The web is an opportunity to tell your company’s story, or inform potential customers about your products or services. However, it is also open to anyone who has an axe to grind. Negative comments about your company can live for years on the Internet, and show up on search engine results right under your website address. Consider this prevention plan to manage your company’s online reputation.
The first step to safeguarding your company’s online reputation is to create a robust online presence, including company profiles on social media networks and a frequently updated company blog. Create a newsroom on your website, and learn the names of your local business and trade reporters and editors, as well as bloggers related to your industry. Start posting on these sites before trouble starts, whenever you have something meaningful to add to the online conversation. These media will help build trust for your company and provide you with an established forum for responding quickly and effectively to any attacks or bona fide complaints about your company or organization. David Hyson calls this creating a social media “cushion” for your company or organization. It’s something to fall back on, when you need it (and of course, it’s useful in positive ways, as well).
The second step is to brainstorm possible crisis scenarios. Inventory your products, services, and key personnel. Are there any potential weaknesses that could be exploited or divulged to the company’s detriment? Prepare draft statements and responses for imaginary scenarios. Decide who will be the online spokesperson for your organization. No one likes doing this kind of exercise, but it is worthwhile.
The third mitigation step is to monitor online comments about your company or organization, its key executives, and branded products and services. You can do this for free by subscribing to Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts. We do this for Fletcher Prince and for its owners, and it is quite effective. Twitter Search can be used to find any comments or “tweets” on Twitter that refer to your company or products. If you monitor these alerts daily, then you will be able to identify most online comments fairly early in the game.
And the fourth step, which many people fail to mention, is to practice good business hygeine. That means conducting your business or nonprofit organization so that it is beyond reproach. Everybody has a skeleton in their closet, but don’t give people a reason to hate you. Here are some ways to increase your good business karma:
- Handle employee relations, especially dismissals, with professionalism.
- Don’t give your employees a reason to bad-mouth you. Be a role model.
- Offer high-quality services and goods for a fair price.
- Stand by your word, and apologize when you screw up.
- Be honest, not greedy, and pay your taxes.
- Publicize the good quality of your work and products.
- Publish client and customer testimonials.
- Consider corporate videos; publish your logos and photos on Flickr.
- Invest in a community sponsorship to demonstrate your company’s good will.
- Attend and promote professional networking events and workshops.
- Recommend your vendors, clients, and partners on LinkedIn.
- Contribute blog posts and newsletter articles relevant to your business.
- Get involved with your local professional organizations: help plan fundraisers, pay for memberships, consider sponsorships.
- Help young people and new employees. Hire interns, mentor students.
Of course, you will also want to retain a lawyer and an accountant you can trust. These good business practices will help you if (or when) your company receives some bad press, or an unfavorable online review.
Now, what should you do if someone does comment negatively about your company, or posts something nasty about a person employed by your company? What do you do then?
Well, each situation has to be looked at differently. If the post is completely false, or libelous, or involves a copyright infraction, or is otherwise baseless and injurious, there are legal measures you can take. If the post violates the TOS (terms of service) of the Internet Service Provider or forum, then in some cases, you may ask the administrator to have it removed. In some cases, you might even need to consult a lawyer for advice.
But what if the posted comment or review is true, or partially true? Or a matter of reasonable opinion? In that case, you have the choice of contacting the poster and/or responding to the post. In these situations, it is best to respond quickly to negative online comments. If you have a defensible view, present it. If an apology or improvement is called for, you can consider that avenue. Because of the viral nature of blog posts and other online comments, however, it is essential to present your company’s point of view as soon as possible. When you respond, be sure to identify yourself by name, role, and company. Anonymous posts are mistrusted by the blog community, and people can smell “fake” reviews. Be completely transparent about any interest you have in the situation. Include links to your own online content to provide more information. Offer solutions, if appropriate. Whatever you do, maintain a professional and positive tone.
On a positive note, these preventative measures will also help you track and say “thank you” to people who praise your business, or who offer constructive advice that can help your business improve. Almost all but the most negative situations can be looked at as opportunities to benefit your company.