These days, a bad online review or critical social media comment (or even malicious content from a competitor) can harm your business’ reputation. According to Zurich’s SME Index, globally around 15 per cent of SMEs suffer from this. Stack this against the fact that 80% of consumers research a B2C SME online before buying from them (according to O2), and the risk becomes clear.

So what steps can you take to control reputation management in the digital age?

  1. Pay someone to do it for you

    Before we get into the steps listed below, this is the swift and simple solution. In the UK, almost one in ten SMEs already pays someone to manage their online reputation, with a survey showing a further 9 per cent expect to do so soon.

  2. Make yourself available
    Sign up to the networks and platforms where your customers expect to find you: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and so on. Remember: unlike traditional marketing, these channels are a two-way conversation. Be prepared to engage with customers, to respond promptly and to offer great service online as well as offline.

  3. Use Google Alerts
    This enables you to track online mentions of your brand. It emails you each time specific keywords appear on the internet, with a link to the mention. This is a great way to know when your firm is being talked about.

  4. Don’t neglect complaints
    It might sound odd, but complaints can be one of your most important tools. People are increasingly likely to complain online, and it’s important you manage these properly. Dedicate time to complaints, and consider what you can do to repair the customer’s opinion of your business. If treated correctly, you can rapidly turn a frustrated customer into a brand advocate. A discount; a repeat of work done; even just an honest apology – all these can make a huge difference. Even if you feel you have a case to argue, consider the negative impact of appearing aggressive or petulant in a public forum.

    Indeed Peter Mühlmann, CEO of online review platform Trustpilot, says that “a strong, considered and positive response to a negative review actually has more of an impact on advocacy than several positive reviews.”

  5. Know when to step back
    Of course, responding to negative feedback is a difficult course to steer. While you want to win back unhappy customers (as described above), sometimes there’s little you can do. Be sure to identify people simply ‘trolling’. In these situations, it often makes sense to simply ignore them, or appear to ‘close down’ a conversation by politely offering the complainant an avenue to continue things in private (something they’re unlikely to do, but which makes you appear the ‘bigger’ party).

  6. Secure your name
    Finally, it’s important you protect your name online. As well as the obvious .ae and .com domains, you should consider registering variations of your name to prevent ‘squatting’. You should also ensure you register your ‘handle’ on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Even if you don’t intend to use these for now, registering your presence can help to prevent others acting in your name.


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