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Brand Reputation Management – A Small Business Guide

Protecting brand reputation

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A good brand reputation can make or break a business.

Companies with hundreds of positive reviews and a high average review rating are likely to get more business than companies with few or no reviews or a low average review rating.

In fact, 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations

Businesses with no or few reviews may struggle to gain customers as consumers, wary of working with unknown companies, wait to see what others have to say about the business.

Thus, it’s wise to invest in building a positive brand reputation and doing everything in your power to maintain it.

Naturally, you can’t control every single thing people say about your brand. However, you can manage your brand reputation to make it easy for people to see why they should do business with you. You can have a plan in place to respond to negative reviews and thus limit the damage disgruntled consumers can do to your business.

You can also create strategies to respond to potential problems so consumers know you’re trustworthy and honest.

Common threats to brand reputation

There are many ways someone can sully your brand reputation. Following are some of the most common dangers.

Online reviews

Most consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust word-of-mouth recommendations. One negative review amid a host of positive reviews won’t completely ruin your reputation. However, scores of one- or two-star reviews will most likely keep people from wanting to do business with you.

Social media comments

Online reviews aren’t the only spots where your business could be mentioned in a negative light. People may take to their social media pages or Reddit to either complain about a business or recommend a business to other people. Alternatively, they may leave negative comments on your social media pages.

Competitor websites

Unethical competitors could make negative comments about your brand, or post inaccurate brand comparisons that cast your brand in a negative light. Businesses in competitive states like California or New-York for example, may face more pressure than companies in states with minimal competition.

Even so, the effect an unethical competitor can have on a business is significant regardless of geographic location.

If you offer expensive services or services that could have an outsize impact on a consumer’s wealth or health, prospective customers will likely do extensive research before choosing a brand to work with.

If your competitor successfully casts you in a negative light, portraying you as too expensive, too cheap, too inexperienced, or too (fill in the blank), you could lose sales and thus struggle to build a customer base and brand loyalty.

Employee mistakes

Humans make mistakes. Sometimes, these can have a huge, negative impact on your brand reputation. For instance, a single employee who doesn’t adhere to your cybersecurity guidelines could inadvertently facilitate a hack that exposes private customer information.

This makes your brand look bad, and consumers will most likely be wary of doing business with a company that cannot safeguard its data.

Other errors, such as mistakenly switching an order, failing to complete a service, or failing to provide accurate information about a product or service, aren’t quite as serious. Even so, they can still result in negative reviews.

What are the best ways to mitigate brand reputation issues?

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” One of the best ways to mitigate brand reputation issues is to prevent problems from happening. Provide all employees with thorough training and clear rules. Have safeguards in place to protect your IT systems from unauthorized access.

Offer consumers good value for their money by ensuring all products are high-quality and free from defects. Be clear about what you do (and don’t) offer to avoid negative reviews based on misunderstandings.

If you run a local business, it’s a good idea to get involved in one or more community projects related to your brand. Doing so generates good publicity for your firm while showing potential customers that you’re responsible and caring.

Monitor brand mentions using tools such as Google’s Me on the Web, IceRocket, and Topsy to see what people are saying about your brand online. You can monitor review websites, social media websites, online forums, and other venues where people share their experiences and opinions.

In addition to enabling you to see when people are dumping on your brand and why, you’ll also be able to track brand awareness and find out more about your potential customers.

When issues arise, which they inevitably will, the following pointers will help you navigate reputation problems and even come out ahead.

Have a policy in place for answering negative online reviews

If the reviews are clearly false; i.e.; it’s a complaint about a product/service you don’t provide, you can flag the review for removal. If the accusation is false or exaggerated, offer a polite reply and explain your side of the story. For instance, if a customer complains that an item was defective when in reality the customer damaged it by misusing it, you may need to explain the item was checked in-store before shipping and offer advice on how your products should be handled.

If the review is valid, apologize to the customer and offer to make things right. Offer a refund, send a new product, or ask the customer if he or she would like a discount coupon for future use. Making things right goes a long way in showing consumers you care about them more than your profit margin. Your actions may not placate the angry customer, but they will show your audience that you are trustworthy.

Never get angry

Don’t express anger at someone who bad-mouths you online, be it a disgruntled customer, former employee, business partner, or competitor. Picking a fight online is unprofessional. It will generate negative attention and make customers think twice about doing business with you. If the comment is defamatory, you may be able to take legal action against the responsible party.

Even so, you should never lose your temper online as your comments will live on long after the incident has passed.

Have a “disaster plan” in place

Be prepared for situations such as a cyberattack, defective product recalls, or other serious incidents. Your first line of defense should be complete honesty with your audience. Let them know what is wrong and why.

Tell them what they can expect from you moving forward. Offer compensation to those who have been affected by your actions or lack of action. Finally, make sure people know about the measures you’ve taken to avoid future incidents. You’ll also need a “point person” in your organization who is responsible for disaster management. This person should have the skills needed to talk to the press and angry customers.

They should know how to publicize the company’s response to the incident. They should also be free to answer questions, address concerns, and provide assistance to affected customers.

Your brand reputation is one of your most valuable assets. A whopping 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Almost 75% of potential buyers say that positive reviews increase trust in a company. At the same time, 60% of consumers say negative reviews make them not want to work with a business. Managing your brand reputation is integral to the success of your business, and it’s not a one-time job.

Rather, you’ll need to be proactive in showcasing your business in a positive light. You can do this by offering great value to consumers, giving employees the training they need in order to meet customer needs and expectations, and being a force for good in your community.

You’ll also need to have plans in place for dealing with negative online reviews and problem situations. It will likely take a great deal of time and hard work to properly manage your reputation, but the end result will be well worth it as your brand gains positive recognition, sales increase, and you build brand loyalty that will keep people coming back to your business.

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