Online Reputation Management is not an unfamiliar term to anyone from the Internet marketing Industry. As the bargaining power being given to the consumers through the Internet or more specifically the powerful social media platforms where they are in a better position to not only find information about products/services but also compare pricing, explore alternatives and access reviews written by other customers. Thus today markets are buyer dominated, and Internet obviously is a buyer’s market place. Now, in such a volatile market place where positive or negative feedback from consumers can spread like fire within no time, many businesses are constantly facing serious online reputation crisis either in the form of negative opinions spread by dissatisfied customers or competitor attacks, and at times even face backlash from disgruntled past employees. Moreover the media joins the party in some cases adding fuel to the fire. ORM has been the effective solution for these companies and though there are great examples of companies practicing good ORM, but still many companies find quick-fix solutions rather than systematically addressing the core issues to root out the cause of the crisis. For ex: Some time back I met the marketing head of a well known company (Before the meeting I had googled the company and found a lot of negative reviews about them, and I can certainly say, most of them were genuine reviews as the posters had given their customer ids and phone numbers. Most of the complaints were about the poor customer service and not anything about the product clearly indicating that their customer service was pathetic), he was too bothered about finding a solution to effectively respond to the reviews and we even discussed about pushing the negative pages (on Google) down to page two or three. The real issue was not the negative reviews but the frustratingly poor customer service. When I asked about the steps taken to address the issue, he wasn’t interested in that, in fact he was so defensive and maintained that the reviews were fake ones and performance shortfalls always remain in any process. What people like him don’t understand is that ORM is not only about addressing negative mentions but also about creating a positive buzz about the company through great customer service, quality products, and good customer feedback and so on.
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ORM, broadly, is a systematic process of dealing with reputation crisis and this article doesn’t explain the process in detail, but provides few insightful tips that can help to fill some of the major gaps indentified in the commonly practiced ORM processes.
1. Always be polite and professional while responding to comments/reviews even if the posters show anger using foul languages. Don’t try to defend yourself, argue or give round about answers while responding to complaints, when there is a lapse on your part accept it and sincerely apologize because that makes a good impression. Don’t post the same standard message/response across platforms, respond relevantly to every complaint (after understanding the issue) and do mention the poster’s name instead of the standard ‘Dear customer’ salutation.
2. Always try to take the dissatisfied customer offline for further discussion, ask for customer credentials and try to contact him/her through email or phone. Trying to convince a dissatisfied customer online can get nasty at times and may result in more reputation damage.
3. Never ever threaten complainants offline or online in any situation even if they are on an online mission to defame you, because that will trigger more adverse reactions.
4. In case of genuine complaints, never bargain or threaten (threatening is anyway a bad idea) the site owners to get the complaints removed, there is a high chance of moderators (of genuine consumer forums or review sites) posting the copy of your mail or message on the comments, complaints or review sections causing more damage and offering money is something suicidal.
5. A great response time most of the time solves half of the customer related problems, respond to complaints quickly and more importantly get the problem or issue solved in the fastest possible time. In case of customer service related issue, co-ordinate with your customer service people and make sure they solve the issues within the promised service time.
6. Once complaint is resolved, ask for feedback and request him/her to post feedback review (if feedback is positive).
7. Encourage satisfied customers (who have received great service from you) to post positive reviews. Think about creative ways to get them speak/write about you.
8. ORM is a great way to study your target audience and their behavior. Use tools like radian6 to monitor the sentiments of your target audience and find out what your customers say about your products or services online. Moreover collect all customer feedback and implement the valuable but practical suggestions received from them. If you are more interested in suppressing negative mentions than listening to your customers, then you are practicing bad ORM.
9. Once you address a major issue (for which you were being repeatedly criticized), say, revamping a poorly functioning customer department, create positive stories based on it and spread them online or go for a press release campaign. This will largely help you regain the lost reputation.
10. Remember ORM is not a substitute for a bad product or poor service. No doubt it’s a face saving process but it means more than that. Address the real issues and come up with improvements, even that could be part of the ORM process.
11. Competitors’ attacks – Some competitors spread negative things under the guise of unsatisfied customers. Posting fake complaints to defame competitors has been a practice in the online world for a long time. Don’t attack or abuse competitors, instead ask for information online that may expose them like unique customer id, bill/invoice no, phone number etc. When they don’t reply you can obviously come up with an explanation speaking about the fake complaints being posted.
12. In case of fake complaints, you can definitely negotiate with the site owners, provide them evidence if any or insist them to contact the posters (Genuine complainants always respond) and ultimately get them removed. Even if the site owners refuse to remove the reviews most of them would allow you to explain to the readers how they are fake complaints. Most of the sites have ‘report’ buttons and ‘ comment’ options.
13. Respond to every fake complaint, you will sound genuine and upfront.
14. If you have clear evidences to prove that complaints are fake, create posts based on them and spread them through various online channels, let your customers know. One point or the other they may commit some mistakes or errors, keep looking for them and expose them promptly. Let them retreat.
15. Don’t waste time reporting defaming content to Google; they don’t take action against defaming content (in other words removal from Google results) unless it’s a legal issue. Even by chance if they remove (when reported through Google’s legal form) the results (when they find it’s not a legal issue) reappear. Bing does respond to such complaints and at times takes action on a case by case basis.
16. Create positive, genuine stories about your company, product or brand and spread them online, use powerful platforms so that they may dominate search results and help you suppress the negative listings.
17. Wanna really take revenge? Don’t attack or abuse them. Go the legal way; use the concept of comparative advertising. Come up with posts that may compare your competitive advantages and their disadvantages. Show your customers how you are better than them. (Note: This tactics will work only when you really score better than them in terms of all important parameters. Get your facts and figures right before going for such a campaign)
18. In case of past employee(s) posting defaming or misleading content about you and you know the person(s) involved; contact them/him and discuss things out, solve the issues rather threatening or suing him/them. It’s a world of social media; any wrong moves may backfire adversely.
19. If they are posting fake, defaming content anonymously say, as customers, you can follow point no.11 and incase they are posting defaming content anonymously as former employees, respond to the comments claiming them to be untrue. You can also seek site owners’ help; they don’t usually remove negative comments but would definitely consider removing abusing content. (Note: Here, I’m not referring to honest reviews posted by past employees based on real experiences on Job sites like glass door but misleading or abusing content posted by revengeful employees ( either they were fired or had bad experiences) with an intention to defame the company ). In case of honest reviews describing negative experiences, you can respond (responsibly) to the reviews by adding comments but more importantly the real issues related to the work environment need to be addressed.
20. Finally, Key to a successful ORM process is continuous and proactive monitoring, keep your eyes wide-open. Respond to negative mentions promptly and positively, use the stones (negatives) thrown at you to build your house (Positives – reputation).
If you have any insights/points to share with us, please do through the comment section below.
One of the shortly coming posts will feature some of the best ORM tools used worldwide to carryout proactive monitoring. Watch this space!
Update: 10 Fantastic Online Reputation Management Tools
This article addresses SEOs across board – so, if you are an experienced professional, you may already know some of the things I have discussed in the article and they may sound obvious but they have been purposefully discussed to connect the dots and present the whole picture so that SEOs at all levels ( including beginners/newbies ) can understand.