By Eric Schiffer

This is THE most important time of year for reputation management. e-Retailers are the wave of the future, so search engine results pages and your website are the equivalent of window shoppers. You have to make an impression, and you have to make it fast. Reputation management is consistent with the “broken windows” theory – don’t let there be any broken windows within Google, or with consumer review websites or on your own website.

  1. Not Paying Attention to Your Online Marketplace: Businesses should not underestimate the Internet’s ability to significantly impact future business. Even mom-and-pop companies and small storefronts that rely heavily on foot traffic can be affected by an influx of online publicity, be it negative OR positive.  Part of a business owner’s overall marketing plan now must include a proactive approach to  their online reputation and that of their brand. This can be as simple as doing regularly scheduled research on your brand’s name and the names of your executives. The landscape of the search results will help you assess if there is additional work to be done.
  2. Responding Aggressively to Negative Reviews: When a business owner decides to engage with his/her online community and encounters negative reviews posted about themselves or their business, they must be sure to approach these very cautiously. It cannot be emphasized enough that there is no direct way of controlling or filtering the content that is posted on major review sites; anyone can post a review and it’s generally up to the site to display it or not.  Too often a business owner will notice a negative remark and immediately reply defensively below the damaging review, only to be followed up by several other angry individuals speaking their mind as well.   Now if you’re the business owner, you find yourself in a MUCH worse position than when you began – not only are there more negative reviews against you, but the Google Ranking of the site itself is likely to skyrocket due to the increased activity, meaning even more people will come across these damaging reviews. The best way to address negative reviews, if you decide to go that route, is to strategize on an angle that will present your brand in the best possible light. You should come off as apologetic yet confident in the customer service abilities of your staff, and open and welcome to discussing a resolution. As much as you may want to, don’t get defensive.
  3. Being Spammy/Paying for the Quick Fix: Too many businesses these days get caught up in purchasing low-budget, poor quality online products that they are told will clean up their Google search results in a few weeks or a month. These ‘quick-fix’ type services or software are not only ineffective but they are dangerous for the reputation of your brand. These services often involve spamming of content, and can even post your information on inappropriate/illicit domains. This type of work can also venture into what is called ‘black-hat’ in the online industry because Google views this activity as highly unethical – to the point that they have been cracking down on it for the past 24 months . If your brand’s online reputation is in need of assistance, it is highly recommended that you seek out a legitimate professional reputation management firm that specializes in organic content creation and promotion. The PR-centric packages that companies like Reputation Management Consultants offer are not only excellent at rehabilitating damaged reputations, but are also a surefire way to expand your online exposure in an authentic and powerful way.
  4. Not offering Holiday discounts (for eCommerce, mom and pops, etc.): People are always shopping for the best deal. Normally offering a discount gives your business a leg up,. But for the holidays, it just places you on equal footing. Remember: you don’t always have to break the bank to be competitive.
  5. Not doing Holiday-themed modifications to marketing and language (website language, customer service language, etc.): The Holidays are a common shared past time for business and client alike. Promoting holiday imagery and messages can strengthen both the business/customer bond, and employer/employee relationship. At the very least, don’t ignore the holidays. Doing so, can place you at a disadvantage all around.
  6. Spread the cheer, Mr. Grinch. Goodwill towards men and all that goes with it: But, if you don’t feel like being extra cheerful, that’s fine too. Just don’t take a complete 180 and be a grump either. Good customer service is a foundation that transcends all holidays. And, if you sense that a client is in the spirit, use it to your advantage!
  7. Not adequately addressing the added sensitivity and stress of the holiday season — it’s like every other time of the year. Except, it’s not. People have higher expectations during Christmas, and are often stressed by the pressure of feeling the need to buy the perfect gift. Any business who interacts with someone who may be under this stress should be aware of it. The best client service tip is to always prevent a situation before it happens.
  8. Not paying attention to their online reputation. This is the season where it comes back to bite you! People pay attention to more than just the best prices. They pay attention to businesses who do a good job servicing their clients. So just like a client might be extra sensitive this holiday season, you should be extra sensitive about your online reputation.
  9. Responding emotionally to negative reviews online: (Amy’s Baking Company story is as an extreme DON’T example) RMC consults with clients on how to pick their battles and construct concise, thoughtful responses to negative reviews online. 
  10. Not offering holiday promotions to attract new customers: This is a big time for companies to offer special promotions in line with the holidays – customers almost expect it at this time of year so it’s best to pre-empt those expectations and offer a quality holiday discount early! (RMC has helped to lead and designed holiday promotions that can be implemented via social media and other outlets to further build and control reputation)
  11. Staying Quiet:  Every company should be interacting with their client base at all times, but the holiday time is the best time to put your fluffy red hats on and appeal to the hearts of your customers. The more human you can appear this time of year, the better!
  12. Internal Rewards/Contests:  The reputation of a business is not just based solely on the perspective of its customers; employee review sites like Indeed, Glassdoor and CareerBliss  allow all current and former employees to review the company they work(ed) for. These sites rank well and offer an entirely different perspective on a company’s operations. Say what you want about holiday bonuses and contests going out of style in recent years, but they’re still a great way to make your company feel like a family.  

Just because you have a 23-year-old in the office on Facebook all day doesn’t mean this person should be in charge of your social media. Take it seriously.

Some people let the cards fall where they may, as it relates to Google. This is foolish. Take control over your online reputation.

I’ve seen far too many people try online reputation management on their own with oft-disastrous results. This is a round-the-clock job. Save yourself the time and the headache – trust the pros.

Eric Schiffer is the Chairman of Reputation Management Consultants. @ericschiffer