In business—as in life—your reputation always precedes you. Today, the first impulse of potential customers and business partners is to search your name or business online before making contact. Therefore, the importance of online reputation management in our digital-first world cannot be overemphasized.
Many people wish they could scrub the internet of their youthful indiscretions, negative customer reviews, and other posts that don’t show them in a positive light. This desire is growing more urgent as most people increasingly live their lives online.
Online reputation management is the means of achieving this objective, both for individuals, brands, and businesses. This guide will educate you on how to protect, improve, and manage your online presence so its neglect doesn’t come back to haunt you and your business.
What is online reputation management?
Online reputation is the general perception held by the internet public regarding an entity such as a person, a company, or a brand, including their products and services.
Online reputation management, or ORM, is a coordinated effort to influence and control what people think of the entity in the digital world and positively shape public perception and opinion in their favor. Part of this strategy involves using management tools to conceal, shape, and influence aspects of the entity’s online image when it’s viewed online.
These online strategies involve leveraging a combination of professional domains like legal, public relations, marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) to burnish the entity’s online presence. This strategy often aims to do at least one of the following: protect, promote, and defend the person or group’s reputation.
Some companies or individuals may decide to hire a reputation manager or PR firm to manage and respond to online discussions involving the company or person. These professionals invariably act as part tech experts, part PR gurus.
Better still, others decide to engage organizations that are experts at providing online reputation management solutions, who are capable of handling customer-focused organizations where online reputation can easily make or break a business, like those in the restaurant industry.
Other crucial aspects of online reputation management involve monitoring search results for the entity, along with facilitating online community efforts and social media engagement around them.
Online reputation management tactics usually involve a combination of the following:
- Monitoring a entity’s name, business, products, and services in online search results
- Monitoring social media for any comments, posts, and mentions that might have a reputation impact on the entity
- Boosting, promoting, and expanding the reach and visibility of positive content about the entity
- Concealing, removing, and suppressing unwanted, negative information about the entity
- Soliciting and responding to surveys and reviews about the entity
- Seeking to discover, identify, and get ahead of negative content that harms or might harm the online image of the entity
Why is online reputation management important?
Social media and online sharing have created an era of radical transparency. So, our digital era has upended previous ideas about privacy. Many people can learn a lot about you just by searching for you online.
Research shows that 71% of customers now begin their buyer journey with a Google search. In the survey, a total of 95% of the respondents said they use at least one form of online search channel when finding out about new services, products, and brands.
Since almost every transaction now begins with a search, any business or brand that ignores its online reputation does so at its own peril. With the click of a button, customers can form an impression about you without even interacting with your products or services. Therefore, the first impression a person, potential prospect, or business partner conceives of you often comes from how you’re portrayed online—whether that perception is accurate or not.
People go online to vent about a product, complain about customer service, and leave an endless stream of social media posts about any business that has positively or negatively impacted them.
In an ideal world, you could responsibly address the concerns raised and that would be the end of the matter. However, competitors want to amplify and capitalize on your mistakes or any controversy surrounding your product.
As a result, you need to take proactive steps to ensure a positive reflection of yourself or your business and brand is maintained online.
The benefits of online reputation management
These are several benefits of online reputation management you should keep top of mind if you want to guard your business’s reputation.
Increased trust and transparency
Customers place a lot of premium on transparency. Increased transparency tends to breed trust among customers and the general public.
Reputation management isn’t just about image laundering but demonstrating heartfelt honesty, vulnerability, and openness when something has gone awry. No matter the infraction, the general public is more likely to forgive when you accept responsibility, accept criticism, show regret, and have the ability to learn from mistakes.
Significant impact on buying decisions
There are monetary repercussions from online reputational damage. Even before customers or shoppers step into a restaurant or retail store, 81% try to do some online research on the establishment.
However, this isn’t only for retail businesses; enterprise buying decisions aren’t immune to the influence of social media and online search. The professional job site LinkedIn says 75% of business-to-business (B2B) buyers now rely on social media and associated outlets when making buying decisions.
The financial stakes of a bad reputation are significant. As many as 62% of customers indicate that one to three negative reviews of a product or brand is a deal breaker.
You should be encouraged by the fact that online reputation management can also be used to increase sales. When a brand or business starts to reap the benefits of online reputation management in the form of positive reviews and higher online search rankings, this usually translates into more sales.
This is because higher online reviews responses that are positive also serve as a leading indicator for increased sales revenue. This is especially true for hospitality and restaurant businesses.
Effective word-of-mouth advertising
People place a high premium and value on the recommendation of ordinary customers who have used a product more than any glossy advertising can garner. A good online reputation is the equivalent of incredible word-of-mouth advertising since 85% of customers treat online reviews as their source of personal recommendation.
Online reputation management tools and techniques
There’s no single way to conduct online reputation management. Most methods are rules of thumb, so nothing is ironclad. The best techniques target the tools and platforms that make sense for a specific brand, where the entity’s reputation can be influenced the most and yield far-reaching results on public opinion.
For instance, if you want to protect your restaurant brand’s reputation, review management sites like Yelp might be more helpful than paid media. However, irrespective of the brand, it always helps to perform an audit of your online reputation and create an online reputation management checklist to provide a concerted course of action.
Paid media is one means of achieving online reputation management. Instead of online content that’s organically displayed in search engines on the strength of their SEO, paid media requires payment to be featured—think Google Ads. The advantage of paid media in ORM is that it provides you with a full level of control, especially with regard to your content placements.
In addition to Google Ads (as mentioned above), paid media is usually displayed as social media ads, sponsored posts, and promotions from online media influencers.
While you can use paid media to your advantage, it’s also incumbent on you to ensure your competitors aren’t using Google Ads, social media, etc. to advertise “against” your business and brand.
Review management sites
Review management sites are huge sources and arbiters of online reputation. For instance, a review management site like Yelp is a powerful tool in shaping public perception of a brand, especially if it operates in the service or restaurant industry.
This is because the rating system provides a measurable, quantifiable number representing the collective opinion of your business or brand. And many people subscribe to the notion that numbers never lie, especially when it comes to customers weighing in on a business. This makes reviews one of the most trusted sources of information about a business or brand.
Yelp is one of the most popular review sites for online review management. Google reviews
are also consulted by many diners before choosing a restaurant.
If your customers skew to a younger generation, like millennials or Gen Z, then you have to take social media seriously. Engagement is crucial for reputation management on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and, more recently, TikTok. Posts and comments on these platforms can easily go viral and have a disproportionate impact on your online image.
It’s time to get started with online reputation management
Online reputation management involves much more than burying negative information about you. Though it has a lot to do with risk management, it also presents abundant opportunities to proactively engage with your customers, stakeholders, and online community.
However, trying to do everything yourself in the vast, wild west of the online world is overwhelming—and a recipe for disaster. Especially if you have to manage your online presence with companies, subsidiaries, or franchises in many locations, as often happens in the restaurant business.