If you’re like me, the first thing you do as a consumer of a new business — whether it’s a landscaper, restaurant, or carwash — is head to Google to check for online reviews. It’s no surprise that companies like Yelp are worth hundreds of millions — our new economy is based on peer reviews. But, as a business owner, the copious number of review and social channels has made managing our corporate reputations more tricky and time-consuming.

Some negatives reviews have merit and can be pivotal in improving your business. However, often they are baseless and can have a serious impact on customer opinions. And then some are just ridiculous. We had a client get a negative review because a patron didn’t like the Neil Young song playing from the streaming service. We’ve had a medical practice receive negative reviews about a doctor who’s not even in their practice.

A bad review from a disgruntled employee can bring down your Glassdoor.com rating and a negative customer review on Google can discourage potential customers from patronizing your business. Consider these modern-day realities:

  • 57% of consumers will only patronize a business with more than four stars
  • 91% of 18-34-year-old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses

According to these statistics, your corporate digital presence is increasingly important. If you’re a business in this new economy, you have to concern yourself with how your customers and employees are talking about you or reviewing you online.

Here are five tips for how to manage your reputation in the digital age:

#1 Create a Policy

Write and enforce a policy that includes if and when to respond to negative reviews from disgruntled customers or employees. There are times when it makes sense to respond and other times when it’s a waste of resources. Learn how to identify the trolls who are not worth your time and the customers who have a legitimate complaint and deserve a response.

The next question is how to respond. Will you respond publicly or privately? How quickly will you send a response? Will you provide an apology or a discount in some cases? If so, what is your criteria?

#2 Acquire Digital Real Estate

Claim as much digital real estate as possible with your original content on owned property (like your website) and third-party sites (such as social media and review sites). When someone searches for your company, you want them to see your company’s official narrative. And, ideally, you want the majority of the results on the first page to be provided by you. In addition to your website, you want to own real estate on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, and Google for Business, depending on your industry.

#3 Develop a Process

Put a process in place to gather as many positive reviews and testimonials as you can. Have employees ask satisfied customers directly. If you have a brick and mortar store, put up signage on your walls. Or, sign up with one of numerous apps that allow review requests to be automated. Ask your POS vendor what review services they offer.

#4 Maximize Your SEO

Improve your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) through researching keywords and applying them to your website content. Keep your website dynamic by constantly updating your blog and other pages. Consider running search ads and conducting email campaigns to drive more traffic to your site. This will help ensure that your website appears in search engines before third-party sites.

#5 Monitor and Respond

Closely monitor your brand’s digital reputation so that you can respond as soon as possible when needed. There are a ton of tools you can use here. To start, set up Google Alerts to make you aware when your keywords appear in search results. Set alerts for “as they happen” to be notified as soon as possible. Being as responsive as possible makes all the difference to your customers.

Instead of looking at reputation management as a necessary evil, consider it as a way to better control your identity, frame your message, and keep engaged with your customers. If you don’t, someone else may very likely do it for you.

Lauren Yates - Principal & Co-Founder | Thinkwell Consulting LLC
Lauren Yates
Principal & Co-founder at ThinkWell Consulting, LLC | lauren@thinkwellconsulting.com

Lauren Yates is a Principal and Co-founder of ThinkWell Consulting, LLC. Lauren is fascinated with the ever-changing nature of marketing and how the internet has empowered businesses and individuals to communicate directly with their audiences. Way back in grad school she wrote a paper on how “weblogs” would democratize journalism — that project is unavailable somewhere on a floppy disc. Here, she writes about consulting, entrepreneurship, and digital marketing.