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

December 20th, 2014 No comments

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 No comments

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 No comments

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 No comments

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 No comments

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.

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.