- Sep 15, 2014
Online Reputation Management
As a brand your online reputation is everything. The digital mines are hard and rewarding but they can be cruel. One small slip up with a visitor, client, or customer and you can be dead in the water with your precious brand. The key is to make sure negative reputation problems NEVER happen. Recently in the news you started seeing companies do something really stupid like the F&R Auto Sales and the Pizza Delivery guy - and they then get crushed by a online mob retaliation. Other times you see a disgruntled customer or employee or even a sneaky competitor that felt a company didn't treat them fairly so they lash out on a website like Ripoff Report or Scam.com. If potential customers or clients see these problems for you it may deter them from working with you, therefore decreasing your company's revenue.
The key with most of these reputation problems is STOPPING them before they happen. Be proactive and educate your staff, customer service/support people, and get them to understand the dangers of being nasty or mean spirited towards customers. I go in-depth about the different tactics you need to understand in the Customer Service Day of this crash course, but it's critical to re-iterate here.
People that attack you online have felt they have a reason to, and if they are customers they will 9 out of 10 times try to get a resolution from you before hand. The key is to handle every customer interaction with a velvet glove. Even if the customer gets nasty with you offer them a bonus or something to make them feel like they got dealt with fairly.
Now not only make sure you treat your customer like the angels they are, they do put the food on your table after all, but you have to create the proper defense for your brand "JUST IN CASE", and that's what pro-active ORM (online reputation management) is about.
Just like a military operation you have to have bases around the areas you want to control, and that means having a proper presence on high ranking social websites and web 2.0 platforms as well as making sure your profiles on those platforms are active. When customer see activity on platforms they engage at, they'll most likely engage with you there and try to resolve their problem. 9 out of 10 times the ORM problem can be resolved beforehand and usually the ball is in your court. Remember a one-time refund is cheaper then having to lose thousands or millions in revenue cause potential customers saw one or two customer complaints at different areas and decided not to do business with you.
The first defense is your search engine results pages. You want to make sure you have as much control of the first 3 pages of the results for your brand, your executives' names, your manager's names, your employee's names, nick names of your company, and anything that associates with your company. This is achieved by creating a powerful website with active new content, and an active blog that fills up the results for your brand. Having rotating sitelinks is a great indicator that you have a "brand" website in Google's eyes, example:
One of the main objective of SERPWoo is proactive ORM monitoring of your SERPs. If you have an account there, create an ORM national and local project (for whatever local locations you serve), and input your brand's name and brand's key terms (company name, employees and founders of the company, and anything that has to do with your brand and within your niche), within each project and also input your domain, so you can start monitoring what's going on within your brand's SERPs. Remember the goal of ORM is to control the first 3 pages of your SERPs with positive URLs, so a project with an "ORM setting" checks up to the top 3 pages results for each keyword and triggers an alert when anything moves up or down according to your sensitivity. SERPWoo allows you to tag domains/urls so you can see positive and negative URLs and watch them disappear overtime as you continue combating problems, IF you have current problems. If you don't then you'll be mostly green, and just have to monitor the system in case something does pop up that's negative:
Next look up the top social websites and make sure to have a presence on there since you'll notice when you look up Mega brands like Coca-cola and Pepsi their social profiles rank on the first page. SERPWoo's Global Stats page is where you can find the latest real-time results of what properties have the biggest strangle hold in search results, here is a quick list of the top 10:
(more available at: 35 Sites Which Increase Your Domain's Trust
Go to each of the 10 mentioned platforms and 35 sites from the blogpost above and create an account in each will give you a "military base" to operate from. Consider each platform a base, and the more active you are at that base, the more each base will be included within the first 3 pages of the results for your brand. The key would be to use a software like Hootsuite to control the majors and schedule posts daily, and even multiple times a day. The goal here is that being active, following people, being followed, and having fans will increase the inner pages' pagerank juice to your profile within that website, and therefore your profile will increase in ranking higher for your brand within the search engine results pages.
I try to be active on all the platforms where my customers are most likely to be active on, but some I just have a presence like tumblr since that can be used later on to boost it's ranking in case I need a property to move up and remove a negative post from my SERPs.
Like mentioned in other days within this crash course, make sure to claim as many social profiles with your brand as possible. It's critical since you can use each profile to fill in gaps within your search engine results for your brand, instead of having unknown or random websites ranking for you.
Being proactive with your ORM goes hand in hand with being proactive with your online marketing. This means creating content, blog posts, guides, and videos (uploading them to youtube, recall from above that Youtube is the #1 social platform ranking in the majority of the SERPs). This constant pushing of content on your main site and your social platforms will give you an active freshness factor in these search engines' eyes as well as the social site's algorithms. Freshness is a huge factor when needing to combat future negative problems, since search engines prefer to put fresher content first, once negative problems become stale and you are still negative - with a properly proactive marketing campaign, the negative posts and problems will naturally drop in the search rankings for your brand.
The stronger your online marketing campaign is the less likely a Ripoff Report (ROR) will even creep into the top 3 pages for your brand terms - but the reality is most brands don't have a strong online presence hence why an ROR can rank on page 1 for their brand right above their social profiles and below their main site, ouch.
Affiliates' website, if you sell a product/service, can help create buffers between negative problems as well. They have their own authority and usually want to rank for your brand terms to make money, so having strong relationships with your affiliates and helping them rank will create "allied bases" within your SERP results for your brand. They have a self interest in helping keep your brand clean since they want to make as much money off of you as possible, so engage affiliates and help them promote your brand, and you can all make more money.
Setup Google Alerts for your brand and brand terms so that every time your brand is mentioned you get an alert in an email or RSS feed. At SERPWoo we have a slack channel that is just an RSS feed of different mentions APIs that feed into the channel. Anytime a message enters that chat we know it's because somewhere we were mention on the internet, it's usually within 2-3 mins of them going live - so that's definitely fast enough. Check your Google Alerts daily and whenever a customer has a question or comment on the internet, positive or negative engage with them, positively.
^^Example of RSS feed into Slack for monitoring brand mentions.
I go into a bit more in-depth about how you should engage with a customer within the customer service/support day of this crash course, but the key components are to be professional, respectful (even if they are not), factual, and then offer a kind gesture like a bonus, and offer a sincere apology for their troubles. Don't get drawn into debates or a whirlwind of back and forth cause those will become emotional and emotion is the last thing you want in your response. Make 1 comment explaining the situation professionally and tell people if they want further follow up to message you through your own contact form or email you directly. Don't feed the troll.
You can also setup Mention.com and Facebook Mentions to monitor the talk on social media about your brand. This is key, since a problem like the car dealership with bad press usually starts on social media but has an everlasting effect on the search engine results. If you can actively combat or explain a negative problem professionally you MAY be able to stage off a online mob attack and even turn the tide in your favor, but you have to master both sides of The Force to be able to do that, and very few people have.
Another setup work mentioning is Karmalytics. They allow you to see mentions about your brand and keywords from Reddit and Hacker News. Definitely worth monitoring cause if Reddit is on your ass, you are about to be up shit creek without a paddle. At this point you'll definitely need an ORM specialist involved cause now you'll need to go into reactive ORM.
Reactive ORM is reacting during or after the disaster has struck. Reactive ORM in the SERPs is a bitch to get rid of IF you do not have an active presence online already. This is why it's important to have an active presence so that freshness is already a factor for your brand. If not, you'll be battling an uphill battle, trying to rank your social profiles, and web 2.0s, which you should have done before as you try to move one or several negative reputation problems down which is no easy task in itself. But if the disaster is happening in real-time you need to mitigate as much as possible now.
First find out how wide spread it is, if it's an active twitter trend, jesus christ man... If it is not that serious and it is one or a dozen posts on forums or platforms, they can all be outranked once the situation is forgotten. I recommend dealing with the disgruntled customer upfront and center. First thing is to figure out if you are dealing with a real customer or a troll.
If the user is a troll, login to the platform and factually present to the audience that this user is a troll and was never a customer of your company, and if possible provide some evidence. Do not engage the troll, they want you to look defensive. If the platform allows it contact the administrator or moderator and explain your situation and ask them kindly to remove it. DO NOT THREATEN them with legal action, cause you can't. Due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, user generated content protects the platform from being sued for defamation, and allows users the freedom of expression and speech on that platform (source: https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230). Since the owners, admins, nor the moderators of that platform created the defaming content, you are shit out of luck unless you simply ask nicely.
People are generally not assholes and will help you out, but it depends on how you go about it. That's all I gotta say about that.
If the user is NOT a troll and was a legitimate customer, figure out what went wrong and correct the fucking mistake, even if it's the customer's error. Apologize sincerely at the platform, if they are looking for a refund just give it to them, this nonsense will cost you more in the long run by ruining your brand versus just giving them a refund. Explain the situation professionally with NO ANGER OR EMOTION, explain what you will do to change things so the problem never happens, if applicable, and how you plan on improving their experience, your communication, and then add something extra for them. Give them all a coupon code, bonus code - to the whole audience or just the individual user - turning the disaster into a positive PR spin is definitely do-able.
In fact you can go to every outlet that the person put up negative press and explain your situation professionally and how you plan on improving and give out coupon codes and you'll most likely get sales results cause of it - unless what you did was really really horrific.
You can also positively spin this in an upcoming blogpost "How we screwed up, and what we are doing to correct this." scenario, spinning this further to your advantage, but you really have to be a master of The Force to pull this off.
If you are trending on twitter, you might as well give it up and send me a million and let me spend it up, cause that's a major disaster, and you'll need professional spin doctors at some level. You can do an updated Zerg rush, where you continue pumping out positive content, guides and videos in an attempt to combat the content after the disaster has occurred to clean up the state of your SERPs. Have the messaging on social media continue becoming more positive, using your alerts whenever you see negative mentions, go to the platform address it, stay professional, talk about the changes, and with fact - NO EMOTION, apologize then leave. Do not stick around to defend yourself since you WILL get into a trolling whirlwind - recall in traffic leaks, coat-tailing the competition, when competitors have bad press problems.
The Worse Thing You Can Do
The worse thing you can do is nothing. The "let see how it goes" just means "give the negative press more age", which if you know SEO, means the longer a site is ranking for your brand the more likely they are to stay up there in the rankings. Also if you are getting called out on social media or web 2.0s, the online mob might go crazy if there is no response from you, so in this scenario you'll need to comment openly on how you are sorry and plan on fixing the problem.
If you do nothing, your brand will be dead. You will then have to re-brand and start with a new domain/website and company name. It's an option that the major companies use when they need to re-brand so they can get away from negative perceptions of the old brand.
- CCarter ( @MercenaryCarter)