Who is in Charge of Your Brand’s Reputation?

November 21st, 2014 No comments

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 No comments

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 No comments

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.

How to Develop an Online Reputation Damage Control Plan

October 22nd, 2014 Comments off

Sometimes, even when we’re careful, we make mistakes.

When that happens, your brand can be severely damaged if you don’t have a plan in place for damage control. If you truly want to ensure that problems don’t have a lasting effect on your business, you need to develop a reputation damage control plan that all employees follow.

But what should your reputation damage control plan look like? And how can you best put these practices in place starting today, even if your employees aren’t used to following a set plan?

Questions an Online Reputation Damage Control Plan Should Answer

Your Reputation Damage Control Plan might be a full 100-page document or it might be a few simple paragraphs. The complexity of this plan will depend on the size and nature of your business. But no matter what, every plan should answer the following questions:

  • When a problem is discovered, who should reply to the customer?
  • How and to whom should the problem be reported?
  • How quickly should a customer be answered?
  • What reply should be given when the problem can’t be handled immediately?
  • What answers should be given to commonly reported problems?
  • How should customers be answered when your initial response wasn’t good enough?
  • What are the procedures if a member of the press asks for a statement?
  • When does a lawyer need to be consulted before a reply is given?

Keep in mind that your damage control plan may need to cover a wide variety of potential problems. These typically fall into a few broad categories:

  1. Scandals – this is when someone in your company is caught doing something illegal, like an accountant embezzling money
  2. Mistakes – typically, mistakes don’t include illegal activity, but are brand-damaging problems, like an employee accidentally tweeting x-rated material from the company account
  3. Negative Reviews – this is when an individual customer posts a negative review and you come across it (i.e. passive complaining about your company)
  4. Complaints – if a customer reaches out to complain directly via email, social media, phone, etc. it is more active than a negative review and falls into its own category
  5. Product/Service Issue - if you have a massive recall issue (i.e. something was wrong with your product of service for more than a few customers), it falls under this category

Your plan needs to address each of these potential problems. In some companies, you plan for management may be similar in all situations. In other companies, you might have different reaction procedures for each situation.

Avoiding Script, but Prepare Your Employees

One piece of advice I see others give small and medium-sized businesses about reputation management is the importance of scripts for the most important situations. I actually think this is a bad idea. If you have a large business, sometimes using scripts is inevitable, simply because you probably have entire teams of customer service reps across the country or even around the world.

But if your company is small enough, moving away from scripts can help your team respond in a way that is more “real,” so customers trust you more.

Instead of scripts, hire people you really trust and give them the freedom to answer complains and negative reviews in authentic ways. Give them a few guidelines:

  • What brand messages are your trying to express?
  • What elements should be included in every message? (HINT: Apologies come first!)
  • What perks are they allowed to offer? (examples: free products, refunds, discounts)

Also give employees examples of good and bad responses. Then, give them the freedom to deal with lower-level problems and, as they prove themselves, work on higher-level problems.

Implementing Your Plan

No matter how well-written your plan may be, it doesn’t matter if employees don’t follow it. First, employees need to be trained. Make sure that everyone, from new hires to employees who have been with you from the start, attend training and are on notice that the new rules are in effect immediately.

If your business is growing, it can be awkward to take some duties away from employees who have been wearing many hats, but it is important for everyone to follow procedures. Instate easy systems, and make sure that there are clear reprimands and repercussions for employees who refuse to use your new system.

Lastly, remember to follow through with the plan yourself. Set an example for your entire team as you implement the plan. Soon it will be second nature for everyone!

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

How To Apologize Online: The Ultimate Guide

October 14th, 2014 Comments off

Your online reputation isn’t just what people are saying about you; it is also about how you react to these comments. No matter how awesome your product or service may be, you’ll always come across unhappy customers. Today, customers will rip you to shreds on social sites like Facebook and Twitter, and leave scathing reviews on sites like Yelp. It might be a misunderstanding. Or it might actually be your fault – mistakes happen.

As mentioned in both this post about handling mistakes and this post about how to deal with negative Yelp reviews, apologizing should be your first reaction when you’re dealing with disgruntled customers. But that slice of humble pie can be hard to eat, especially if you don’t believe you’re in the wrong. Most companies really stink at apologizing, but if you learn to do it the right way, you can win over customers, even if you have negative reviews online.

The Apology Comes First

As humans, we have a basic instinct to protect ourselves, which can lead us to being defensive, even when we know we’re in the wrong. We want to explain to people why we made the mistake. However, online, this can cause problems. When we try to explain, it feels like we’re not taking full responsibility for our actions, and any apology that comes afterwards feels less sincere, if the reader even makes it that far.

Recently, MailOnline posted a story about George Clooney’s wedding, and he called them out on getting the facts wrong. Here’s their response:

Clooney Apology

Do you see the problem here? Several paragraphs into the article, and even zoomed out to fit more of the story into the screenshot, and MailOnline still hasn’t apologized! You can read the entire story here, and as you’ll see, they do eventually say they are sorry for the misinformation, but by that time, the apology seems false. Many readers might not scroll down to read the entire story, thus missing the actual apology.

How much more powerful would this story have been for the apology to come first, followed by the reason why it happened, rather than the other way around?

When responding to an angry customer or negative review, the first words you type should be “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Sometimes, an explanation makes sense, but even if you believe the comments to be unfounded, start with an apology for the bad experience.

Leave the Buts Out of It

If the first two words you type are “I’m sorry” or “I apologize,” the third word should not be, “but…”

When you follow an apology with the word but, you’re essentially negating the apology. You’re saying that even though you’re sorry, there was a god reason, so the complaint is unfounded. This is not a good way to make your apology sound sincere.

It’s okay to explain what happened, but not to pass the buck. The word but means that you’re not taking responsibility. Anyone who reads a negative review or comment about your company online wants to know that you are holding yourself and your employees accountable.

Back in 2012, a rogue Kitchen Aid employee posted an extremely offensive tweet about Barack Obama’s grandmother, who had recently passed away. Kitchen Aid immediately deleted the tweet and apologized, and while it would have been really easy to say, “We’re sorry, but the tweet was made by an employee who does not represent the Kitchen Aid brand and is no longer with the company,” that’s not what they did.

Not a but to be seen. The apology is much more sincere when the buts are left out of it.

Apologize Quickly

Social media moves so fast. However, the longer an unanswered complaint is out there, the more angry people get about it.

Once, I complained about service at a restaurant, where our waitress seemed to forget about us after taking our drink order, the food took absurdly long to come out of the kitchen, and our water wasn’t refilled a single time, despite being one of the few patrons in the entire dining room. A few months later, someone finally responded to my negative review online, stating that they would look into the matter.

Look into the matter? Sixty plus days later? What exactly was the remedy at that point?

We never went back to that restaurant, because not only was the service bad, but it didn’t seem like our complaints were being taken seriously.

Sometimes, it isn’t possible to respond to a negative comment immediately, for whatever reason. But if you can’t keep up with complaints online, you need to hire someone to help you. People want to know that they are being heard. I might have given the restaurant another try if someone would have replied to my complaint within a day or two, or even within a week.

Luckily, there are tools to help you listen online, so you can see brand mentions without spending hours every day scouring the Internet. Here are a few I recommend:

  • Meshfire – this is a great option if your customers are active on Twitter. It helps you filter out the noise and assign response tasks to team members, so apologies can be made quickly and by the right people.
  • Social Mention – you can type your brand name into this tool to see who is talking about your company across tons of social networks, blogs, and other sources, as well as to get an overall feeling for the sentiment people have about your company and the top keywords people associate with your brand.
  • Google Alerts – easily monitor brand mentions across the Internet with Google alerts. You’ll get an email notification any time you’re mentioned, which is super convenient.

Move the Conversation to a Private Forum

Once you’ve apologized initially, include contact information so that the conversation can continue. It often doesn’t make sense, both for branding purposes and for logistical reasons, to hold the conversation publicly. That’s why you see so many brands include contact information so the person with the problem can speak to them further about the issue.

This is a good practice even if there is no further response necessary. People who complain are, in many cases, chronic complainers. This doesn’t mean that their complaints aren’t legitimate, but some people can find something wrong no matter what. Do you really want complaints about your company to stack up online? Or would you rather that person have personal contact information so they can email you or call you privately whenever they have a complaint?

Keep in mind that it makes more sense to include personal contact information rather than a generic customer service helpline. No matter how well trained your customer service reps may be, if they have no concept of the problem and the customer has to repeat themselves, it can lead to further frustration. We’ve all been there – transferred from customer support person to person to person and having to explain the problem again every single time.

Note How You’ll be Fixing the Problem

People who read your comments in the future want to know that they won’t be experiencing the same problems if they purchase a product form your company or use your services. It’s great to know that the person with the complaint received a refund or other benefits, but they still had to go through the hassle in the first place.

Don’t worry if the solution is too complex to fully explain on the forum where the complaint was made. Sometimes, you don’t have to go into details. You just have to talk about the fact that you’ll be preventing the problem in the future.

I love this video apology from Jet Blue, because it shows that you can talk about how you’ll be fixing the problem without being ultra-specific – the entire video is less than three minutes long:

Sometimes, it would take way too much time to explain the solution to the customer, as is this case for an airline. But you can explain, from the heart, that you’re working to rectify the situation so that it never happens again.

Set Policies in Place

Lastly, as your company grows, make sure you have clear policies in place for responding to negative reviews and comments with apologies. You can use the tips in this post as a starting point, but make sure that you include specifics that make sense for your company.

Avoid must-use scripts, which can sound canned and insincere, but give your team suggestions on how to respond, including specific tactics for making connections with customers to resolve the problem. Teach your employees to always apologize first, instead of getting defensive, and realize that some employees, while great at solving problems, are not awesome at writing sincere apologies. That’s okay – not everyone has to be good at everything. In fact, you might be exceedingly bad at apologizing online. This is often the case with owners because their business is their baby and they feel like a complaint is an attack. It’s a completely natural emotion.

But it’s important for you, as the leader, to identify people who are good at apologizing if it is not a skill you possess. Put certain employees in charge of this crucial tasks and empower them to make decisions when dealing with complaints.

The right apology can salvage a sale, even when the initial reaction was a disaster. Make this a priority for your company to earn customers’ loyalty and to repair customer relationships when mistakes happen.

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

10 Important Tips for Dealing with Negative Yelp Reviews

October 7th, 2014 Comments off

Negative reviews are the pits. On Yelp, sometimes negative reviews are legitimate, while other times they are completely baseless remarks made by people who’ve never dealt with your business. So how can you manage the reviews? This post will get you started, but if you want even more in-depth information, read these tips before your fingers start flying across your keyboard:

Tip #1: Determine if the claim is legitimate or not.

If a claim is not legitimate, be polite with your response. Explain why you have concerns with the review (ex: “I think this reviewer is confusing us with someone else, since we are not open on Sundays, when they said they visited…”), but avoid accusing the person of a false review.

Tip #2: Reflect before publishing.

It can be a blow to our egos to receive a negative review, especially if the person is rude or mean. Before you fire off an equally nasty response, take some time to reflect. Remember, when people read reviews, they read your responses as well. For even more tips, check out this post about five types of comments you should never leave.

Tip #3: Apologize first, always.

Even if you disagree with the review, apologize for the negative experience. Now is not the time to get defensive! A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way. As a side note, avoid saying anything like, “I’m sorry you feel that way…” which implies that the reviewer is at fault, rather than your business. (This post has even more information about dealing with mistakes.)

Tip #4: Don’t let comments go unanswered.

It can be really, really tempting to just ignore the negative comments. However, when others read these bad reviews and they are unanswered, it looks like you aren’t listening and don’t care. Even if your comment is simply and apology for the negative experience and, that’s better than no answer at all.

Tip #5: Let people have the last word.

Sometimes, people are really upset about silly things. Respond to negative comments, but recognize when people just need to have the last word. Yelp is not the place for a long back-and-forth. Which brings me to my next tip…

Tip #6: Include contact information.

When you respond to a negative comment, invite the reviewer to contact you privately so you can learn more about their experience and, if possible, resolve it so you either fix the problem or ensure it doesn’t happen again. You can’t make people contact you, but you can make this information available.

Tip #7: Make connections elsewhere.

Not everyone uses Yelp habitually. Some people sign up specifically to leave a negative review, then never check again. So, they might not see your response. If you can make a connection somewhere else, do it! Depending on the situation, sometimes a quick username search will bring up the person’s accounts on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks. Reach out and apologize if possible.

Tip #8: Follow up, follow up, follow up!

Don’t just respond once and leave it at that. Follow up! While it’s important not to get into a back-and-forth with someone, a simple follow-up can show that you really care. For example, if someone left you a bad restaurant review and you gave them a free entrée voucher for their next visit, follow up a month later to see if they used it and if their experience was better.

Tip #9: Be a person, not an automated brand.

Don’t sign any comment “Customer Service” Or use a brand logo as a picture. Be an actual person. Use your name, and, as noted before, include your contact information. Never send a canned response. People appreciate when you’re real.

Tip #10: Focus on the positive.

Lastly, although it is important to answer negative reviews, don’t forget to give some love to positive reviewers. “Thank you” is almost as powerful as “I’m sorry,” and you want those people to not only come back, but to also tell their friends.

How to Repair Your Online Reputation After a Mistake

May 28th, 2014 Comments off

It happens to the best of us: we make mistakes.

Online, mistakes are amplified. A rouge tweet or blog post with a typo can travel faster than you can hit the delete button; not that it matters anyway, since the more popular your brand, the more people who will have screenshots of the incriminating incident.

The good news? In the blink of an eye, the Internet’s short attention span will move on to the next fiasco. All may not be forgiven, but it certainly will be forgotten, at least by the general public. There’s some bad news too, however: people make snap decisions, and one mistake can equate to a huge loss in revenue by angry customers before people forget. A big enough mistake means that they won’t be back, so you can kiss any kind of recurring revenue goodbye.

The following steps are my recommendations for handling online mistakes that could damage your reputation:

Step 0: Have a plan.

Yes, I have a step zero, because online reputation damage control should start now. You’re going to make mistakes online. When you do, have plans in place for how to handle these mistakes. This is especially important as your team grows, since you might not be reachable when a problem occurs. Make sure every employee knows how to handle tough situations.

Step 1: Identify the severity of the problem.

Some problems are funny or annoying, but won’t do much reputation damage. For example, if you make a typo in one of your tweets, it’s not the end of the world (unless you run an editing business maybe!), but if an angry employee posts a racist message on your Facebook page, this is a very big deal. The severity of the problem will help you determine how drastic your response should be.

Step 2: Fix the problem.

Nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet, but that doesn’t mean you should let an offensive social update stay live, keep a factually incorrect post on your blog, or allow hackers to maintain control of whatever they’ve hacked. After identifying the problem, you next step has to be to stop the bleeding.

Step 3: Apologize, apologize, apologize (and explain).

The first thing you say after any kind of problem needs to be an apology. Our basic human instinct is to defend ourselves, but any kind of defense can be easily seen as an unwillingness to admit the mistake. You can explain what happened, but always apologize first. Make sure that you are sincere.

One of the best examples of a good apology was recently posted by actor George Takei on Facebook:

takei

This message has almost 50,000 likes because he apologized, explained what happened, and focused on an extremely important issue, rather than focusing on defending himself. But be careful – too much explanation can make it seem like you don’t care that others were offended by your mistake.

Step 4: Follow up with the negative “ring leaders.”

Who was most offended by your mistake? Who is spreading the word and rallying others against you? Who are your most valued upset customers? Reach out to those people privately and individually to apologize personally. In some cases, free products, discounts, or other perks might be appropriate.

Step 5: Move on.

Some people won’t accept your apology. Some people are just trying to evoke a response. Don’t feed the trolls. Debating will only continue to push the issue into the spotlight. Remember, most people will forget a mistake pretty quickly. If you stop engaging with people who are bringing it up, you can move forward.

Step 6: Examine your policies and make changes.

What caused this problem in the first place? What can you do differently so it doesn’t happen again? For example, was it an overly opinionated blog post that made people mad? Maybe your new policy is to have at least three people look at each post before it’s published to ensure that it enhances your brand messages. Was a employee tweeting from your brand account when they meant to be tweeting from their personal account because they signed into the wrong account on their phone? Maybe your new policy is to get everyone on the social team a phone specifically for social updates from brand accounts.

Do what you can to avoid repeat problems. People will forgive you once, but they may not be able to look the other way if mistakes happen again and again.

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

Brand Reputation: Why Your Personal Digital Brand is Not the Same as You

May 16th, 2014 Comments off

When asked what qualities are most important in relationships (business or otherwise), honesty tops the list for many people. Consumers want to connect with brands who are authentic and trustworthy. What does your audience thing about you? If they know, like, and, most importantly, trust you, they’ll be more likely to make a purchase and tell their friends about you.

If you have a personal brand, however, honesty online gets a little messy. Examples of people with very strong personal brands include Chris Brogan, Tim Ferriss, and Erika Napoletano. Representing yourself, not a separate business brand, has both risks and rewards, but if you go this route, one thing is certain: you have to draw the line between “me” and “my brand.”

Authenticity is NOT about Oversharing

Authenticity online doesn’t mean that you share every piece of you. Giving away your entire life for the public to see can be stressful and uncomfortable. Not to mention, oversharing can actually turn customers off.

For example, let’s say that you go on a cruise with your family and get terribly seasick. You should not post pictures of yourself losing your lunch in the name of authenticity! That’s definitely “TMI” for your audience. Pick and choose what to share so that you’re still representing what happened, but you maintain a little dignity. This stands true in less “gross out” situations as well. For example, let’s say you just found out that you’re expecting. You don’t have to make the announcement for your fans on Facebook before you tell friends and family. You’re still an authentic person if you choose to keep some parts of your life private.

Defining Your Brand

Beyond privacy issues, you also need to consider the consistency of your messaging.

The best way to determine what to share and what to keep private is to define your brand. What three words describe how you want people to view your personal brand online? If the answer is “sassy, fun, and energetic,” what you share online should always promote these attributes. Does that mean that you are always sassy, fun, and energetic in real life? No way – no one is. But sharing a stressed-out rant online is probably not your best option, even if that’s how you really feel. It’s inconsistent with how you want people to see you. Every comment you make online should be professional and consistent with your personal brand.

Messaging consistency doesn’t mean that you should lie. Let’s say you’re really unhappy with a product you’ve purchased, but your personal brand is a happy, optimistic one. That doesn’t mean you should lie and talk about how great the product is, even though you really think it stinks. It’s all about how you say things.

And, when in doubt, remember – you don’t need to put everything online. Some stuff can remain private. Remember, your personal brand is not you. It is all the best, most marketable parts of you packaged for the masses.

When the Real Your Comes Out…

Ever meet a celebrity in person? You probably had one of two experiences: they were as sweet and nice as you expected or they were horrible and you’ll never think of them the same way again. If you had a bad experience, part of the reason it was so terrible was not only the other person’s actions, but the jarring effect of expecting something different.

Make sure that the you you’re presenting online doesn’t stay too far from the real you that actually lives your life. If you do, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out. If you like to drink and dance on bars every weekend, don’t present yourself as a mild-mannered, family-friendly personal brand. If you are a homebody, don’t present yourself as an adventure-seeker. If you’re an introvert, don’t present yourself as the life of the party.

When people feel like they’re being tricked, your reputation takes a huge nose-dive. They think, “If they were lying about their personality, what else could they be lying about?”

Remember, even if you aren’t building a business based on your personal brand, the way you act online affect how people think about your small business or your employer. Even if you have “views are my own” in your Twitter bio, you could lose customers or be fired if you aren’t presenting yourself well.

Don’t Feed the Trolls: 5 Types of Comments You Should Never Leave Online

May 8th, 2014 Comments off

How aggravating is it when someone on the Internet is wrong? It can be hard to walk away from your keyboard when you disagree with someone online, especially if your brand is under attack. But, sometimes, it’s not about right or wrong. Sometimes, it’s about not feeding the trolls.

Contrary to popular belief, a troll isn’t someone who has something negative to say. A troll is someone who is saying negative things just for the attention. Their goal is to tick you off, even if it means leaving comments that are untrue, contradictory, or against their personal feelings on the topic. Trolls don’t care about “winning” an argument. They win when they get a rise out of you.

So what’s a savvy online business person to do? Not answering comments can make it seem like you don’t care or are ignoring your customers, but answering a troll plays right into their hand.

Before I talk about what to do, here are five types of comments you should avoid leaving online:

  • Passionate, Emotional Responses

As noted in my blog post about responding to Yelp comments, you shouldn’t hit the “publish” button when you’re mad. It’s human nature to say things we regret when we’re angry, and once something is out there on the Internet, you can’t take it back.

  • Lies

It should go without saying that lying is bad, but when you’re dealing with a troll, it can be tempting to fib a little in order to “prove” them wrong. It’s not okay to lie in any way at any time, and this includes telling half-truths, making up stats, and bending the truth, even just a little.

  • Statements that aren’t Fact Checked

Trolls live to prove you wrong. If you’re going to respond, you absolutely need to make sure that what you’re saying is valid and up-to-date. Otherwise, anything further you say will be dismissed. Always fact check before publishing a comment.

  • Name-Calling or Insults

It can be really satisfying to call a troll what he/she is, but when you stoop to that level, you don’t do yourself any favors. Not everyone who reads the conversation will realize that the other person is just trolling you, and they might think that’s how you interact with all of your customers.

  • Lengthy “Prove You Wrong” Comments

Trolls love when you leave lengthy comments, because it gives them the attention they want. It also gives them more ammunition, since they can respond to your comment, poking holes in every point you made. You aren’t going to change a troll’s mind.

So what should you say to a troll? You have two good options:

  1. Say nothing and delete the comment
  2. Respond in a short, friendly manner

If the comment is on your site or Facebook page, you aren’t bound by some kind of law to allow others to see it. You can delete it. However, before you do, think long and hard about whether the comment is truly from a troll or if it is simply from someone who had a negative experience. Negative commenters (yes, even when they are rude) aren’t always trolls. Those are two different things.

If you decide to respond to the comment on your site or it is public somewhere else where you don’t have the ability to delete, the very best thing you can do is to leave a short, professional comment. Note that you respect their opinion, but you have other customers who disagree. Invite them to discuss the matter with a phone call (and follow up if they say yes to that – which is super rare for trolls, but might happen).

Always remember, the comments you leave in response to trolls are not for the troll. They’re for other customers who see the conversation. A thoughtful, friendly response to a mean-spirited troll can actually make you look good!

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: ,

The One Tool that Will Drastically Improve Your Online Reputation

April 24th, 2014 Comments off

“I feel like I already know you!”

When I worked in the conference world, one of the joys of my job was getting to see online friends meeting in person for the first time. It might seem weird to call someone a friend if you’ve never actually met them, but after reading one another’s blogs, exchanging tweets, and even having conversations on Skype, it’s easy for a friendship to build. You grow to know and like one another, and even to trust one another.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could build that same online friendship with every single one of your customers? After all, people are more likely to make a purchase when they know, like, and trust you, just as they do a friend.

Having a personable blog and sharing on social media are great strategies, but if you really want to solidify that relationship, consider one more tool: podcasting.

With a podcast, you’re making a more intimate connection with your audience because people actually hear your voice. You’re also telling people that you’re an authority on the subject, and you’re even reaching an entirely new audience, since some people don’t read blogs or use social media much – they just listen to podcasts.

Best of all, podcasting is not as hard as you think!

What You Need to Get Started

Technically, all you need to get started is a computer with a mic (or even a smartphone), some kind of program to record your voice (there are many free options available), and a little time to record. I was first part of a podcast back in 2008, and that’s pretty much all we had for our weekly video game show.

Now, I highly recommend spending a little money to purchase a nice mic rather than using the one built into your computer, as well as some sound editing software so you can edit out any awkward pauses or other parts you don’t want to be in the final product you upload for listeners. But you don’t need to splurge. If you’re just getting started, you can find all of the equipment you need for under $100. Once you’re ready to get more serious about podcasting, I highly recommend checking out the equipment advice from Podcast Answer Man (Cliff Ravenscraft), which you can check out here. Cliff also has an absolutely free Learn How to Podcast training course available here if you want some training before getting started. (I’m not an affiliate for any of Cliff’s products; I just think it’s top-notch!)

What to Podcast About

Resist the urge to start a podcast about your company. While you can (and should) mention company news on your podcast, people won’t tune in to hear what equates to a commercial for your brand. What you want is a podcast that will better your online reputation by making you an expert on your industry, or even a very specific part of your industry.

For example, let’s say you own a small brick-and-mortar business, like a BBQ restaurant. You could podcast about:

  • The restaurant industry
  • Food, in general
  • BBQ
  • Your local neighborhood

And while you certainly want to mention your restaurant, the entire podcast should not be about your business.

A great option is to have at least one co-host. You’ll notice that on radio shows, they typically have two or three people, sometimes with a fourth person who comes in for specific segments. It’s just easier to play off of one another than to talk to yourself.

You can also have weekly guests on your podcast. This is key for helping you promote, since guests tend to tell their audiences when they are on someone’s podcast. It’s also a great way to build relationships with key people in your industry: have them on your podcast.

The Dark Side of Podcasting

Podcast can also ruin your online reputation if you’re not careful. Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Rants and angry comments: It can feel SO good to slam someone who is acting like an idiot or saying things about your company that aren’t true, but resist the urge. Rants are one of the fastest ways to change what people think about you online, and not for the better.
  • Personal rambling: You do want to let people into your personal life a bit with your podcast, but too much gets boring to other people. Share the fact that your sister just had a baby and you’re a new aunt/uncle. Avoid the play-by-play retelling of the labor…unless, of course, you have a pregnancy podcast!
  • Off topic conversations: We all get off topic sometimes, and that’s okay. Just be aware that if you spend more time off topic than on topic, you’re probably going to lose some readers. People come to your podcast because they have a specific interest in the topic you’re covering, so make sure that most of the time, you’re talking about that topic.
  • Mistakes: If you want people to see you as an expert in your field, you need to give them correct information. If you’re not sure about a fact, say that and fact check it later for your show notes. Don’t BS your way through a conversation, because people will call you out on it.

Common sense, right? Right!

Podcasting can be a lot of fun on top of being a great way to improve what people think about you online. Look into starting one today – or at the very least, start listening to some of the podcasts in your industry and building relationships with the hosts so you can be a guest on their podcasts.