Reputation management is one of the crucial things to consider if you want to have a successful startup. Long gone are the days when startup businesses could operate quietly, and locally, and thrive without any thought for building a larger reputation. Word of mouth still matters, but more and more of those conversations are happening online instead of person to person.
Reputation management is, now more than ever, a key part of building your brand as a startup business. A good online reputation doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without some work on your end.
But these tips will help you start on the right foot. Remember, prevention is easier and far more effective than crisis management. Get ahead of the reputation game before you need to, and you won’t have to play catch-up later.
Take Ownership of Your Brand
Even if you aren't planning on using social media right away, one of the first things you need to do to control your brand reputation is to secure your name. Build a social media page for your business in all the major applicable social media platforms. Purchase your website domain, and related domain names, early.
Why do you need to secure these assets if you aren’t going to use them?
Well, for one thing, you should be using them. But, more importantly, you don’t want someone else to use your name and reputation online. A dissatisfied customer, competing company, or even random stranger, might use your name to create their own reputation for your business.
Someone else building your reputation is almost never going to work in your favor.
Plus, securing websites and social media platforms early means that the work is already done when you are ready to start a social media campaign. It also gives you an opportunity to start generating positive reviews, early.
Consumers are always looking for reasons to trust (or distrust) a company. One of the biggest hurdles new companies have to face is generating those early reviews and proving that they’re a trustworthy brand.
Even if all your websites are doing, at first, is providing basic company information and gathering reviews, they’ll be well worth the money.
Utilize the Experts (and Their Tools) to Make the Most of It
We do have some good news for you. Your online brand isn’t something you have to manage alone. In fact, Online Reputation Management, or ORM, is largely a science at this point.
Many experts understand how business reputation works. They focus on building a positive reputation, maintaining brand loyalty and trust, and crisis management when things go wrong.
Ideally, you should either have a good grasp of ORM yourself or have someone actively managing ORM for your business before you have a crisis to avert.
Any good ORM campaign takes about a year. Building a good reputation takes about a year. Managing the fallout from a miscalculation or scandal takes about a year.
If you start with a good reputation, your job becomes more about maintenance. Keep things going in a good direction. Once you have a reputation crisis, you’ll be managing and recovering from that crisis for the rest of your existence as a business.
We mentioned there was good news, right?
Before you panic about hiring a team of ORM experts, let’s look at some of the affordable tools you can use to build your brand and manage your online reputation with ease.
Of course, we have to mention Google Analytics here. Google, serving as both the #1 search engine in the US, and as one of the companies with the rawest consumer data available, is a natural choice for managing online reputation.
Fortunately, Google Analytics is affordable, easy to use, and designed so that you don’t have to be an expert to understand the data collected. You can set it up to monitor several websites at once, and it works to gather viewer data.
Basic statistics include where your website visitors come from, their general behavior while on your website, and the conversion rate from visitor to customer.
But, even more importantly for ORM, Google Analytics offers another service, Google Alerts. Google Alerts tracks where your business is being talked about.
By itself, that’s useful since you have the opportunity to engage more directly with your customers when you know where they’re engaging with you.
Still, there are even more useful features. Google Alerts tracks the general sentiment of your customers, online and in real-time. It also tracks who the most influential social media users talking about your company is.
Knowing who the influencers are, and knowing how to engage with them in public, can be major brand boosters.
Since Google Alerts tracks data in real-time, it also works to let you know about potential reputation crises before they can get out of hand. You can respond and cool a growing situation long before it has a chance to do lasting damage to your brand.
Where Google Analytics and Google Alerts give you the statistical information you need to drive traffic, Reputation Desk acts as a more direct reputation manager.
It does still do some of the work of tracking down and analyzing how your customers feel about your brand and website, but Reputation Desk is generally more focused on generating the kind of feedback and content that drives traffic on its own.
Features like review alerts and positive review generation help boost your reputation passively, while also letting you know so that you can respond to feedback quickly.
The 5-star review generation, normally a practice frowned on by most businesses, in this case, works by asking customers who would give a positive review anyway to post that review on major websites like Google and Facebook.
It acts as an additional prompt, rather than creating false reviews.
Reputation Desk is also a good option since it gives you a short free trial. You can see whether you like the dashboard and other layout choices. While it isn't a long enough trial to let you see the real benefits of the program in terms of reputation boost, it's still a good way to get to know the product before you buy it.
SEMrush is less of a reputation tool and more of a comprehensive SEO tool. But we bring it up because SEO is a huge part of how you build a brand reputation.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a combination of tailoring your web content to be attractive and useful to viewers and telling search engine bots that this is a website you should recommend for a specific topic.
Once, SEO was a relatively simple game to beat. You added a few keywords, didn’t need to worry too much about content quality or readability, and made sure to network your website for plenty of backlinks.
Fortunately for all of us who use the internet, SEO is much harder now. You need to think about your customers as much or more than the ranking bots.
That’s because part of the ranking includes how long viewers spend on your website, and how many people go to your website, and immediately bounce and go to a different search result.
While SEMrush can’t necessarily teach you how to appeal to your audience, that’s a matter of knowing your business and producing engaging writing, it can teach you how to get your content in front of viewers.
It also helps with website maintenance. SEMrush will run automated checks to look for broken links and other content problems so that they can be fixed quickly. Learn more about common Content Marketing Mistakes.
Should You Pick a Single Program?
You’re probably wondering which program works best for startups.
There isn’t an easy answer to that question.
This is just a small list of the available tools, other ORM and SEO tools from companies like Moz, Silverback, and Big Leap are also good options.
The right tool for your company is a combination of the type of user interface you’re comfortable using and the SEO and ORM goals you have for your company. We can’t tell you whether Google Analytics and Google Alerts will be a better fit than SEMrush or a program or widget from Moz.
In fact, you may find yourself using a combination of different tools. Reputation Desk, for instance, works beautifully with Google Analytics since you get a combination of active and passive reputation interventions.
Different tools will also give you access to different statistics. One good way to decide on a tool is to figure out which statistics matter most to your business.
Some things to consider tracking:
- Conversion Rate
- New and Repeat Viewers
- Viewer behavior
- Social Media mentions
- Traffic Sources
- User Activity
Plan your budget, and then look for the programs that monitor the information you want and need. Feel free to pick a couple of different programs if you have the budget for it. These ORM managers make your life significantly easier and will build your business much faster than without them.
Be Responsive (and Professional)
One of the biggest mistakes many startups make is letting their reviews sit. That can mean failing to respond to reviews, failing to use them in advertising campaigns and on your website, or failing to respond to consistent complaints.
Most consumers see online reviews as almost as trustworthy as a recommendation from a friend. Some people see the two types of recommendations as equally valuable.
Think about it. How do you feel about a company when you research them and see a lot of responses to their reviews? Do they take the time to try and make negative reviews right? Do they address positive reviews well? You want to trust that company more when you see those responses. It’s only natural.
What about companies that don’t respond to reviews? Or that only respond to the positive reviews and leave negative reviews alone?
It’s more than just being responsive, though. That’s a great start, and it’s a good goal to try and respond to all or most reviews within a week. But you should also be thinking about how to use reviews.
Featured reviews and a review wall are a great way to boost your reputation as a transparent and trustworthy company. Consider using a review generation platform - check it out.
Make a Long-Term Plan
Even if you don't have the money or time to invest in your ORM upfront, you should take the time to develop a long-term plan. The internet is one of the main places you'll attract customers as you start to grow your new business. Having a coherent plan for what kinds of things you want to offer online, how you plan to interact with customers, and what kind of email and social media engagement you'll use, is important.
Having a plan will prevent you from making it up as you go along and making mistakes along the way.
Here are some things you should consider when making your long-term plan.
We know, free content is not what drives profit margins and keeps you in business. But it can attract new, long-term customers, and build brand loyalty.
The easiest free content types you can offer are blog posts and other online content. This kind of content should be well-written, relevant to your business, and targeted to your audience. We mentioned earlier that the golden rule of SEO is making your content valuable, right? Same principle here.
Think of your free content as your first impression. Chances are, if you offer a blog or other free content, potential customers will spend some time there before they buy. It's an opportunity to show customers that you are the expert they need and that your products are a good solution for their problem.
Email and Other Engagement
The internet is a marketplace of competing for attention. All of the major websites you're competing on, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, are actively working to capture user attention for the longest time possible.
If your content isn’t engaging, your page is going to get booted lower on those website’s algorithms.
Email lists, engaging content, even meme culture, can all be a way of capturing and holding customer attention longer. When you can do that, you tell the big tech companies that your content is valuable to them, not just your customers.
When your website represents good value to Google, you can bet that they’ll direct more of their users in your direction.
Removing Negative Results
There are two main ways to control and remove negative search results about your company, but you need to have a plan for how to deal with them before your first negative search result turns up.
The first, and preferable, the method is to take control of the situation. Respond to negative reviews quickly, try to turn the customer around and make it clear that you’re willing to work with them to make the situation right.
If you have a negative article published, publish a response that addresses their concerns in a real and substantive way.
Ideally, you won't have to deal with negative results at all. But, taking responsibility for your company's actions can actually build more trust and respect from your customers than being perfect.
The other option is to take negative reviews down. It isn’t much you can do about more detailed articles and company responses in terms of removing them.
Taking negative reviews down is something that works in the short term and can be part of your crisis management plan, but it almost always backfires at some point.
It’s better to generate fresh positive reviews to replace the bad ones.
But, if you’re hit by a lot of bad reviews at once, you can take them down and issue a blanket statement addressing the main concerns. That way you’re both hiding the bad reviews themselves and taking responsibility in a way that looks better than ignoring the problem.
Babar has been writing about emerging innovations for startups and helpful technology tools for over 5 years. He works at Reputation Desk helping businesses take control of their online reputation.