What Is Reputation Management?

What Is Reputation Management?

All businesses live or die on their reputation, and, in today’s digitally-focused world, that often means honing in on everything that’s said about a business online. Given how important online reviews are for consumers and for a business’ search visibility, much emphasis is placed on reviews when it comes to building a great reputation. However, a positive online reputation includes far more than reviews alone. 

Reputation management and online reviews are not the same thing. 

While review management and reputation management are often used interchangeably — and do overlap in some areas — reputation management is a distinct area of expertise in its own right. It’s often dealt with by public relations consultants or agencies rather than a local SEO specialist.  

While review management is vital for local businesses who want to grow their search visibility and win more local custom, reputation management is wider in its scope and encompasses the entirety of a business’ reputation. Reputation management involves everything from social media posts to brand coverage in media outlets, while also working to favorably position the business with positive reviews, high-profile endorsements, and useful content and resources. 

What is online reputation management?

Online reputation management (sometimes known as online presence management) is the broader overall strategy that sets out how each facet of building a positive online reputation will be conducted and directed. 

A reputation management strategy will consider how to conduct the brand messaging, how to amplify reviews, how to secure positive media mentions, and include plans for dealing with a PR crisis arising from negative publicity. Each activity within the strategy will be executed in line with how the organization wishes to be perceived.

Why is online reputation management important?

Your reputation is your most valuable asset. If you’re only taking care of it when a blow has been delivered, then your reputation is already at risk.

We live in the Information Age. Details about a business, its products, its personnel, its culture, its ethics, and how it treats its customers are available on-demand, online, and in any location. 

Your online reputation is created from a range of sources — comments, shares, recommendations, reviews, endorsements, news articles, and so on. New publishers, platforms, and apps are continually springing up, making online reputation a living, breathing entity that needs to be carefully monitored and managed. 

Your brand is shaped by these sources, as well as what is being said and shared online by others. A consumer’s perception of this information tells them what they can expect from you. 

With 81% of consumers seeking out their own information before making a decision, taking a proactive approach to managing your online reputation is essential. Doing so means that those consumers are more likely to find information that paints your business in a positive light, rather than details which send them in search of a competitor. Online reputation management recognizes this fact and brings clarity to the chaos in the form of a documented global strategy — one that unites and controls the wealth of channels.

Reputation is Important to Businesses Big and Small

Whether you’re the head of a large national business, or you run a ‘mom-and-pop’ convenience store, a bed and breakfast, or a local veterinary surgery, what people say and think about your brand and business matters. Their online opinions have a direct impact on whether other people want to spend their money with you, or if they feel they’d be better off with a competitor.

Online reputation management isn’t just for big businesses. It’s just as vital for local businesses to embrace this discipline and to have a strategy in place to amplify the good and deal with the bad.

As a local business owner, the task of online reputation management doesn’t have to weigh heavily on you. There are a multitude of affordable tools out there which can do some of the heavy lifting.

You can set up a free Google Alert, for example, to notify you of any online mentions of your brand. ResponseSource or HARO can deliver journalist requests directly to your inbox to scour PR opportunities, while BrightLocal’s own small business solutions can help you grow your customer reviews.

Ratings and Reviews are Embedded in the Path to Purchase

Online ratings and reviews are now a pivotal stop on the path to purchase. They’re used at each stage of the buyer journey, from initial research, through the consideration phase, and play a key role in the final decision to purchase or not. 

The power of reviews isn’t restricted to review platforms. A cohesive online reputation management strategy will allow you to repurpose and leverage your reviews to their fullest across a range of channels to amplify their impact. This could mean sharing reviews on social media, posting them on your website, creating case studies with them, or showcasing them in a TV ad.

Trust Matters

Consumer trust is the heartbeat of your organization. Without it, your local business simply isn’t sustainable.

Today, consumer trust is harder to win and more important to hold onto than ever before. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust? discovered that being able to trust a brand is a major factor in deciding to purchase for 81% of consumers.

With three quarters of the report respondents saying they actively tried to avoid advertising by using tools like ad blockers, online reputation management can help you to demonstrate trustworthiness and create a positive brand perception. This can be done using a range of channels (reviews, social media, PR, and local search) in a joined-up, cohesive, and consistent manner.

Online Reputation Management Gives You a Rounded View of Your Business

At its most basic level, taking proactive measures to establish a positive online reputation simply makes good business sense.

Through the course of online reputation management, you’ll have opportunities to study how consumers perceive your brand, what they loved about your business, where the niggles and disappointments were, and how you stack up against your competitors.

This is not just a chance to see your business through the eyes of your customers or clients, but an opportunity to gather intel and data, which could help you make improvements and refine your offering.

Your Online Reputation is Important for Recruitment

Your business is only as good as its people. To recruit the best people, you need a stellar reputation.

Research by Indeed — the online jobs board — revealed that just 23% of job seekers would be able to overlook a negative reputation when researching a prospective employer. For local businesses, this is especially important. LinkedIn reports that a strong brand can help to lower the cost of recruitment, attract better candidates, and speed up the time taken to fill vacancies.

What does online reputation management include?

Online reputation management includes a range of tactics to emphasize favorable content and opinions about your brand. This includes carrying out public relations campaigns, social media marketing, content marketing, review management, SEO, customer engagement, and crisis management. 

How to Build an Online Reputation Management Strategy

Developing a reputation management strategy doesn’t need to be intimidating! Think of it as a fact-finding mission followed by the creation of a plan to focus your efforts on the things that matter most to you.

Step 1: Research Your Current Online Reputation

Your first task is to understand where you stand right now. What are people saying about you? How are they rating your products and services? What is their perception of your business?

Assembling all of this information can be daunting, but you don’t have to do it manually. There are numerous tools available to automate and speed up this process.

  • You could use Hootsuite or a similar social media tool to track social media brand mentions. 
  • BrightLocal can help you track reviews
  • There are numerous free and paid tools to track brand mentions as a result of PR activity and media mentions. 
  • You can use Awario to keep up to date with any mention of your brand across the web including in forums, blogs, and news reports.

For this data to be useful, you’ll need to assign context and sentiment, so try to quantify them. A simple system such as ‘positive, negative, neutral’ is an easy place to start.

For small amounts of data, take a sample of statements from across these channels to get a general idea of how people are feeling about your brand. Be sure not to let your unconscious bias lead to you pick only very good or very bad comments. Cast a broad net.

Step 2: Send an NPS Survey

NPS (Net Promoter Score) is a scale which runs from -100 to 100. You ask a series of questions and then apply the scale to measure how willing your customers are to recommend your local business.

NPS helps you to understand loyalty and sentiment. This is useful when developing your online reputation management strategy as it shows you what you’re working with, highlights any reputation problems to address, and indicates where your focus should be.

You can use a tool such as Reputation Manager to ask your customers to give you feedback or reviews, and then apply the NPS scale to determine how they feel.

If you don’t want to survey your customers, you could add an NPS pop-up to your site. Many popular CMS systems, including WordPress, have NPS plugins that you can simply download and activate.

Step 3: Find Out What Matters to Your Customers and What Helps Them Build Trust

Trust is subjective. What gives one person peace of mind may not matter at all to another.

Research suggests that one in three consumers consider ‘trust in brand’ as one of their top three reasons for choosing any given business. But that trust has many facets; brands need to be authentic, responsive to feedback, transparent, dependable, consistent, offer good customer service, maintain a high product or service quality, consider sustainability, have an ethical supply chain, and so on.

The purpose of this step is to find out what your customers expect from you.

Are they likely to forgive slow shipping if your customer service and product quality is top notch?

Do they expect a highly personalized service or do they appreciate more straightforward communications?

A crucial part of this stage of the process is determining which platforms, forums, apps, and websites your audience uses. Which social networks does your demographic favor? Which newspapers do they read? Which forums are they active on? Which review platforms do they gravitate towards when they want to read online reviews or leave them?

The purpose of asking these questions is to narrow down where it’s most important to build and manage your reputation. Referring back to the research conducted in step one should give you the answers to these questions.

Step 4: Set Online Reputation Management Goals

For the time you invest in your online reputation management strategy to really pay dividends, your actions must be both measurable and accountable. The goals you set will directly influence the tactics you adopt to manage your reputation. These goals will also help you gauge whether or not your approach is effective.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve. For example, if the results of your NPS survey were disappointing, do you want to see that improve by the end of this project? How are you going to go about that? Does your poor online reputation stem from a genuinely poor customer experience? If so, you’ll need to start by resolving that.

If you get great reviews, perhaps you want to put a process in place for regular review monitoring to ensure they stay that way.

If you’ve determined that your audience reads a certain website but you fail to feed their writers positive stories of your achievements, maybe you want to raise your profile there.

You could well find that you need to add to or adjust your goals as you begin to execute your chosen reputation management tactics — and that’s fine. Don’t be afraid to adjust them as you get to work so that they continue to help you measure the success (or otherwise) of your efforts.

Step 5: Decide on Your Tactics

Deciding on the tactics you’ll use is the final piece of the strategic puzzle. From review generation to social media monitoring, you’ll need to choose the activities that help you meet your reputation goals. 

Overview of Reputation Management Tactics

Review Generation and Monitoring

Requesting reviews from your clients is crucial for online reputation management. It’s known that today’s consumers crowdsource information via reviews to help with the decision-making process.

There are many compelling reasons to take a proactive approach to generate as many new reviews as you can:

  • the more new reviews you can obtain, the better your local SEO rankings are likely to be;
  • they are trusted by consumers;
  • they help to generate sales; and
  • they give you helpful insights that you can use to improve your business.

Just 3% of consumers will use a business with two-star reviews or lower. This makes a poor reputation extremely costly.

Asking for reviews can be done in a number of ways, including with a review tool such as BrightLocal, via an email template, in person, via SMS, or as a website link.

In addition to gathering reviews, you’ll also need to factor in the time needed to respond to reviews. Your responses are read by consumers searching for your business online, but they also indicate that you value feedback.

To really make the most of your reviews and further move your reputation marketing forwards, you’ll need to showcase your best reviews on your website. You can also share positive reviews in your blog and article content, in your PR activity, and on social media.

Google My Business Monitoring

Consumers naturally turn to Google when they want to find a local business or share their experience of using a local business. To be in the loop, you’ll need to monitor your Google My Business (GMB) listing for new reviews. 

In addition to the reviews function, GMB has lots of other useful features for online reputation management, such as the option to share news and offers via Posts and respond to questions in the Q&A section.

If you haven’t claimed your GMB listing yet, it’s free to do so. Our guide here has step-by-step instructions.

Social Media Monitoring

Today’s consumers don’t just use social media to catch up with friends — it’s increasingly a place to discover new brands and products, aid in decision making, and connect with local businesses. Instagram data confirms that 70% of its user base looks to the social network for their next purchase. 

Adding a social media monitoring tool to your arsenal means you can keep abreast of what’s being said about your local business on social media. Popular options include HubSpot, Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social.

Broadly speaking, you can segment your social media listening into two parts:

  • Part 1 is the monitoring itself, which flags up mentions of your brand (either manually or using a tool).
  • Part 2 is taking stock of those mentions, understanding the sentiment, and then taking the appropriate action, such as taking part in the conversation, thanking the social media user for their feedback, or directing them to a relevant resource.

Monitoring Brand Mentions on the Web

Opinions and comments about your local business aren’t just restricted to review platforms and social media; they can appear anywhere — from local newspapers and trade press to industry forums and blogs.

This means you need to monitor the web to stay up to date with positive and negative comments about your business, and ensure you’re able to react to them accordingly as part of the process of managing your online reputation

Keeping tabs on brand mentions online can be largely automated. Simply go to Google and set up a Google Alert for your business name.

It’s advisable to also set up alerts for your own name if you’re closely associated with the business, as well as any brands or products specific to you. If you have the budget, there are a number of dedicated tools available. BrandwatchAwarioMentionMeltwater and Brand24 are good starting points.

When you’re actively seeking out what people are saying about you, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across negative mentions at some point. That could be in the form of a disgruntled customer, a disparaging rival, or a less-than-glowing review on a blog.

The whole point of online reputation management is to find this information early so you can react quickly and minimize the damage.

Crisis Management

We’ve all heard the old saying that ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. Crisis management is one area where it really does pay to be prepared. The last thing you want is to find yourself faced with a crisis and have no plan in place for minimizing the damage.

The easiest way to do this is to create a list of the worst-case scenarios you can think of. Divide them into levels of crisis, such as bad, very bad, and the worst, and then outline what to do in each instance.

You’ll also want to assign roles to specific people. This is so everyone knows what’s expected of them and who’s responsible for putting out a press statement or updating social media.

Crisis management is a big deal, so it’s worth doing your research. Mention has a 20-minute on-demand video sharing tips on how to respond to negative press, while Meltwater has a free crisis communications guide. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations also has a free library of webinars, podcasts, and skills guides dedicated to handling an online crisis.

A crisis management plan isn’t something to be afraid of. It’s something that can be a lifeline when you’re being pulled in a dozen different directions trying to save your business.

Even the biggest brands find themselves very publicly in the midst of a crisis from time to time, but you can turn a negative into a positive with the right approach!

If you need a little inspiration, take a look at examples of the best-managed PR crises from brands, such as KFC (running out of chicken), Starbucks (reacting to the actions of a racist employee) and Crockpot (ever seen This Is Us?).

Public Relations

Reputation marketing isn’t just about reacting to what people are already saying; it’s also about actively creating positivity around your business. Traditionally, this falls under the umbrella of public relations and generating positive press about your company.

Gone are the days when this meant you had to be well-connected to every editor on Fleet Street or have a direct line to the New York Times. It’s a myth to think you need a little black book of contacts to have any hope of getting your name in print. It’s entirely achievable for local businesses, so don’t be put off including this in your reputation marketing toolkit. All you need is a good story, a willingness to pick up the phone, and perseverance.

PR isn’t a quick fix. You can’t send out a press release one day and wake up to front page news the next. While that may happen in rare instances, in most cases it takes time to build momentum and secure coverage, so the ‘slow and steady’ approach wins the race.

With that in mind, you’ll need to incorporate other PR tactics, such as sponsoring local events or organizations and entering local business awards. Both of these are also good ways to build links back to your site from reputable, relevant local sources to help with your local SEO.

HubSpot has a series of free PR templates, along with examples and tips for creating a newsworthy press release to boost the chances of your news getting picked up by journalists.

A Final Definition of Online Reputation Management 

Online reputation management is a broad area of activity which seeks to cultivate a positive image of your business. This is achieved by emphasizing great feedback and mentions, while limiting the impact of negative experiences and comments.

Knowing how reputation management works means you’ll understand the need to be mindful of the broader strategy, goals ,and performance required to master it. Using the strategy above and selecting the tactics that are right for your local business and current situation puts lots of benefits within reach.

These methods and this approach enable you to see your business through your customers’ eyes. Most importantly, online reputation management will help you bring your business and your customers closer together.

Jamie Pitman
About the author
Jamie heads up BrightLocal's content team, ensuring we produce insightful articles, research and resources that enable businesses and SEOs to get even better results in local search.