Video Deep Dive: Online Reputation Management

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This is our Deep Dive Into Local from October 1, 2018. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.

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Mike: Hi. Welcome to Deep Dive in Local. This week we're going to be discussing with Erin Jones and Mary Bowling, a recent blog post at LocalU titled "Utilizing Your Local Online Reputation." Basically, we're going to scope out the whole arena of online reputation management and how, local businesses can leverage this new world for their benefit. So Erin, why don't you give people an idea who you are, what you do, and where you do it?

Erin: Awesome. I'm Erin Jones. I work out of the Denver metro area. I do online reputation management and brand development through an agency that I started called RepBright. I've got a background in SEO in online marketing and just kind of naturally evolved into this field mostly out of passion and curiosity, so that's how I ended up here and, yeah, that's pretty much my 50,000-foot overview.

Mike: So let's start with the definition of ORM. You state in the article the practice of crafting strategies that shape or influence the public perception of the organization, individual, or other entity on the internet. It speaks to why I find the word and the phrase objectionable to start with on its face.

It's like businesses should, you know...ORM came, and maybe a little history, but ORM came out of the world when people all of a sudden were exposed to broader discussions of their nefarious behaviors and people were worried about fixing their bad behaviors. So that's the origin of ORM, right?

Mary: And Erin came up through that world. She worked with Andy Beal and Tony Wright on a lot of those types of projects.

Mike: Right. Where in the new world as you point out in your second paragraph here is really a different world where businesses need to be great both offline and on. So really rather than influencing public perception, it's actually reflecting public perception in some level.

Erin: Absolutely, and I really, really like to promote focusing on positive brand growth over the crafting and cultivating of a brand. I think really well done online reputation management is just a reflection of the brand's true personality and mission on who they are. So my main goal with clients is to get that out into the world, to let the world see the client as they see themselves.

So, if the brand is really into philanthropy or education, that's what we want the world to know, not little nitpicky details about things. So I agree, online reputation management is not only a mouthful, but it has such a negative connotation that we are kind of trying to turn away from that a little bit.

I've had people immediately assume that I do black hat things just because I work in reputation and, the spin doctor assumptions and things like that. That's not how I operate, you know? Integrity and ethics are my main platform.

Mike: I think Phil Roszak said it best in a post several years ago where he criticized the phrasing of reputation management because it implies just somehow fixing something. And for him it was more about reputation development which is the idea of building a better business and then leveraging reviews for both improving a business as well as marketing your business effectively. And I think that's the definition I feel much more comfortable with.

Erin: Absolutely.

Mike: So why don't you, I mean I know the article then changes, it talked about some of the disadvantages that local businesses have vis a vis large national companies but you point out some ways that they can offset those. Maybe you could summarize some of that in this conversation.

Erin: Absolutely, a little bit of background, I ended up living back in the community that I grew up in. So I have a soft spot for small local brands and have really tried to take some of what I've learned working with large corporate entities and utilizing that to help a community get to know the local brand better. And what I've really found is that people want to know these brands. So getting their information out into the world is not only doing the brand a service but it's also doing the community a service. most communities like supporting the small business, they like supporting local business.

You know the corporate giants that you see everywhere, you see everywhere, so there's not a lot of uniqueness to them. So if you can get out and really get a community to know your brand they're a lot more willing to be loyal supporters because there's that personality and the people behind the company. we're not separate from our companies anymore. You can't say, "Oh, I clocked out at 5:00 so now I get to be me," and my actions don't affect my company's reputation any more. Those worlds have just blended far too much.

And the same with the online and the offline space, you know. A lot of small brands don't think that the online space can do anything for them because it's a different world, but, what we're finding especially a social media takes hold is that your online brand is really just, kind of another hallway of your office. So really, really cultivating those spaces and letting people see that you are the same brand online as you are off really helps your brand's reputation and sales.

the bottom line is we're not doing this just to make friends and be happy online. It's really fun to do that, but there's the bottom-line that we have to look at it. If the money is not coming in then are we really doing anybody a service? Because, especially in small community's people vote with their dollars.

Mike: Right. Yeah. Mary and I have been looking over the last year at this question of how Google has inserted itself in the whole conversation to scraping all the reputation resources that exist throughout local businesses and then summarizing those in a single screenshot of your business on the brand search. Mary took some of my ideas and built them into a very cool tool at LocalU which allows you to rate your brand presence using Google's technology.

But the Google algorithm too is becoming more sophisticated in its ability to not just scrape all of this information and show it, but to use that as a way to rank your business and reflect the real world view of your business through their online reflection as it were, the mirror of your business.

Erin: Absolutely, and I know it scares some small business owners, it's another place they need to pay attention, it's another thing that they need to be on top of, but I really love it. If you're running a good business this is going to be a positive reflection of your brand and what you're doing. So as long as you maintain that same brand personality and you run the same kind of business in the online space as you do for the public, I only see benefits here.

we all worry about that crazy reputation attack and a lot of times that happens, bad reviews can affect you, but what we're finding is that when a brand has a positive presence online and someone goes to defame or attack that presence, their supporters come to their aid far more quickly than their representatives do and people believe those supporters more than they believe a representative from the company. So we're taking that local community and we're putting it into the online space. So we're just amplifying that local message.

Mike: I think in terms of the negative side it's important to make a distinction between a scaled attack that can sometimes happen on reputation and the bad single review, negative review that the small business owner feel so personally as painful. I think there's two different strategies to deal with them. I think there's two different realities.

A tweet that I sent this morning was a veterinarian clinic in Saint Petersburg, Florida that was being attacked because a clinic of the same name in Canada had abused some animals. And this had gotten out in the social world and these people piled on to this clinic in Florida a thousand miles away and just started leaving nasty reviews.

So I mean that's an attack unwarranted, that's one strategy. But when Barbara Oiliver, who is my "pet" client, gets a bad review, she used to freak out and I think they're two different strategies, so maybe we could just talk about them distinctly here, maybe address each of them.

Erin: Sure, and, that first bad review is like the first nasty blog comment that you get. It really hurts your feelings, but it kind of makes you feel like you've made it a little bit too. I joke with my clients that, once you've really ticked somebody off you're out there because now you just don't have your friends and your families supporting your brand online but you've really reached that local community.

And I think that the one-off bad review is far more frequent than a reputation attack especially for small business, you know. It's usually going to be sour grapes or somebody who...you can't be perfect all the time and I think the main key in resolving that is in your response. So take a minute, let people know you hear them. one of the hardest things for a small business owner is to really respond and let someone know that they hear them instead of trying to defend their position.

Nobody wants to read a defense position in an online review response. They want to know that you're willing to fix the problem and you'll do whatever you can to earn that business back. Where with a full scale reputation attack that requires a team of people, with the resolution you're looking at where it's coming from, why it's happening, and that could even be split off into two issues. Is this a legitimate attack? are we being attacked because we're running a horrible business or are we being attacked because someone is just, not happy with what we're doing or they're trying to take over our spot in the industry?

Mike: Or it could even be a legitimate attack, but for the wrong reasons and the wrong space. You take a political positions these days, you could then get attacked in the review space was taking a political position which is an inappropriate user reviews and still requires a response.

Erin: Absolutely. And so really, figuring out the source of the issue is the first step, regardless of where the problem is coming from and I think your response really depends on where it's coming from and why and if you're in the wrong. Unfortunately, with online reviews even if you're not in the wrong you have to be willing to eat a little bit of crow if you want to earn that business back.

And a lot of the review responses is not for the person who left the review, but it's for everybody else reading it. So you want to show the public that you're a great business to work with and you're willing to make things right if you made a mistake or maybe even if you didn't.

So, I could talk about this for hours and days depending on all the little nuances of where the review is coming from or what the attack has to do. There are millions of ways people can attack businesses or public figures and I think it really depends on where it's coming from and you mentioned, the hurt feelings aspect.

That's one nice thing about having someone, whether it be a consultant or a staff member to handle those issues that's not the heart of the business because you really do have to be able to step back and take emotion out of some of those things to be able to respond effectively without letting it ruin your day.

Mike: Yes. So when Barbara had one of her first earlier negative ones, I mean, we went through literally 10 rewrites of her response until she finally stripped all defense out of it and...but was able to simultaneously strip defense out and I think suddenly point out that this woman hadn't been in her store in three years. she'd left the review three years after she was in the store.

So, it's a balance between calling the customer out at some level and being upfront and open with the customer and letting future customers see that she's a reasonable human being. I agree that sometimes it's accepting crow, but I don't know that you always have to accept all of it, you know?

Erin: Absolutely.

Mike: I mean to think that you need to be reasonable and you need to show that you're the adult in the room, as it were.

Erin: Yeah, and as you said human being, you know. Sometimes people forget when they're behind the computer that the entity that they're attacking on the other side of the computer is still people especially with local business, you know? Typically, it's a small business owner. It's a family. You're going after a person and sometimes if you let them see that a little bit they'll back down pretty quickly.

Mike: Yeah. But it is, as you point out it's easy for the small business people to lose control, lose track, and I've seen some of the craziest responses in terms of totally unproductive responses accusing the person without knowing anything or being stupid, it's like oh, my god, you know?

Erin: Yeah.

Mary: But I think there were a lot of ways that small businesses have a step-up, a leg-up on big chains and big businesses when it comes to reputation and reviews because if I have a franchise in my town and the franchise in the next town sucks that reflects on me.

Erin: Absolutely.

Mary: And the other thing is, I think that one of the things that Erin mentions in her article is that small businesses they own their business, they can do whatever the heck they want. And that means that they can do good things that large businesses and chains have constraints on what they're able to do to make customers happy, whereas a small business they can do whatever they want.

Erin: Absolutely. And that gives them a lot of freedom. they can support community organizations. They can respond in a multitude of ways that a corporate entity can't. The other thing is they're not at the mercy of the corporation's reputation. we see time and time again these huge CEOs say something they shouldn't or get caught doing something they shouldn't and then everyone in the community suffers.

You know the Massage Envy franchise comes to mind. They had some horrible things happening and I was actually a member of my local location and I sat down with the owner and I just said, "Listen, I'm sorry. being not only a female, but in the industry that I'm in I don't want my name tied to anything that your company is doing right now." And there were no allegations of abuse or anything at the local location, but there name had been so tarnished that I didn't want my name anywhere near it.

Mike: So let's talk about some of the ways that a business can develop their reputation rather than being forced to manage it because I'm a firm believer that if they have developed it over years, they have a solid reputation, then that one negative review won't have that much impact. Clearly if they fall under some attack it might. But those typically can be dealt with by professionals in a technical way. So let's talk about what a business needs to do to learn how to be good, be good, and then get that information into a place where all their future consumers can see it.

Erin: Absolutely. I think that the first step is to be kind. people forget that this isn't always an easy industry, but it's simple. So being nice, doing what you say you're going to do, putting your best foot forward online and off it takes a little bit longer than, a huge multinational advertising campaign. But people like genuine. They like to feel like they have a guy, they know somebody somewhere. So when you put yourself out there and they get to know your brand they become fiercely loyal very quickly.

Mike: Although, I often tell local small businesses that it's a three to five-year project to develop an online reputation that speaks to all of your many benefits. This isn't a quick fix.

Erin: No.

Mike: This is a make your business good in the real world. Make that show up in the digital world, it doesn't happen for a number of reasons. One is that if you ask a hundred of your customers to leave you a review, you're going to be lucky if five leave you a review at Google or Facebook. I think most small businesses think just because they ask they should get the review and this isn't the case.

Erin: Absolutely. And people are a lot more apt to leave an angry review than they are to leave a positive one. that's really hard too and I think people forget that when they're reading reviews that the bad is going to outweigh the good naturally because we get really ranty when we're unhappy and we want everyone to hear that we're unhappy. So what people don't realize is that the customers that you can turn around are a lot more vocal even than the angry ones. So writing off someone who's had a bad experience with your brand is a terrible idea.

one thing that I like to remind people is that if you have someone that's unhappy and you can win them over, they're going to shout from the rooftops that you went above and beyond, so that can speed up that process a little bit. Money obviously is going to speed that process up a little bit. You can get out in front of more people with Google Ads and Facebook ads and, an email marketing campaign encouraging people to leave reviews. The easier you make it the more it's going to happen,

So, there are things you can do, but to genuinely become, you know known and trusted and loved it absolutely takes time because we've been burned. we've all been burned by companies before or by people we've done business with. And so if I'm going to put my name on something that a local company is doing, I want to know dang sure that they're going to take care of the people that I send to them.

So the better job you do up front the more quickly you're going to get... I don't even want to say get that business, you're going to really earn it. And I think that local Facebook groups have helped with that a lot. I've seen the pitchforks and the mob mentality come out really quickly, but I've also seen people do some pretty wonderful things for each other. Again, it's time and/or money though. You've really got to be willing to invest in your brand and in yourself and that's not quick.

Mike: Right. So what are the steps to success here?

Erin: The steps to success, that's the million dollar question. I think the first thing you want to do is put yourself out there and, you know like we said, be kind and genuine. You want to try to garner some reviews to get traction, you want to have a great, it doesn't have to be huge, but you want a clean website. People may not be going to websites as often as they used to, but it's still important to have. It's kind of your virtual storefront so people need to see that it's clean and well put together.

local contact information, you guys know how important that is. People are looking at local listing more frequently than they're looking at websites. So you want your Facebook, your Instagram, your Yelp, your website, all of your address and contact information to match in those places.

Also, your imagery and the congruence of those websites need to match so that people know when they're going from one online property to the next that they're still with you. And if you can if that can all match your physical storefront as well, then you're doing even better. Engaging with your community, outreach, letting people know that you're there talking to your guests, all of these things come together to create a great online reputation and offline.

Mike: Any other suggestions for doing well in the space?

Erin: Say thank you. One of my biggest suggestions is that people respond to every review and every communication they get. A lot of brands only respond to negative reviews and that makes me feel like they don't really care about the happy customers because they got my money and I'm out of the way.

So take a minute and talk to the people that are happy too because then they're going to keep talking. If you have a bunch of positive reviews that you're responding to and someone takes them in it and leaves a negative one, oftentimes those happy people will jump to your defense because they know you, they feel like they know you.

Mike: There's some interesting research that shows that in hotels that responded to all reviews actually ended up with a higher star rating by I think it was a quarter point over massive scale and the researcher's theory was that when consumers know that the business manager owner is going to be out there that they're less likely to go into that rant that there are some social constraints on their behavior, so there's other technical reasons for responding.

I would ask you this though, certainly responding in Facebook is a natural part of the conversation. If you're gathering first party reviews, I think responding to them. it's your home, it's like saying, "welcome to your home." What about, and certainly, at Yelp where you're run into the danger of snark, there's issues and at Google where there may be massive number of reviews. So do you think that your response strategy should vary by platform or do you think you just respond to all of them? And then if there's a ton of them like in the restaurant industry, how do you deal with that?

Erin: I think that's largely a budgetary issue. if you've got the resources, absolutely respond to everything you can. People are so surprised when a business is listening and paying attention. they love that, but they don't expect it. So if you can rise above and beyond the crowd and be that business that is everywhere and, actively listening if you can use some monitoring software to help you out with that, great.

Unfortunately, I know all these things cost money and/or time, so if you don't have the budget, like you said, absolutely be responsive on active social media, on Facebook, and Twitter because that's where people want instant responses. We are impatient. We don't want to wait two days for a response.

Also, email and customer service inquiries obviously, you don't want to ignore those. If you can get to Google I think it's important, but, that's the main bread and butter of my business, so I'm obviously going to tell people it's important. If they can't, then at least try to talk to the people who are leaving really above and beyond glowing reviews and any really bad ones.

hopefully, we're not getting a lot of bad reviews, but it does happen and we want people to know that we hear them and we're working to fix the issue. A lot of times when you ask somebody what you can do to make things right they're so shocked that someone responded to them at all that they're just really happy to be able to tell you what bothered them.

Mike: We have a saying that listening is a super power that just the fact that you are paying attention and if you have a lot of reviews it absolutely requires automation. If you have a few reviews it's something you can do manually, but once you have more than one location or if you're in certain industries that are high review targets like restaurants, like hotels, automation is key. But listening is, when people recognize that you're listening there's a lot of reward for that and I would agree with you.

Erin: Definitely.

Mike: What else? What's your thought on first party reviews, getting your own reviews?

Erin: Getting your own reviews is, I mean it can be tough. People, one of the greatest frustrations I talk to with people is that they don't want to ask for reviews because they feel like they're being annoying or, they don't know how to get out there and get them and it can't hurt to ask. most people aren't going to be so upset with you for just asking that they're going to go leave a tirade. Usually they're going to go, "Okay, cool. I'll take a second and do that," or they're going to toast the idea and not do anything about it.

So I always think it's great to ask, you know. Email marketing is a great way to ask because then that email is sitting there until they have a minute to address it. Social media reviews, one thing that we haven't really touched on is Facebook is huge on engagement and most social media platforms are.

So every time someone comments if you take a moment to comment back whether that's on a review or them just commenting on a post about how they feel about your business, that's increasingly engagement on that post which is going to therefore show the posts more often. So that's another benefit to asking someone to leave a comment or a review, is you're increasing your own ranking and...

Mike: Right. I think one of the problems people have is making the distinction between Facebook being engagement primarily with people that you already know and trying to extend that engagement and reach further maybe to some people they don't know. Whereas Google is primarily being seen by people you don't know, new potential customers. And I think that most small businesses don't quite understand that subtle difference, and so they tend to gravitate for example to Facebook all the time because they get it and where they don't quite get the abstract remote nature of Google.

Erin: And Facebook is more comfortable, right? If you've got a community of people there that are already supporting you, you're a little bit more comfortable putting yourself out there because you know whether it's your best customer or your grandmother saying, "Oh, this is wonderful, I love it."

Mike: And a like is like crap too. It's like, "Oh, I got a like." Regardless of how important or unimportant they may be, it's certainly...so it reinforces the business behavior. I think to some extent it means that people have to work a little harder to get out to Google because one, it's harder for them personally, two, they're less familiar with it. But the exposure into new customer basis is much greater.

Erin: Right. They like the instant gratification of the social media likes and comments, but Google is still going to be the foundation of most businesses especially in the online space. that's where they're going to get most of their traffic from. That's really setting the stage of Google. I went to a meeting last week and the speaker said even his child said, "Well, if Google doesn't know who I am, how does anybody else going to know who am I?"

Mike: Exactly.

Erin: And I really feel like that it extends really well to business because it...and this was like the conversation about a lemonade stand, but it can be any brand. If I look for someone in Google and they're not there, they have lost all credibility with me because Google finds everything. They know everyone and what you're doing and so if I look something up and it's not there, I'm instantly not going to be trustworthy of them.

So whether a small local business believes that there's a lot going on there whether they understand it or not, that's one of those things that I try really hard to explain and get them to understand because if you're not in Google, you're not going to be anywhere.

Mike: And as Mary and I have recognized it's not just being on Google, but it's showing your best at Google and as a closing note I would encourage businesses to go to localu.org, find the Google as your homepage, test, and drive your business results through it so you can see how well you compare or how well you're doing now and so that you can generate some idea how well you can do in the future. It's a great tool to get a sense of this of industry-wide, the worldwide that Google looks at and then how it's reflected back to your consumers.

Erin: Absolutely.

Mike: So any other closing comments for our Deep Dive?

Erin: I think that we covered pretty much the big overview of everything. I just wanted to thank you guys for having me today. This was a lot of fun.

Mike: Thanks for joining us and hopefully we'll see you in the real world someplace soon.

Mary: Thanks, Erin.

Erin: I hope someday. Thank you.

Mary: Bye-bye.

Erin: Bye.

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