He Said, She Said
Remember back when you were in fifth grade and there was a classmate you liked sitting a few rows ahead of you or behind you?
Do you remember the method you used to let them know you were interested in them?
You probably wrote them a note. And as your teacher was blathering away up at the chalkboard about science or math or something, you asked the person next to you to pass that note to the object of your affection.
Hopefully, your note arrived at its destination without being intercepted by a nosy classmate or – worst of all – by your teacher.
If so, you could expect either a shy smile or a cold shoulder as a reward for your brave note-writing.
In today’s business environment, everybody is writing notes and passing them along to other people.
Except instead of being scrawled onto a scrap of paper with a Number 2 pencil, they are texted or Tweeted, or come in the form of Facebook status updates, Yelps, Foursquare comments or myriad other high-tech note-passing platforms.
Yet they are still just notes, simply brief expressions of how you feel, or short bursts of information you want to share with other people.
t’s all innocent and fun until somebody’s feelings get hurt. Then it can be harmful to the reputations of both individuals and businesses like yours.
In the modern business world, you need to be able to control those notes and what they say about your business.
If you can manage those messages, you can successfully drive lots of new customers to your business.
But if you can’t control those notes, you and your business can be in a lot of trouble.
New Media and Reputation Monitoring
Businesses today can’t afford to ignore what people are saying about them on new media platforms such as social media or social comment sites.
Because these comments can potentially be seen by hundreds or even thousands of people, you have a vested interest in both monitoring them and managing them so that your business enjoys the best reputation possible.
People pay attention to what their social media contacts say about the products and businesses they use.
In fact, social media is becoming one of the most popular places for people to look for recommendations when they are looking to buy new products or to try new services.
That gives these digital ‘notes’ increased importance and social media a louder voice than ever in determining the destiny of your business.
Those business owners who can manage their social media reputation can benefit their business, but those who ignore social media or are ineffective at managing the message can be hurt by it, sometimes with disastrous results.
Likes, +’s and Re-Tweets
When somebody says something nice about your business online, it can make people think better of your business.
But did you know that it can also substantially increase the amount of customers you get?
In early 2012, Google - which owns the world’s most popular online search engine - changed the way it ranks websites.
Instead of considering such things as keyword saturation and the number of backlinks your site has from authoritative websites, a primary criteria the Google search engine started using to help determine ranking is social presence.
That means that the more Facebook ‘Like’s’ and Twitter ‘ReTweets’ your site receives, the higher its ranking.
That also means that business owners can stop worrying about fooling around with their website copy to make it more appealing to search engines and instead focus on the people who really matter:
Encouraging social media approval should be Job 1 for most businesses today.
Being listed at the top of the Google search engine for your niche means you will capture most of the business from people who are using Google which, let’s face it, is almost everybody!
How Social Mentions Can Build or Bust Your Business’ Online Reputation
The amount of positive social mentions is directly related to where your web page is ranked on Google, the world’s largest search engine.
But they also play a role on how your business is perceived by internet users.
One comment on Facebook can go out to hundreds of social media contacts.
From there, it can be read by exponentially more people, not to mention being seen by those people who link their Facebook to their other social media accounts such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
If it was a positive comment, your business can benefit.
But if it was a negative comment, your business can be damaged, in some cases seriously.
For the most part, if you run your business well and do everything you can to take care of your customers, the occasional bad social media comment will be buried by the overwhelming amount of positive comments.
It’s almost inevitable that somebody at some point is going to have a negative experience with your business.
Given the immediate access people have today to social commentary sites, they may say something on Facebook or Twitter.
But if most of your other customers are raving about you, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.
The problem comes when you start to see a growing number of negative comments.
These can help you identify a problem with your business that you can correct right away, but if social media is flooded with complaints about your business, it’s nearly impossible to put that particular genie back into the bottle."
"And Then I Yelped …"
People usually don’t like the sound of their own voice when they hear it on a recording, but somehow they still love to hear themselves talk when it’s in their own head.
Social comment sites such as Yelp, Foursquare, Urban Spoon and others cater to this human foible, providing an outlet for anybody to give their opinion on whatever they like.
These opinions are then stored and are accessible to anybody wishing to learn more about a particular business.
Visiting from out of town and want to find the best pizza place?
Check Yelp or any of the other dozens of social media sites.
Not only can you find directions, hours of operation and perhaps even a link to the menu, but you can read what Bob from Baltimore had to say about their experience, or what Lolo151 recommends you order off the drink list.
While this is certainly a more democratic process than reading reviews written by professional journalists or sticking your nose into guidebooks to learn about various businesses, the question becomes, ‘Is this an accurate method for getting a real feel for a business?’
The answer is ‘Not yet, but it soon will be.’
Social comment is still a relatively new concept and most people are still getting acquainted with it.
While you will have the one or two people who will write several Yelp reviews every day, creating a chronicle of what they had for breakfast for all of posterity, most people will only write something when they feel very strongly about a business one way or the other.
Monitoring and Managing Online Reviews
In most cases there isn’t usually a huge pool of reviews for each individual business.
So, if a review is extravagant in its praise of a business, or ruthlessly skewers it based on a single customer’s experience, it doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect what’s really going on with that business.
As the pool of reviews grows larger, however, exceedingly positive and negative reviews will balance each other out and users of the social comment site can have a more realistic understanding of what they can expect if they use that business.
Still, it’s vitally important that business owners be aware of what people are saying about their businesses so that they can respond accordingly.
In recent years, companies have sprung up which will monitor social media for you and take action if negative comments are posted.
Given the expanding influence of social comment sites, you can expect this type of formalized monitoring to become more prevalent.
Other unscrupulous companies have taken to posting phony positive reviews in order to try to influence the opinion of internet users.
Can I Talk to You a Moment, Privately?
If somebody were to go to the central business district of your town, pull out a bullhorn and start shouting to passersby that your business sucks and that you are a terrible person, you would certainly do something about it, wouldn’t you?
In all likelihood, you would ask the person to stop, or at least find out what their problem is and try to correct it.
So shouldn’t you do the same thing when somebody posts something negative about your business online?
In many ways, it’s actually worse than using a bullhorn in a public space, because the people who are going to read that negative message are exactly the people you are trying to attract;
Customers who are looking for the products and services your businesses offers.
Some business owners believe the best way to respond to bad publicity is to simply ignore it.
All the good will you have invested in your business and the loyal customers you have nurtured will make it inconsequential in the long run.
But on the internet, once something is posted, it lives forever.
If you choose to ignore a negative comment or posting, it can continue to haunt you for months or even years.
Ideally, if a customer has a problem with your business they ask to speak to a manager or the owner and share their issue so that it can be corrected.
Sadly, many people today are so enamored by the thrill they get from seeing their comments posted on the internet that they will often skip this logical step and proceed directly to bashing your business online.
Avoiding Public Feuds and Steering Negativity to Private Portals
Because negative comments can truly hurt your business, it’s important to address them in the same way you would address a complaint from a live customer.
You want to resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.
This is actually a great way to win over customers.
If they have a complaint and you correct it for them right away, those people can often become your most loyal customers.
On web-based social comment sites, there is usually a method of contacting the person who posted the comment privately, usually through an email or direct message.
This is preferable to trying to resolve the issue by posting a comment that can be read publicly.
Generally, you want to avoid any public feuding and resolve any problems privately.
If the original poster feels they are being called out publicly for what they said, they may become even more aggressive and attempt to deal an even deeper blow to your company’s reputation.
But if you can discuss their problem privately, especially if you can speak with them in person or over the phone, they tend to be much more rational and hopefully will agree to remove the offending post altogether.
There Oughta Be a Law
Right now is kind of the Wild West era of the internet and social media.
Because everything is so new, there aren’t many rules regarding what people say or how much damage they can cause to your business with negative comments.
Essentially, anybody can say anything they like about your business and unless they are being libelous or slanderous, there’s not much you can do about it other than try to privately convince them to remove their negative comments.
The people that run social comment sites such as Yelp, Foursquare, Urban Spoon and others are businessmen, however.
If you have genuinely tried to resolve an issue with a negative poster and failed, if you reach out to the social comment site’s support staff and explain how the comment is unfairly damaging your business, they will usually remove it.
After all, they have nothing to gain from your business being hurt by one of their users.
Another option is to threaten legal action against somebody you believe is unfairly targeting your business online.
Although actual legal action can be an expensive path, usually just the threat of a lawsuit is enough to get somebody to back down.
Be prepared to follow up on your threat if they don’t, however.
Creative Solutions to Changing Technologies
The internet is changing the way people perceive your business.
Managing its online reputation is now one of the most important elements of your marketing campaign because social media recommendations and reviews on social comment sites are quickly becoming the primary way people choose one business over another.
Monitoring social media for mentions of your business is important, but it’s a passive way of influencing people.
After all, once the comment is posted, it’s already out there.
A more active method would be to incentivize your customers to approve of your site on social media or to post positive reviews if they were happy with their experience.
Another idea is to use comment cards or dedicate an area on your web page for testimonials.
Then you may post those positive comments on your social media accounts and web pages.
When people see that there are a lot of other people making positive comments about your business, they will want to get on the bandwagon and will leave even more positive comments.
The rise of the internet’s influence requires business owners to be highly adaptable in developing responses to rapidly changing scenarios.
By looking for innovative solutions for complicated problems, you can continue to enjoy a positive online reputation and counteract negative postings before they can damage your business.