Reputation management? Online Reputation management? What gives?
In case you haven’t noticed, the Internet is changing everything. It can be good or bad change and depends on how well you adapt and take advantage of the opportunities it presents.
It’s noteworthy that internationally-recognized leadership consultant Robin Sharma says, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”
I’m talking about how the Internet impacts HVAC company branding. I’m talking about how you build and maintain a solid online reputation. While word of mouth reputation is still big, the Internet changes even that.
In the old days, we had simple marketing. Companies built their brands and communicated with customers using advertisements. They most likely issued press releases in newspapers, magazines, on billboards radio shows, and TV. They also used direct mail, door hangers, even the types of wraps installed on trucks.
But the fact is that no longer holds sway over the fastest growing segment of potential customers – millennials. Millennials are now entering the workplace by droves and they get their information online.
To reach them (and even reach a growing part of traditional baby boomers who are relying more on the Internet for information), your marketing efforts need to include online media – blogs, social media sites, and online review sites. The latter is where customers can share good news and bad news about doing business with you. Managing these things is called online reputation management.
What Do You Mean, Reputation Management?
In essence, online reputation management is the act of building brand and image, and protecting it. It’s your company’s reputation as viewed by the masses on the Internet. The online encyclopedia, WIKIPEDIA, defines it as follows:
Reputation management is the influencing and/or control of an individual’s or business’s reputation. Originally a public relations term, the advancement of internet and social media use, along with reputation management companies, have made it primarily an issue of search results.
The point is that online reputation management isn’t all that different than “live” reputation management except that it is exposed to tens of thousands of potential customers faster than traditional word-of-mouth.
Can you see how powerful that fact is? In the blink of an eye tens of thousands of potential customers can read all about you and your company.
Furthermore, people tend to believe what they read on the Internet. In a 2011 “Social Shopping Study” conducted by PEW Research, they found that 50% of consumers spend 75% or more of their total shopping time doing online product research. 70% of those consumers prefer and trust the opinions and product/service reviews that other consumers post online.
Ignorance is not Bliss
This is huge and is a big change on the impact of traditional marketing and promotion. Sadly, most HVAC contractors don’t know this fact or how it impacts their business. In this competitive world, ignorance is not bliss. In fact, your reputation, whether online or in the real world, is key to your success.
I have three answers:
- Prospective new customers are spending lots of time online
- Your competition is also online
- Your existing customers are online too. This group includes customers who may be unhappy with your company for whatever reason.
So here’s a question: Do you have any idea what people in these three groups are saying about you and your business online? You should.
No matter what you do, people will post good news and bad news about your company online every day. Some people say that any “press” is better than no press. But if any includes negative statements about your company, its services, people, and products, how is that good? The answer: it isn’t.
Both good news and bad news can become popular and go viral. Think about it: do you want bad news about your company to be the talk of the Internet? What will that do to your reputation both online and offline? The bottom line is that bad press online can lead to lost revenues. Worse, it can take a long time to recover from a bad reputation online.
Six Reputation Tips to Live By
So here are five tips to help you manage your online reputation.
1. Be PROACTIVE instead of REACTIVE. Don’t wait for things to happen, go out and make them happen. Actively invite your customers to comment about their experiences working with your company. Have them post those reviews online. Again, just as that PEW Research study said, consumers trust and expect peer reviews and comments.
2. Monitor what people are saying about your business online. This means you should do a Google search for your company name and see what comes up. You will be surprised.
3. Respond to comments. When consumers leave a comment or post a review, it’s important to respond to it. Always thank people for positive comments and delve into finding solutions for negative ones. Consumers respond to this because it makes them feel like they are important and that they are heard. This is good stuff.
4. Counter negatives with positives. It’s always in your best interest to counter negatives with more positives. Sharing kudos by applauding the success of your people and others is positive. This is especially relevant because you’ll see the results everywhere on the Internet – from social media to review blog sites, to other websites.
5. Create useful content. This means posting articles, tips, useful tutorials, videos, and photos on your website. Most of all, use Twitter and Facebook to announce you’ve posted these things. You should prepare press release about major events – hiring, new projects, awards, etc. Even writing a regular blog helps to build a solid reputation and a following of current and potential clients.
6. Consider investing in reputation management services and/or tools. So the internet has lots of tools and apps that can track a company’s reputation. Some of them are FREE with options for premium upgrades. Others are fee-based.
Furthermore, social media experts say having useful content is a smart way to proactively manage reputation.
Equally important is the whole feedback thing. At NCI we are always talking about measuring data and not guessing when it comes to the technical side of the business. Well it’s just as important to measure on the business side and feedback will tell you where your strengths and weaknesses lie. As long as you take action on these items, your company will always improve and that strengthens your online reputation.
By offering customers the opportunity to post reviews and comments, you are creating an atmosphere of trust and that is a VERY good thing. Remember what that PEW study said: Consumers TRUST and EXPECT online reviews.
Don’t Be Complacent
In conclusion, don’t ever be complacent. Your digital footprint NEVER really goes away. Therefore it’s always in your best interest to counter negatives with more positives. And, sharing kudos by applauding the success of your people and others are very positive ways to grow a strong online brand and reputation. You will see the results everywhere.
So remember this: your online reputation is fast becoming one of the key components of a successful brand-building strategy. It is in your best interest to understand it and use it to your advantage.