Utilizing Your Local Online Reputation

How to Grow Your Brand & Utilize Your Fans during Crisis Situations!

Navigating the complex world of search engine marketing is no easy task for a brand, but it can be especially challenging for local brands that not only have a physical storefront to run, but a virtual location as well. While local brands are often the heart of their communities, they’re very easily overshadowed by large national brands in the online space – even when those large brands don’t have a presence in the local community.  How can a local brand compete? I’ve got some tips and tricks to help you expand your local brand’s positive image in the online space.

How ORM Can Help Local Brands

Online Reputation Management, or ORM, is the practice of crafting strategies that shape or influence the public perception of an organization, individual or other entity on the Internet.  When used effectively, ORM can help influence or drive public opinion about that organization, individual, or brand.  Because of the Internet, gone are the days of the multi-billion dollar corporations being the only ones with a widespread voice.  Effective online reputation management allows even small, local brands to compete with those corporate giants – especially in the local search arena.  Online reputation management is arguably even more important for local brands than it is for large corporations, as even a small ORM campaign may be the push that the brand needs to garner attention and loyalty from their local consumers.  Because the brand is focusing on a targeted geographical area, the campaign is far less expensive for the local brand, and often incredibly effective.

The Benefits of a Great Local Online Reputation

Gone are the days of the physical and online spaces being mutually exclusive.  In order for a local brand to be successful online, they have to be great both virtually and in their actual local community.   There are countless benefits to having a great reputation, both online and off, but the greatest benefits focus on consumer trust.  What does this mean for you? You’re likely to get more business from great reviews than from an advertising campaign.  Additionally, 54% of consumers believe that the smaller the community, the bigger the influence (Technorati).  This is great news for smaller local brands.  You’ve got a wonderful opportunity that the big brands just don’t have.  Small, tight-knit communities are fiercely loyal and incredibly vocal. Use this to your advantage by providing a great product or service, knowing your audience, and encouraging them to shout their love for your brand from the rooftops.  Let them sell your services for you – you can’t buy advertising this effective. Low trust will translate to low engagement. You need to provide transparency, authenticity, and value in order to earn the trust of your local community. When done effectively, your customers will become your most valuable sales people and brand advocates.  They’ll combat negative situations for you, and even respond to bad reviews.

Overall Value Outweighs Price

Local brands often complain that they can’t beat the big guys in price.  Guess what? That’s okay! Sometimes, cheapest is best, but often, perceived value beats a low sticker price.  Local consumers take more than just the bottom line into account. They look at reviews, customer service, product quality, and delivery windows.  We want instant gratification. Amazon Prime has trained us to believe that anything longer than two days is too long to wait. We’ve seen a flood of same-day delivery services - this is a great opportunity for local brands!  Often, local brands can provide a value that the larger companies cannot. Leveraging your strengths, experience, and knowledge of the local community allows you to gain trust and confidence in your brand. This will further build your positive reputation within the community, which will lead to more reviews and a better online reputation as well.  Some ideas for adding value to your customer experience:

  • Know your customers – remembering someone’s name seems like such a small thing, but when’s the last time a manager at a huge chain knew who you were? Conversely, how many times do you have to go to your favorite local establishment before the owner is asking how your kids are doing or if you were able to resolve that issue with your furnace?
  • Add a personal touch – it doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, but let your customers know that you care and are paying attention.  Personal touches can be as simple as keeping a fresh copy of the newspaper ready for your regular café customer, or a thank you note with a box of their favorite treat for a client after a job is completed.  Small gestures can go a long way.
  • Be accommodating – that big box store isn’t going to stay open 15 minutes late for a customer who is having a personal emergency, but you can.  Delivering a product to a customer in need? They’ll be loyal forever. Be willing to accommodate your customers, and be flexible. They won’t forget it.

Building Your Local Brand Online

This is all great in theory, but how do you make a great online reputation a reality?  It is actually pretty simple. Maybe not easy, but it is simple.  Provide a great value to your customers, be genuine and transparent, and be consistent.  Encourage those happy customers to leave reviews of your products and services, and respond to each and every one of those reviews.  Have congruence between your online and offline storefronts, so that when a local customer finds you online, they know it is really you.  Have a great website, with accurate local information. Your website doesn’t need to be enormous, but it does need to be well built, informative, and optimized.  Utilize your Google MyBusiness dashboard – set it up and keep it current. Making sure your hours are up-to -date and that you're posting any in-store specials in Google Posts can help shoppers make a decision to come in and buy.

Crisis Management

Unfortunately, even the best brands find themselves in crisis.  What do you do when your brand falls under attack? Whether it’s a bad review or a horrible news article, there’s nothing fun about a reputation crisis.  Fortunately, there are a few great ways to quickly combat crisis online. First things first. Step away from the keyboard. If you react before getting all of the information, you’re likely to dig yourself in deeper.  Take a moment, collect yourself, talk to your staff, do some research, and take a deep breath. Don’t ever respond to a negative review or interaction in the heat of a moment. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, you’ll always look bad.  Once you’ve had a moment to collect your thoughts and get up to speed on the negative issue, sit down and craft a response. If necessary, bring in a legal or ORM team to assist. While this can be expensive, you’ll not only save time and frustration by working with a pro, but also any business revenue you may have lost during (and after) an ongoing reputation crisis.  They’ve not only got experience, but are not emotionally connected to your brand the way you are. They can get the issue resolved without dwelling on things that won’t matter to your customer base. A great response should get out in front of an issue, ideally within 24 hours of the initial issue being reported. It should be honest and genuine. Apologize if necessary.  If the response is for a review, encourage the reviewer to contact you offline for resolution. Give them a name and direct number of an owner or manager to let them know that you’re taking their issue seriously and want to provide swift resolution.

In today’s Internet-centric world, a strong reputation, both online and off, is critical to a local brand’s success.  Building strong online profiles allows potential customers to see what sets your brand apart from the competition, and allows them to find you quickly.  Great reviews, information about your services, and your location are critical elements in building a successful online reputation for your local brand.

 

About Erin Jones
Erin Jones is the founder of RepBright.com. Her background in online marketing started with an SEO position at a small Colorado agency. Since then Erin has become an expert on online reputation and brand growth.  Erin has worked with a variety of brands, from small local businesses to HGTV personalities and defense contractors, and loves being able to take big business tactics to help small businesses grow - online and locally.  You can follow Erin on Twitter and Facebook.

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