“It takes twenty years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
– Warren Buffet
Buffet’s quote perfectly describes the fragile nature of a business’ reputation in the modern world. In today’s mobile and social media age, consumer opinions can be shared and spread conveniently with a single mouse click or screen tap. An off day, an insufficiently trained employee, a late delivery, a politically incorrect tweet, or a small error can explode into a PR crisis—leading to scathing reviews, one-star ratings, nasty blog comments, and social media criticism.
As a small business owner, you may feel like you don’t have the time and money to invest in comprehensive reputation management solutions. Yet don’t think for one second you have no control over what customers are saying about you, because you do. Here are eight great tips and tricks to help any small business owner get started with building a winning business reputation.
1. Plant flags on your digital properties.
Start with a website, but don’t stop there. Continue by securing your business name across the web and claiming your business page or profile on social networks, online forums, local business listings, community sites, local search networks, and online review sites. If you don’t have a listing, create one. This will allow you to listen in on and join online conversations about your business, wherever these conversations are taking place. A great tool I’d recommend for claiming your social media profiles and securing your brand name is KnowEm, while my company, ReviewTrackers, specializes in helping businesses listen and manage customer conversations on all major review sites.
2. Keep your business information up-to-date.
On your digital properties, make sure your local business information is complete, accurate, and up-to-date. Your business name, phone number, and address are of paramount importance, but don’t forget to include other helpful information such as website URL, email address, operating hours, business category, and list of products and services, among others. At a time when 37 percent of businesses don’t even have the correct name on their listing (effectively losing a total of $10.3 billion in potential annual sales), paying attention to these details can mean the difference between gaining a customer or losing one to a competitor. Make the effort and spare your potential customers the frustration of having to look elsewhere.
3. Show your social media savvy.
Social media serves as a great platform for engaging with existing and potential customers. Build a community of fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, then keep them updated with news about your company or information about new products and services.
4. Listen and respond to online reviews.
Online reviews and ratings of your business on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google+, Foursquare, and other community-based review sites can give you valuable insights into what and how customers really think. So listen in and identify any issues, concerns, and weaknesses reviews may be able to point out. Also, take the time to respond, even if it’s just a simple “thank you” or “I’m sorry”: this shows customers that you care about their feedback and that you consistently strive to make things right.
On the Palomar Chicago’s TripAdvisor page, for example, management would respond to reviews posted by guests who didn’t necessarily have a positive experience. To someone who didn’t have a good night’s sleep at the hotel, front office manager Joseph Eames responded,
“Thank you for taking the time to review our property. We rely heavily on the feedback in forums like this to point out places we can improve upon. A basic component of a hotel stay is obviously a good night’s sleep. I’m very sorry to hear that this wasn’t your experience with us, and invite you to reach out to me directly to discuss the matter further.”
The response simple, straightforward, and effective, creating an opportunity for the business to positively change its conversation with a customer.
5. Create and share positive content.
If your reputation is taking a hit—say, a bad Yelp review or a vicious critic’s blog post is showing in search engine results—you can minimize the negative impact by creating and sharing positive content. This can be in the form of blog posts, photos, videos, ebooks, newsletters, whitepapers, and even podcasts—digital assets that build your credibility, improve your visibility, and enhance your reputation.
6. Minimize jargon and marketing buzzwords.
Today’s consumers are more proactive than ever, and they’re less trustful of corporate speak, sales pitches, marketing buzzwords, and promotional messages. That’s why it’s so important to make adjustments to the tone and language of your communications with customers. If you’re writing tweets, responding to reviews, or publishing a new blog post, choose words your customers understand and use. This allows you to humanize your business brand and engage more effectively with your audience.
7. Have a sense of humor.
When it comes to building a winning reputation, one of the biggest challenges for a small business owner today is to cut through all the noise and stand out. You’ve got to give people a reason to notice you. Even if you’re an insurance agent or the marketing manager of a nondescript auto parts shop—even if the services you’re offering are not terribly exciting—you have to find ways to distinguish yourself from the competition. One such way is by making people laugh.
Whatever the form it takes—a funny tweet, an amusing anecdote, a meme-filled blog post—humor humanizes your business. (Check out, for example, Eat24’s Bacon Sriracha Unicorn Diaries.) It can soften the hearts of even your harshest critics and toughest reviewers. Humor is a universal language that can bridge the gap between you and the customers with whom you want to connect.
8. Be authentic.
Authenticity can make you sexy and irresistible. These days, too many business owners try too hard to build up their reputation and generate five-star ratings across the board, even to the point of hiring writers in India or the Philippines to post fake reviews. But this isn’t sustainable. Focus your efforts instead on delivering excellent service and creating positive experiences for your customers. By doing so, the buzz will build itself around your business.
Key to all these tips is the belief that you have the ability to manage and influence what customers are saying about you. Don’t sit back, thinking it’s out of your control. Be proactive in finding creative ways to build and strengthen your reputation, as well as protect it in situations that could otherwise drive customers away.
Be sure to check out our other posts from Chris on managing your online reputation, “Avoid These 5 Mistakes When Responding To Negative Reviews” and “6 Keys to Successful Customer Engagement in a Multi-Screen, Omni-Channel World.”
Chris Campbell is the CEO of ReviewTrackers. He has helped tens of thousands of businesses hear, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.