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Online reputation: what It Is, how it works and why businesses need to pay attention to it?

Published on 04 February, 2021

‘Cancel culture’, ‘going viral’ and ‘thunderclap’ are terms few had heard of five years ago, let alone ten. As society’s appetite for media and content consumption has gravitated toward more digital channels, so too has their discussion, debate and interactions. Those managing brands have always been aware of the importance of managing a business’ reputation, and traditionally this has included exercises such as corporate entertaining, lobbying, strategic relationship building and the careful management of press interaction.

Now, however, PR - both Public Relations and Press Relations in this case - and the management of a brand’s reputation must move in line with such consumer shifts. So, the concept of online reputation management is born!

What is online reputation management?

Online reputation management is the process of successfully managing the messaging around a brand in the digital sphere. Whilst by no means an all-encompassing process (after all, businesses can only influence what consumers and other parties say/write/speak/think about them up to a certain point), its aim is to influence the online perception of a brand, its products, services or experiences, in a positive manner.

Digital brand management to steer the public (and private) perception of a company in a positive light can include multiple methods - alone, or combined. The primary focus is usually to achieve as positive a perception as possible through search engines – so that when a customer uses a search engine to seek information on the brand, product, service, experience or related topic, they're presented with a conclusive positive overall 'feel' toward the business.

Those working in brand management, and in particular, online reputation management, tend to concentrate their activity toward the search engine Google, as this is the most used globally. With Google holding its dominance with up to 86% of search engine traffic controlled through its platforms, it's the obvious starting point. What’s more, the focus can further be honed to just the first page of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), as Google’s own data indicates that up to 90% of those searching for information will not scroll beyond the first page.

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Of course, search engines are not the only information distribution channels that consumers can access when they’re looking for opinions, reviews, data and other information about your brand. Aside from search engines, they may also look to gain information from some of the following:

  • News websites and aggregators
  • Other media resources; both mainstream and alternative
  • Related blogs
  • Related industry websites
  • Social media
  • Third-party review platforms (including Feefo!)
  • Marketing campaigns

All of these channels can be accessed through search engines, but equally can function as searchable information sources in their own right.

What impact can negative reviews and false content have on a business’ reputation?

There isn't a company in the world with 100% exceptional customer satisfaction; although often it’s what all businesses strive for. However, where negative press or a poor media review of a brand or its product(s) or service(s) used to be somewhat controllable, the digital world has handed the power over to consumers to call the shots and impart their genuine, unfiltered opinions, thoughts and experiences to the world.

One of the most trusted digital information channels is impartial customer reviews and so, for many consumers, such content will be their first port of call when looking to gather information online to make a purchase decision. Where reviews are poor or negative, those reading them are likely to shape a negative perception of the brand being reviewed and therefore are considerably less likely to purchase with them. With it now commonplace for information on brands to be available online, any perceptions gained on competitors that are more positive than that of the affected business are therefore likely to drive purchase activity to that competitor.

The same applies for brands using falsified positive reviews – these are easily spotted by genuine consumers online and, in turn, takes their perception of the brand being genuine or authentic to untrustworthy and suspect.

In the event of a major negative issue or event that is reflected in consumer opinion online, a brand may find themselves having to issue a company apology or explanation via a press release, to remove a product from market or at the subject of a boycott.

The impact of ongoing work on online reputation management

Instead of allowing minor concerns and issues customers have or have had to build and escalate, consistent and continual online reputation management work can identify any potential areas for concern and alleviate customer problems early on. Once these areas for improvement have been identified, acknowledged, and worked on, businesses can work to actively focus on brand management to shape their reputation and perception online.

When managed successfully, online reputation management forms part of a business’ wider business development and marketing strategy, and can help:

  • Increase lead generation through the enhanced perception of the company online by potential and existing customers
  • Boost talent and recruitment efforts, as potential new hires will want to work for a firm they’ve heard good things about
  • Improved business financing opportunities – banks and lenders are more open-minded toward giving their support to businesses they hear the positive buzz around and feel have potential for growth and development (and therefore better returns for them).

An ongoing effort toward online reputation management also positions a business in the best place possible should a ‘disaster’ occur. In the case of excess and/or extremely damaging negative content circulating on the internet, a company with a proactive, visible and approachable presence online as well as a loyal following will be able to manage their way through such situations and learn from them quicker and more successfully than those with clumsy, slow or no presence online at all.

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Why online reputation management should be a top priority for businesses: and where to start?

Even if a business doesn’t operate online or simply has a small website with its contact details online, it's extremely likely that it has been mentioned or discussed in an online channel. Whilst no company can ever have absolute and complete control over what is said about them, the messages can be managed and steered, and this should be considered a top business priority.

For example, one way to control negative feedback and public reviews is to respond publicly - not only does this help to give the reviewer a better perception of your business, but it also paints a positive picture for others who come across that review in the future.

Realistically, a firm can invest millions of pounds into marketing and PR and still fail. Unless consumers believe the messages they are being told, they will not feel positive enough to make a purchase. Where traditionally such marketing messages were very much the only messaging consumers would see on a brand, product, service, or experience, now they are extremely likely to see messaging regarding businesses from their family, friends, peers, acquaintances and other, genuine, real people too.

Customer reviews and testimonials are pivotal to this new breed to ‘word of mouth’ marketing, and the customer insights gained from such content can supply intelligence on how best to proceed with business direction and development. Consumers are more likely to trust third-party reviews and other user-generated content (UGC) regarding a business because they consider it to be more authentic and less biased than the firm’s own marketing messaging.

For businesses to begin with online reputation management, they must start with a brand development strategy. What is the brand hoping to achieve in terms of how it lives and evolves within consumer’s minds; what would the ideal picture they hold of it look like? A brand’s values, aims and objectives must be reflected in all messaging – as well as all management – of the company. It should be consistently reflected in both online and offline spaces, as well as any interaction touchpoints with customers (both existing and potential).

From here, businesses can curate an online space instantly recognisably to consumers as theirs – even if the actual interaction online is minimal. From there, a third-party independent mechanism for customer reviews can be set up, and UGC can begin to be created in a space that is impartial, authentic and trusted. Working with an impartial third-party review platform like Feefo to generate and display your reviews enhances consumer trust.

It also allows the brand to gain detailed customer insights into satisfaction levels, areas for concern and improvement, as well as future development. This data can feed into the business’ continual improvement and development, using the feedback to gain customer insights and create data-driven decision making. The cycle starts again and continues on; prompting the business to be at the forefront of new developments and opportunities at all times.

Here at Feefo, our team are experts in brand management and online reputation management, and are available to explain in detail how our suite of tools can integrate with online reviews to improve both. Request a call or demonstration to receive advice and recommendations entirely tailored to your business and its individual current position.


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