For businesses, brands and enterprises that have digital presence, managing their online reputations is immensely important. Not all businesses have a risk-management plan in place, which is why they tend to make serious mistakes. It is almost impossible for a business to have a squeaky-clean online journey throughout, so it is always better to be prepared.

Virginia-based contracting agency, Dietz Development, experienced a $300,000 loss in revenue when Jane Perez, a customer, posted negative reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Angie’s List. She alleged that the company failed to complete the renovation work she hired them to do and stole jewelry from her home. Even though Dietz won the initial judgment that ordered Perez to remove the negative reviews, the ACLU and Public Citizen supported Perez, defending the review as her right to free speech.

The stakes are high for both big and small companies when it comes to managing their online reputations. Almost 92 percent of North Americans read online reviews regularly to learn about a business. A large portion of consumers check out customer feedback systems such as Google Reviews and Yelp for an opinion about a business, according to the BrightLocal Consumer Review survey. The survey indicates that consumers place 68 percent greater trust on businesses with overwhelmingly positive reviews; whereas those with 1-star or 2-star reviews fail to convert 90 percent of prospective customers.

Moreover, 78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations, while only 14 percent trust online advertisements. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, more than 25 percent of an organization’s market value directly depends upon its reputation.

Regardless of how well you plan your online marketing strategies, you are sure to face a reputation crisis at some point. You can’t satisfy each and every customer, so you should be prepared to tackle such a situation. If you are prepared to mitigate online criticism, you will be in a better position to respond to it and minimize the adverse effects.

Tips to Fight Bad Online Reputation

Here are a few ways in which you can fight an undesirable digital reputation:

Respond Quickly

Make every effort to prevent customers from getting to the point where they resort to venting against your company on customer review sites. Customers often turn to these online review sites to warn potential customers about business practices and standards, or when they want to hurt the company’s online reputation, or receive a response from the company. However, for service-oriented companies, consumers mostly contact the business for help first. If they feel dissatisfied with the response, they move on to other methods of tackling the situation.

Companies should engage with customers and work on the feedback received before customers lash out at them on online review sites. The best way to do this is to communicate with the client(s) via phone, email, or social media.

Take the example of JetBlue, which proves that keenness in responding to and helping customers builds trust and strengthens customer relationships.

Flight delays and cancellations happen frequently, but JetBlue did a great job in handling the situation without enraging customers.

JetBlue is extremely responsive and this helps them avoid negative reviews. Because a huge number of people engage on social media, you can use it to your advantage and save yourself from customer backlash. Negative reviews stay online indefinitely and can harm your business over time. Remember, 92 percent of consumers trust online reviews and consider them similar to personal recommendations; so be proactive in remedying customers’ complaints.

 

Avoid Being Aggressive

A natural response to criticism is to get emotional and overreact, or become too aggressive. However, you cannot afford to behave this way as lashing out often intensifies the disputes and further affects your reputation. Consumers expect your business to be respectful of their needs and handle complaints responsibly. But, if you become aggressive, you can hardly expect any sympathy from them. This applies to your online reputation management initiatives as well.

Dark Horse café received a critical tweet about the lack of electrical outlets for connecting laptops and they responded quite aggressively

Responding in a disrespectful and antagonistic manner does more harm than good. Customers can get enraged and become more abusive towards your brand. Such behavior can infuriate the prospective customers as well.

The first step towards handling online criticism is posting an apology. Acknowledge your mistake, review the complaint, and work on probable solutions. Then, engage with consumers through an online review platform or through private channels such as e-mail to discuss remedies to the situation.

For instance, one of the guests at the Stamford Plaza in Brisbane voiced his frustration about noisy rooms and impolite staff on TripAdvisor. In order to take control of the situation, Phillippe, the manager of the hotel, posted a thoughtful response, reassuring the guest that they would work to improve the experience.

It is perfectly alright (and even prudent) to take the issue offline in order to prevent attracting further unwanted attention, but make sure you request the customer to post a revised review specifying that his/her complaint was addressed. You can also ask the customer to remove the review once you have remedied the problem.
In case the customer does not revise or remove the review, it is absolutely legitimate for the business to talk about how the complaint was addressed and resolved successfully.

Social Monitoring

When it comes to online reputation management, one cannot deny the importance of a robust social media strategy. For its successful implementation, it is important to stay vigilant about conversations, interactions and positive and negative sentiments, so that you can act quickly.

Join conversations, debunk myths about your business, answer queries, and offer high-quality engagement for all those who matter to your business. You can utilize social monitoring tools such as Hootsuite and Klout to track the perceptions and activities surrounding your brand.

Encourage customers who have had positive experiences to post favorable online reviews. Customers who have been loyal to your brand can help clear the air and bring back the trust. It is recommended that businesses invest in brand advocacy programs to promote healthy customer relationships.

Let’s consider the example of Rubio’s, a San Diego-based restaurant chain. Renowned for their fish tacos, they do a great job in turning happy customers into Rubio’s Advocates. These enthusiastic customers (more than 75,000 in number) spread positive word of mouth about the brand and help the company improve sales by posting favorable reviews, posts, and tweets, and share their promotional offerings through their social accounts.

In another instance, SPC, an iconic Australian brand, was saved from closing down by its customers. After the federal government refused to invest taxpayer’s funds into the company, a customer, Linda Drummond, started a massive campaign, which received overwhelming response from other customers. This saved the brand.

The urgency in the situation contributed to the success of the campaign, but what mattered most was the authenticity. The campaign was started by a customer, which ignited emotions amongst other customers. The brand received immense support and finally secured $25 million from the Victorian state government. This would not have been possible without strong customer support.

It is not only small companies, but even the big ones such as Ikea and Dell that invest in brand advocacy programs, to be able to salvage their brand name, in case of a crisis. During a catastrophe, your customers can do what the marketers cannot. They spread the word about your brand and instill a sense of trust among other customers. It, therefore, makes sense for businesses to invest their time and energy to build loyalty among customers. The best way to do this is by offering rewards in the form of deals and discounts, blog and social media mentions, and so on.

 Conclusion

When faced with online criticism, you must first try to resolve the matter by responding quickly. Lawsuits should be the last resort as they can have disparaging effects on your reputation. If you take the example of Dietz, it may have been able to get the negative reviews removed, but the negative publicity brought about by the lawsuit tainted its reputation to an extent that it became difficult for the business to recover from it.

Be vigilant of your online activities and respond as quickly as you can, in case something goes wrong. Start with an apology and then think about ways to resolve the matter. Take help from your loyal customers and save your brand from further damage. The more aggressive you are when communicating with unhappy customers, the more harm you will cause your brand. Keep your cool and tackle the situation wisely!

Dipti Parmar is the digital PR strategist and account manager at Preceptist and handles content marketing campaigns at E2M. She helps brands and individuals with their marketing while keeping their online reputation spotless.