sure you can track whether or not you are making progress.
  • Attainable – If you aren’t realistic, continuous failure won’t keep you motivated to reach your goals.
  • Relevant – Your goals should be relevant to your bottom line.
  • Time Bound – Set deadlines for reaching your goals. Otherwise, they won’t mean much.

Pay special attention to the relevancy factor. The goals you set all need to make a difference to your bottom line. Online, we sometimes get distracted by metrics that don’t matter. For example, if you reach your goal to get more positive comments on your blog, did this lead to more sales? Or if you increased your Twitter following by 30%, did you make more money?

Sometimes, the correlation isn’t easy to see so don’t jump to swift conclusions that certain metrics don’t matter. Other times, it’s not an increase in sales that you’ll see, but rather an increase in brand awareness, which could lead to sales down the line. Just make sure that whatever metrics you’re measuring makes sense for your company.

Share your goals with your employees so that everyone is on the same page. Ask for input, especially regarding what is attainable. You want to set lofty goals that you’ll have to work hard to reach, but not impossible goals that don’t motivate your staff.

Create an Action Plan

Once you have your goals set, it’s time to take action. The specifics of your brand reputation plan depend on your industry and your data, but here are a few steps that you might want to take:

  • Identify Key Players

Who among your customer base is most vocal? Who has the most followers? Who are your biggest fans? As you track your online reputation, identify key players in your industry so you can start to build relationships. The idea here is not to bombard these people with social media mentions and emails, but rather to join conversations and slowly build friendships.

You should also be identifying people who are negative ring leaders. Some people will never be happy with your product or service, no matter what you do. But others are simply craving some attention for you. If their concerns are legitimate, address them both publicly and privately. Turn someone who dislikes your company into a fan!

  • Create a Brand Profile

It’s hard to increase brand awareness or repair damage if you don’t have a clear idea of what your company stands for. You should already have a mission statement. Are those values exuded in everything you do? Create a brand profile and distribute to employees. This should cover your core values, the “personality” you want to show, and more. Make sure that all messaging is in line with your brand profile.

  • Find Opportunities in Negativity

People can be downright mean, especially online where it is possible to be anonymous. However, if you look past the snark, can you find any constructive criticism? For example, the nasty Yelp review about your waitresses being ugly  might not seem relevant, but maybe this is a sign that you need uniforms instead of allowing your wait staff to wear whatever they want. In some cases, you might even be able to reach out to individual negative reviewers and commenters to create a panel of consumers who help you fix problems with your products or services.

Of course, trolls do exist online. Learn how to tell the difference between a legitimate complaint (even one that is snarky and mean-spirited) and someone who is just trolling you (i.e. they just want to get a rise out of you).

  • Respond to Reviews and Comments

If you do nothing else, you need to respond to reviews, comments, and other mentions of your brand online. Lack of response tells people that you don’t care, especially in the case of negative reviews and comments. Responding in a polite, professional way can help other customers gain confidences in you

This post can help you apologize for mistakes, and as you build your presence online, you should come up with a reputation damage control plan that your employees can use to respond properly to reviews and comments online.

Evaluate Your Progress

It’s okay to pivot in your business if what you’re doing isn’t working. Evaluate your progress at least once a quarter, and annually, take a hard look at the progress you’ve made. What is working? What is not working? Set new goals so you keep moving forward, rather than spinning your wheels.

Remember, always reward your employees who are helping your reach your branding goals! Every employee is a brand representative for your company, and by showing that you appreciate hard work, you’ll turn them into fans of your company, even if they opt to leave in the future.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

7 Must-Use Online Reputation Tracking Tools

November 29th, 2014 Comments off

You wouldn’t try to fix a leaky pipe without your trusty toolbox, so don’t try to fix your reputation without your trusty digital toolbox! Managing your online reputation is a lot easier when you have a few tools to help you. Here are a number of tools (both paid and free) that I recommend:

If you don’t already, you should immediately set up Google Alerts so you are emailed every time your brand is mentioned online. You can’t control your reputation if you don’t know when people are talking about you. Additionally, you can set up Google Alerts so you receive notifications when your competitors are mentioned as well, or simply when someone is talking about something important in your industry. Pop into the conversation often to build your reputation as someone who cares.

My favorite tool for searching what people are saying about you on social media sites is Social Mention. This tool will not only find mentions, but it will also show you whether the sentiment about your keyword (such as your company’s name or your name) is positive, neutral, or negative. In addition, you can see common keywords and hashtags associated with the keyword you input, which allows you to understand how people are talking about you and your brand. Best of all, Social Mention is free!

While responding to positive comments should also be part of your reputation management plan, if you’re specifically looking for complaints, this is a good place to start. Go Fish Digital set up a custom complain search box so you can find negative things people are saying about your brand and respond to these unhappy customers in a professional, polite way. Complaint Search isn’t going to be able to stand alone for your reputation management needs, but it is a great tool to add to the arsenal.

For communities that are especially active on Twitter, Meshfire is the tool you need. This social management platform allows you are your other employees to work as a team to reply to customers and find ways to jump into the conversation. Meshfire is really great at finding people you should consider following and conversations that make sense for your goals, plus you can assign tasks to others employees, so if you have a large teams, you can keep everyone organized.

If you’re looking for more robust reputation management software, check out Trackur. You can get started for free, but if you upgrade, you’ll have access to an “all in one” monitoring tool, which allows you to track your reputation across social sites, watch industry trends, understand sentiment, and more. There’s a learning curve, but this is a great solution if you have a dedicated reputation manager who needs a way to quickly and easily understand what people are saying about your company online.

Want something even more robust than Trackur? Check out BrandsEye. This tool is not cheap, but you can not only use it to track mentions, but also to run reports to see how specific marketing campaigns are doing, track conversations with social influencers, narrow your searches to see what people are saying in specific locations, tag mentions so you can group them in ways that make sense, and more. This is the Cadillac of online reputation management tools.

You might not traditionally think of Zapier as a reputation management tool, but it can be an awesome time-saver for tracking mentions online. IFTTT is a similar tool, but I prefer Zapier. Both tools automate tasks. For example, you could set Zapier up to add someone to your CRM when they tweet about your company. Or you could have Zapier email you whenever there’s a new Yelp review. You’re only limited by your imagination with the tasks Zapier can automate (called “zaps”), since in addition to the pre-built zaps in the system, you can also have a developer build your own, based on your goals.

While these are my favorite digital reputation management tools, there are countless others out there. Don’t be afraid to try lots of different tools to find what works best for your business.

What are your favorite reputation management tools? Leave a comment below!

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

Who is in Charge of Your Brand’s Reputation?

November 21st, 2014 Comments off

It’s easy to slip into the dangerous waters of thinking that a single person is in charge of your brand’s reputation. We want to be able to hand off the task to a branding expert or even a dedicated online reputation manger.

But the truth? Every employee is responsible for your brand’s reputation.

Yes, everyone from a company’s CEO to their janitor is in charge of branding. If that thought scares you, you might need to reconsider the type of people you’re hiring.

Now, clearly, an entry-level employee is probably not the person who should be making branding decisions for your company, but they have their fingers in your reputation management as much as any member of your management team.

Why Every Employee Matters

Almost everyone has at least one social account these days. What your employees say about you and your company online matter. If they’re unhappy with working conditions, don’t like your products, or feel as though they are being ignored, they will speak out online. Even if you have an NDA so they can’t disclose specific information, they can – and will – let it be known that they are unhappy with their work and with you an employer.

This can have a devastating effect on your reputation if the right people are listening.

More importantly, the Internet is a big place, and chances are that you are a bit disconnected from your customers, no matter how awesome your community management and social teams may be. Lower-level employees can often more easily see what people are saying about your brand online. Plus, they know what people are saying behind closed doors. A customer who is too intimidated to tell you the truth might rant to one of your employees if given the chance.

Better Employee Conditions

Contrary to popular believe, pay rate is only part of the equation if you want your employees to be happy. If you think you can’t afford to make your employees happier, you’re mistaken. Here are just a few of the “little things” you can do that are actually really huge in creating a better work atmosphere:

  • Know your employees by name. Yes, this gets harder as your business grows, but you should know people’s names and a little about them. Be able to ask them about their days as you pass them in the hall. It’s all about noticing that people exist.
  • Say thank you. Can’t afford raises? Can’t afford holiday bonus? Don’t tell me that you can’t afford a thank you. Regularly say thank you to employees and brag about their successes. Consider a weekly email where you highlight one or two people who are doing a good job. Have an employee appreciation picnic. Recognize when a good employee is having a hard time and ask them what you can do to help. Be the type of employee who regularly expresses appreciation.
  • Notice problems. Are there murmurs in the office about problems? Fix them before employees have to bring it to your attention. Not everything is an easy fix, but you should notice when the coffee machine is broken in the break room. Along these same lines, have a way for employees to anonymously tell you about problems.
  • Be flexible with scheduling. Not every business can allow employees to make their own hours, work from home, or change their schedules on a whim, but be as flexible as you can. Studies have shown that flexible scheduling makes employees more productive, so not only will they be happier, but they will be helping your business too.
  • Encourage innovative solutions. Employees should be able to not only come to you with problems, but also suggest solutions. Encourage your employees to be critical of your current processes so you can make them better.

Empowering your employees turns them into fans of your company. I can tell you horror stories of how some companies run when you are an employee who gets to see behind the curtain. This kind of information leaks out, and if people know that you don’t treat employees well, it affects their buying habits. But turn your employees into true fans, and others will get to know how awesome you are as well.

Hiring the Right Employees

Since every employee you hire is essentially part of your brand, it’s important to hire the right employees. This is about more than just skill set, experience, and talent. When hiring, consider:

  • Disposition: Chronic complainers are probably going to complain about working for you, even if you’re great to them. Stay away from negative personalities.
  • Appearance: Natural beauty and designer clothes don’t matter in most industries. Sloppiness does. Customer-facing employees should look put together, and even those behind the scenes should take pride in their appearance.
  • Trustworthiness: It’s hard to trust anyone you don’t know, but if you feel that someone might be dishonest or untrustworthy, do you real want them representing your brand?

Overall, go for the person who feels “right” for your company culture over the person with the better resume. Yes, skills matter, but you can teach someone how to do a job. You can’t teach someone to “fit in” with your company. Personality doesn’t change.

No matter whom you hire, make sure that your employees are prepared for the job they are doing and how to speak with customers, both online and off, even if they aren’t customer service reps. Make sure that not only are employees happy, but they know how to deal with reputation problems when they see them. Create a reputation damage control plan, and hold training sessions for all employees, not just those in the customer service department.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

How to Hire an Online Reputation Manager

November 10th, 2014 Comments off

One of the hardest parts of owning a small business is giving control of tasks to new employees as you grow. However, there comes a time when you just can’t do everything yourself, so hiring experts in specific fields makes a lot of sense. If your business has a large online presence, hiring an online reputation manager make be a good move for your company.

This is a relatively new field, so finding an online reputation manager with experience in this specific role can prove difficult. How can you hire the best candidate for the job?

Experience to Consider

Not every good candidate has held the exact position of “online reputation manager.” Instead, look for candidates who have experience in the following roles:

  • Community Management
  • Customer Service
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Brand Management
  • Public Relations

Even roles in project management and digital marketing can help someone develop the skills they need to be a great online reputation manager. The strongest candidates for this role will have experience doing at least some of the following tasks:

  • Crafting customer-facing messaging
  • Responding to customer service complaints via phone and email
  • Using social media to speak with customers and potential customers
  • Creating or following branding guidelines
  • Responding to both positive and negative reviews
  • Monitoring social media and blogs for brand mentions
  • Serving as a liaison between customer service and marketing teams
  • Compiling data to understand brand sentiment

Great candidates often also have experience with blogging, writing press releases, working with product development teams to improve quality based on customer feedback, providing tech support, and analyzing data.

At its heart, online reputation managers need to provide great customer service, and these are skills we often learn during retail jobs in high school and college. So, don’t overlook these roles on a resume! That doesn’t mean someone who has never worked at the mall during Black Friday is a bad candidate. The point it to look for a history of providing great customer service.

How Much You’ll Pay

What most people want to know is how much they can expect to shell out for someone to handle their online reputation. The final amount depends on countless factors, including:

  • Hours – do you need someone full-time or part-time?
  • Company Size – are you a company with a single product or retail location or do you have thousands of products and locations around the world?
  • Online Activity – do you exist in an industry where there’s a lot of activity (reviews, social chatter, etc.) online or is your industry less represented online?
  • B2B versus B2C – who is your target market?
  • Existing Online Reputation – is there a mess to clean up or do people generally like you?

You also need to think about whether you want to work with someone virtually or whether they need to work on-site from your office, as well as whether or not you’re willing to train and grow with someone. Benefits also play a factor here – a lot of virtual workers especially will take a pay cut if you’re hiring them outright and providing benefits rather than hiring them on a contractor basis.

One thing I want to caution against: do not hire an unpaid intern for this position! It is fine to want to hire someone who is new and who will grow with your company, but a lot of people think they can hire an unpaid intern to get someone to handle their online reputation for free. Not only do you run the risk of your intern making a bone-headed mistake because they really don’t care that much about the job (after all, they aren’t getting paid), but you could also be breaking several laws in your state. Unpaid internships need to meet strict qualifications to be legal (in most areas – consult a lawyer, which I am not).

These a very broad strokes, but for a full-time entry-level online reputation manager, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 per year, based on the above questions and other factors. Experienced online reputation managers for major brands make closer six figures in many cases.

Do You Need Someone In-House?

Depending on your online reputation management needs, you may or may not need someone in-house for this role. Instead of hiring an individual to take on these tasks, you might be better served by working with an online reputation management company.

The advantages? It will be less expensive, in most cases, especially if you don’t have a heavy need for reputation management yet. You’ll also be working with people who have years of experience in this field, and they often have premium tools at their disposal to help you track your brand activity online.

There are disadvantages too. Namely, you’ll be one of many clients (in most cases), so their full attention will not be on your brand. You also often hire a company without meeting the specific people who will be assigned to your account, so it’s harder to ensure that they will be a good fit for you.

A third option is to instead hire an online reputation consultant. This person can teach online reputation management skills to someone currently working for you, in customer service, marketing, or even sales. You can also pay a retainer to have this consultant on call whenever you have a reputation-related question or need extra help. Working with a consultant is a great option if you’re on a budget and don’t have a strong need for reputation management yet.

Remember, no matter whom you hire, you should have documents in place so that every employee knows how to respond to customers online. This post is a great place to get started with creating a reputation management plan for your business, but think also about creating customer service manuals and branding plans as well, so you can have consistency as your team grows.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

Is Removing Bad Yelp Reviews Possible? (And Should You Do It?)

November 3rd, 2014 Comments off

No matter how great your customer service may be, bad reviews are inevitable. You can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. When a negative review happens, especially on the ever-popular Yelp, it can really hurt your business, though.

So what should you do about it?

One of the most common questions asked about review sites like Yelp is this: “How do I remove a negative review?” The fact is, you can’t. Any reputation management company claiming to have an “in” with Yelp is bending the truth. Even if the review is false, it is extremely hard to get Yelp to remove it.

It makes sense. If they started removing bad reviews, legitimate complaints would get swept up in the deleting frenzy, and the overall picture of companies on Yelp would be skewed. Even if you pay for advertising on Yelp, you can’t remove a negative review.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything at all.

Responding to Reviews

Don’t look at negative reviews as a bad thing, because this is an opportunity to let your customer service skills shine. Responding to a negative review will show potential customers that you are listening to your concerns.

Make sure you have a reputation damage control plan so whoever sees the negative review for your company first knows how to handle the response. Then, make sure you follow this plan for dealing with negative reviews online. The key? Be polite, avoid confrontational language, and include contact information so you can deal with further complaints privately.

This post is a great source for learning the art of apology, which is especially helpful when dealing with negative reviews.

False Reviews

Sometimes, you’ll come up against a completely false review on Yelp. Unfortunately, Yelp is still of little help in these cases, and cannot help you remove the review most of the time, unless it is blatantly false.

Responding to the review politely is still your best bet, though you also have the option of speaking with a lawyer to legally force the removal of the review. Please note that I am not a lawyer and nothing here should be taken as legal advice – if you truly want to explore this option, talk to a lawyer who has experience dealing with Yelp review cases.

A word of caution: this is usually a very expensive endeavor and doesn’t make sense in most cases. Because Yelp reviews are anonymous, you have to first subpoena the records to figure out who left the review so your lawyer can send a cease and desist letter. If the court goes to case and the judge finds in your favor, you can then get a removal order to send to Yelp. This process takes weeks or even months.

Often, you are better off simply allowing the false review to remain on your listing. Like with legitimate negative reviews, this is an opportunity to let your customer service skills shine.

The One Type of Review You CAN Have Removed

Even though Yelp won’t help you in most cases, there is one type of review they will remove: reviews that break their rules. Yelp’s Content Guidelines specify that reviews cannot include the following:

  • Threats/Harassment
  • Lewdness
  • Hate Speech and Other Displays of Bigotry
  • Irrelevant content (ex: a political rant)
  • Promotional content
  • Content that infringes upon privacy (ex: pictures of patrons or employees, full names that aren’t typically made public knowledge, etc.)

According to Yelp’s guidelines, you also cannot post a review if there is a conflict of interest, but this can be extremely hard to prove unless the reviewer comes out and says, “My brother owns a pizza shop in the area that is much better than this one!” or something similar.

If you see a negative review that breaks one of these rules, you can flag the comment to report it as inappropriate. Yelp is pretty good at removing these comments, but it may take some time to see any action on it.

The Power of Positivity

The absolutely best way to deal with negative reviews on Yelp is not to try to have them removed, but rather to overwhelm your listing with positive reviews. Yelp discourages businesses from asking customers to leave reviews, but you can have a sign near your register, on your website, etc. that direct people to your Yelp listing.

Remember, people are typically more likely to leave a review when they have a strong, negative feeling and want to “warn” others. By reminding people that you’re on Yelp, you’ll get more positive reviews as well.

Listen to feedback. If more than one person says that same thing, you probably have a problem that needs to be addressed. Give your customers the best service possible, avoiding the same mistakes in the future. That way, a few bad reviews on your listing really won’t matter. Instead, readers will see the overwhelming number of positive reviews about your business.

One last note: Keep in mind that not every review site has the same policies as Yelp. However, as a rule, any reputation management company claiming that they can remove negative reviews on any website is not being honest with you. They can file requests on your behalf if content doesn’t follow the guidelines, and they can help you come up with creative ways to get more positive reviews from happy customers, but they can’t actually remove a review – only the review site in question can do that.

So, before you pay for any service, read the fine print carefully, and make sure that anything a reputation manager does on your behalf follows the review site’s guidelines. Dealing with negative reviews the right way might take more time, but it is worth it in the end.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.