Great article in The Wall Street Journal | Small Business By RAYMUND FLANDEZ –
These days, a great danger lurks just a few clicks away: the online review. By Googling your company’s name, anyone can read and track your business’s performance – including missteps, poor service or less-than-stellar products.
Protecting your company’s reputation is now a 24-hour vigil. Negative reviews – whether they’re merited or not – can turn away potential customers and vendors, and reflect badly on your company’s brand.
The good news is that small-business owners can be proactive in securing positive reviews by asking satisfied customers to share their experiences. But what if it’s already too late?
Here are the three best ways to improve your online reputation:
1. Reach out immediately to dissatisfied reviewers. Their negative comments don’t need to be the end of the conversation. Small-business owners should attempt a dialogue, experts say, as complainers might improve the review or take down the post. Oguz Ucanlar, president of SpaForever LLC in Chicago, managed to turn around bad reviews on Yelp.com by contacting the aggrieved posters. He apologized, explained the situation and offered the reviewers discounts or a free massage. The result? One bad review was deleted, and the spa’s overall rating went up. “I take it really seriously,” he says. It also helps that Yelp now allows business owners to respond publicly to any customer comment, giving others a window into how the business treats its most finicky customers.
When a bad review surfaces, an apology goes a long way, says Lisa Barone, co-founder of Outspoken Media Inc., a Spring Hill, Fla., Internet marketing company. “Most people just want to be heard,” she says. “They just want to know you’re listening and you care, and that you’re going to try and fix it.”
Keep in mind that a negative review can sometimes be helpful. Case in point: an online customer of Nationwide Candy LLC of Albuquerque, N.M., complained after she received the wrong bubblegum product. Turns out, the candy wholesaler had posted an incorrect image on its site. “It just casted a bad image on us,” says Ken Hanson, its general manager, who immediately corrected the error.
2. Flood search engines with content you can control. Use digital media’s reach to your full advantage, says Evan Bailyn, founder of First Page Sage LLC, a New York search engine optimization company. Mr. Bailyn says he often helps clients put “good publicity on top to knock bad publicity off the first page” of search engine results. To do that, he suggests releasing press releases through prnewswire.com or pr.com and building Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts since these social-media sites show up high on search results. “The overall strategy is inundating the Google results with as much good or neutral content as possible so that the bad seems like an anomaly,” Mr. Bailyn says.
3. Appeal to bloggers to review your company or your product. Getting others to weigh in can be an effective way to generate neutral or positive reviews to counteract negative ones. Influential bloggers in your niche market can bring instant credibility to a company. If you already know bloggers in your industry, read or reach others by simply scanning their blogrolls, a handy list (typically placed in the sidebar) of potential contacts. Alert them to news about your product or service as a first step in building the relationship.
While it’s controversial, some business owners say they’ve improved their reputations through sponsored blog posts. Netfirms Inc., a Web-hosting company in Markham, Ontario, is paying $10,000 to SocialSpark.com, a marketplace for paid reviewers, and to about 60 bloggers to write 200-word reviews of its new Twitter service. “The more positive feedback that we can have, the better,” says Dan Feferman, its product specialist and community manager. Other sites to consider are PayPerPost.com, SponsoredReviews.com and ReviewMe.com, Mr. Bailyn says. Costs can range from $15 to $150 per posting. While some business owners liken sponsored posts to traditional ads, keep in mind you could turn off potential customers. To prevent that, make sure the blog post contains a disclosure that it’s a paid or sponsored review.
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