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Managing your company's online reputation, by David S. Allen

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The business owner was shocked. He had just read a scathing review about his company on its own Facebook page. A former customer wrote of a nightmarish customer service experience and in describing how horrible it was, he pulled no punches.    

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of it.

For 13 months, those negative comments were parked on the company’s Facebook page and no one at the business even knew it. An employee had innocently created a Facebook page a few years earlier and the page had been forgotten. But it was still online. Customers, prospects, vendors and anyone else could find it with a simple search.   

Immediately after reading the review, the business owner made a startling discovery about the customer: He was a fake. The business had never had a customer by that name. It was a made up Facebook account created by someone who posted a fake review of the company.  

The company never learned who was behind it, but that did not matter. Nor did it matter that the comments were untrue. What mattered is that they were out there for 13 very long months and with no response from the company.

People have had opinions for as long as there have been people. It just so happens that we live in an online world where opportunities abound for them to make their opinions known and seen. And those opinions, whether good or bad, fair or unfair, or right or wrong, carry weight. One example of how important online reviews and comments have become: There is now a cottage industry of fake reviewers posting fake reviews—positive or negative—and getting paid with non-fake money from those who benefit from the reviews.  

How can a business know what is being posted online about its brand, its products, its services and its employees? And what should it do when it finds negative comments and reviews? Some suggestions:

  1. Develop a process for monitoring and managing online reviews. For starters, be certain you know the websites and pages where opinions about your business may be made by customers, former customers, former employees and others. Consistently visit those sites and pages or hire someone to do that for you.  
  2. Respond quickly to all comments but especially negative ones. And remember that when you respond to an online review or comment, you are communicating not only to the person who offered the opinion but to another important and larger audience: Those prospects and customers who are reading your online conversation.
  3. Acknowledge problems. A genuine response to a customer’s issue goes a long way to repairing a relationship and demonstrating that your company actually gives a rip about someone’s problem.
  4. Stop typing, then start talking. Offer to resolve the customer’s problem via phone or in person. Respond to a negative comment or review with a post like this: “Hello, Scott. This is Rick Johnson, the company owner. I was upset to read about your experience with us. Would you mind phoning me at your earliest convenience? My cell phone is 555-5555. Or, may I call you? I want to get this resolved to your satisfaction.”
  5. Consider hiring a reputation management vendor to monitor and even respond to what is said about your business online. They cost less than you may think. (Jump Marketing doesn’t provide that service but I’ll be happy to pass along some names to you.)

Don’t panic or be upset when you read a negative review of your company. Don’t be defensive and don’t get offensive. Your goal is to get customers and keep customers, not win some online argument.