This article from our friends at Revitalization Partners focuses on the importance of online reputation management in today’s business world. At Juniper Capital, we are committed to sharing quality business advice that helps you achieve and maintain success. We specialize in real estate investments with private money loans in Washington and across the Pacific Northwest. Share your thoughts on this blog, so we can continue to provide you with quality information:

If you think online reputation management is only for famous people or big brands… think again. The incredible rise of social media sites- including employer review sites like Glassdoor, which we wrote about in a previous blog- monitoring and managing your online reputation is more important than ever.

You’ve invested time, sweat, and money building your business and it finally looks like things are going well. Maybe you can start to relax a bit? But you’ve noticed a gradual decline in phone calls, new customers are less and less and you can’t understand why. You’re still providing the same excellent service. Your existing customers love you, but the business is beginning to struggle. Finally, you learn from an existing customer that your company has some very negative reviews posted online. It suddenly dawns on you that your online reputation is presenting a twisted perception of your business.

Sound like the plot of a bad movie? Unfortunately, it’s happening to hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses every day.

Your number one marketing priority should be your online reputation. Why? All of your other marketing efforts, whether they be online, like SEO or social media, or offline, like direct mail, radio, print advertising, etc. ultimately lead consumers to learn more about you online… and that’s where your less than sterling or a non-existent reputation drives them away.

Voicing a company’s marketing message has shifted away from businesses and toward consumers and online opinions. Companies used to carefully craft their message and then promote it via traditional advertising methods, but social media has largely transferred that power to consumers. The sheer number of voices involved has made reputation management and damage control far more difficult than it used to be.

One case in point: Last year, a server at Applebee’s took to Reddit to post a customer receipt containing negative remarks. The company fired her for violating “Customer Privacy.”

The company defended their actions in a Facebook post, stating: “We wish this situation didn’t happen… Our franchisee has apologized to the guest and has taken disciplinary action with the team member for violating the guest’s right to privacy.”

In a short amount of time, the post generated more than 10,000 comments, the majority of which were highly critical of the company’s response to the situation. Applebee’s response was to delete comments, block users and post a generic response to all of the rest. This is definitely a case study of what NOT to do.

So, what should you do? The first is to respond quickly and non-defensively. Negative reviews can spread like wildfire. By responding quickly, you make certain that your point of view is read at the same time as the negative message. Make your response as professional as possible under the circumstances and offer to take the conversation offline. Inviting someone to speak with someone in authority demonstrates recognition of the importance of what they have to say and their importance as a customer. According to research by one software company, every three consumers who receive a response to their online complaint end up reposting a positive review. In addition, 34% end up deleting the negative review.

Don’t delete comments unless absolutely necessary, unless a comment is racist, offensive or otherwise in very bad taste. It is generally perceived as covering up an issue or admitting guilt.

There are many other steps a company can take to manage their online reputation, especially using search engine placement to make current, positive reviews the things that most people see. The most important thing is to make your online reputation a very high priority in your marketing program and to develop a system that ensures your biggest fans are louder than your typical enemies. The payoff is worth it.

Revitalization Partners is a Pacific Northwest business advisory and restructuring management firm with a track record of achieving the best possible outcomes for their clients. They specialize in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Contact Revitalization Partners for the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

Revitalization Partners… when a company is worth saving.