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"Every business is susceptible to public opinion," says Jeremy Lessaris, the founder of irevu, an online reputation management SaaS provider and full-service agency. He adds, "there are over a hundred specialized review sites and dozens of social channels that can literally make or break a business. Consumers have more power today than ever before and studies have shown that consumers are more apt to write a negative review than a positive one. But it's not just what people are saying about you, it's also the frequency of public interaction that is now a large part of search rank. And the overall rank, the total number of reviews and average rating can make a business an obvious choice, driving measurable impacts on traffic online and in-store." In a nutshell, online reputation management (ORM) is vital. How can you know who to entrust with your company's online reputation? What are the red flags that can tip you off to a less-than-stellar ORM provider? And how can you weed through the bad apples to find the right company for you? We asked experts in the online reputation management community for the do's and don'ts of shopping around for an ORM provider. Here's what they said: DO look for realistic expectations Realistic expectations for a service provider are always important. It can take quite a while to impact your Google rankings. It's not magic. For any company looking to improve or manage an online reputation, a provider shouldn't make it feel easier than it is. Realistic expectations are key. Expectations are often tied to guarantees. While money-back guarantees are okay in some circumstances, you should avoid other sorts of guarantees. Lessaris advises, "There really shouldn't be any guarantees of changes in reputation, rank, average rating or volume of reviews/mentions."Kevin Tash, CEO of Tack Media, a full-service digital marketing agency, says, "Guarantees are premature." Instead, he recommends people should keep an eye on both short-term and long-term goals. DO shop around Pierre Zarokian, CEO of ReputationStars.com suggests that companies reach out to multiple ORM companies to find the best fit. He suggests that you research companies online and "call around to a few companies to get different options and prices. Find out if the company can get specific content removed rather than suppressed. As far ORM work is concerned, there is no difference the type of company it is for. However, cost may depend on what it is you want suppressed. For example, an article in a top tier publication such as the LA Times or WSJ, may be much harder to suppress than a negative content on a personal Wordpress Blog. Hence, you need more effort to get successful results. Some ORM companies may offer guarantees or performance-based plans, which may be better, so always ask what types of guarantees they provide." DO read provider reviews Whilst shopping around and comparing services and providers, James Robinson from Iconic Genius says, "The best thing to do is to look at their reviews." It is a little bit meta, but, as Nolen Walker puts it, "Any ORM provider should have a good reputation of their own. An absence of reviews is an immediate red flag considering the service they are claiming to provide." DO ask for case studies and references It may be hard to locate branded case studies or client testimonials to know what type of results to expect. Many providers may not publicly post these types of references due to confidentiality. Jim Angleton from AEGIS FinServ Corp explains, some clients may demand privacy or be embarrassed, while "Others do not want the public to know they have been accused, sued, claims filed against them..." Think about it. You don't want to advertise that you used to have a bad reputation and you worked on it. In lieu of publicly posted proof, you should still ask for some type of proof. "Letters of recommendation are the best ways to ensure you are dealing with a good operator," says Angleton. Ask to see if they have any case studies available to show timelines and outcomes for your particular situation or industry. These are often available, with company or brand names disassociated."Ask to speak to current clients. Try to find previous clients and speak to them as well," says Robinson. While a provider won't put you through to a company that they have a bad relationship with, you can still get a lot out of a phone call with a satisfied client. DO ask questions To see if an ORM is a good fit, you need to ask questions. "You should ask what the day to day looks like, the short- and long-term goals. Ask how often you would have access to a person." says Tash.Walker warns, "Businesses should also be wary of long-term contracts or suspect guarantees." So, be sure to ask about contract lengths, terms, and conditions. Carefully read your contract before signing anything. Get all the important information in writing, read it all through, including compensation and cancellation policies. Ask tough questions: Will you own all of the content they make for you after your contract? Will you have a dedicated account manager? What kind of contract or payment plan is used? What is the cancellation policy? DON'T accept low-quality content Quality is important when it comes to content marketing, link building, and your online rep. "There may be agencies who would post the same content or a lower quality of content to sites that are not very reputable," warns Jitesh Keswani, CEO, E-Intelligence. "The content becomes spam due to such activities. While you might be paying big money for quality content, it might not be the case at all." DON'T believe outlandish ranking claims "Claiming they can get you the first page rankings in the search results is also a major red flag," says Keswani. While we all want to think that first-page SERPs are in our future, he adds, "It is crucial that you understand that it takes a significant amount of time and the use of keywords that are highly competitive to get close to first page ranks." DON'T pay for everything up front How you pay and what you pay for are important. Zarokian warns companies to be careful. "Do not pay all money up front, especially to offshore companies that request a wire transfer. I have heard of horror stories where a client did this and got no work done and was not able to get money back. If the company accepts credit cards, this is the best protection you can have. If service is not provided per the agreement and you do not get a refund, you can do a chargeback with your credit card provider."Along the same lines, Walker cautions, "Any business should be wary of guarantees because they indicate the possibility of a scam. With that being said, there are ways to hold the agency accountable based on payment structure." DON'T pay for guaranteed reviews While reviews are a vital part of ORM, "Anyone that promises you hundreds of reviews overnight is not who you want," says Ryan Vet, Marketing Executive and Consultant, " Slow and steady wins the race here." What's so bad about guaranteed reviews?Keswani explains, "...guaranteed reviews might mean that they are not authentic, which could do more harm than good. Agencies that guarantee more reviews might be following such techniques." DON'T endorse unethical practices "Make sure they are compliant with Google," advises Vet. When it comes to hats, you want to stay in Google's good graces. If you resort to black hat ORM strategies like fake reviews, spam or duplicate content to boost your rep, there are risks."A lot of shady ORM agencies indulge in various black hat ORM strategies to trick Google and end up inviting different penalties that do more harm to your brand's reputation than good," says Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Mettl in Business News Daily. "Hire an agency which leverages only ethical and white hat ORM strategies which search engines like Google approves of and which wouldn't in any way attract any penalties." DON'T expect content guarantees A common misconception about ORM is the offer of a "100 percent guarantee," says Angleton. "We all strive for 100 percent excellence; however, we have noticed that is not the case and there is always one small bit posted that is or can be true about the adverse party." Why can't we trust an ORM to get rid of any and all negative mentions? "With respect to negative posts," says attorney Charles Lee Mudd, Jr., "there exist some sites that may not remove content. Others employ arbitration processes." Keswani explains, "It is impossible for anyone to get access and remove information without the permission of the owner of websites." Consequently, when a provider offers a 100 percent content guarantee to potential customers, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Do you really need ORM? Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva says, "You don't need ORM, if you don't care about your company's reputation." He adds, "... in today's omnichannel market, you should understand that your prospects and customers are constantly exposed to information about your company. You can take action, and ensure that what they are exposed to is positive, or leave your company's reputation to the mercy of others." If you want to take control of the way the world sees your company, these do's and don'ts should help to find and vet an ORM provider that will help you put your best foot forward. Additional Resources: Decoding Digital Marketing: What Is Online Reputation Management? Best Digital Marketing Agencies
"Online Reputation Management (ORM) is the intentional influencing and protection of a brand through active listening and engagement across platforms," explains Marshall Nyman, Account Director at Rio SEO. "ORM encompasses elements of social media and reviews management, online engagement, content creation, PR, local listings management, and more." James Robinson, Marketing Advisor for Iconic Genius puts it simply, "ORM is basically the new ‘word of mouth.’" It’s "basically a public opinion of what is found online," says Jeremy Lessaris, the founder of irevu. But where online? He continues, "Either on structured review sites like Yelp or Google Reviews or in a mention of your company on a blog, social media site, or another online platform." In the ‘olden days,’ you asked your friends or family about a good company to work with or restaurant to go to. That type of word of mouth is now easily accessible online via ratings and rankings. Robinson emphasizes that ORM is monitoring as well as managing what people are saying about your brand online. He says, "It includes social and digital listening tools, protocol flowcharts, alerts, notifications, response templates, and customer service."With an online reputation comes the need to manage and monitor it."If you are not taking your online rep seriously," advises Kevin Tash, CEO of Tack Media, "then you leave all the hard work, blood, and sweat to the hands of disgruntled customers, you leave comments unaddressed, and ultimately hurt your brand. ORM is essential is staying ahead of misconceptions of your business." The benefits of handling your online reputation are helpful to businesses small and large. Tash says that they boil down to the ability to control your company or brand’s narrative, stay ahead of angry customers, and proactively build your presence. He says that staying active can help with your brand’s traction. How is ORM different from public relations? To better understand where one field starts and the other stops, we asked experts for guidance. Here is what they said: "PR has to do with larger messaging, milestones," says Tash from Tack Media, a Digital Marketing Agency. "ORM is an on-going day to day effort that requires someone to have their ear to the ground when it comes to your day to day activity, social feed, and even new mentions of your brand online. Public relation can have a greater long term impact, but ORM is its much younger, hipper cousin." "In PR," says Nyman, "the brand controls the conversation while in ORM, the customer tends to lead. PR is an integral part of any ORM strategy but on its own is not enough."Nyman adds, "A big misconception is that ORM is a task of marketing or PR, when in reality it is a company initiative that impacts customer service, sales, operations, R&D, and more. ORM should be looked at as a feedback loop. Every part of an organization should be involved so they have the opportunity to improve and hear what customers are saying." What are the components of ORM? We have already mentioned several components of reputation management. It is a many-armed monster with its sticky fingers in a million places. Let’s break the field down into easily digestible pieces. Jeremy Lessaris, the founder of irevu, describes the following three categories of reputation management: Growth and repair — for companies who have either no reviews or online reputation or a bad reputation from negative reviews or related content, ORM can help generate a more positive reputation to help grow or combat a negative reputation. Repairing a reputation can also mean flagging negative reviews that don't follow [terms of service] TOS, policies or procedures of review sites, and steps for companies who choose to take further legal action against misleading, inaccurate, fake, or slanderous reviews that impact their business. Monitor, listen, and respond — for companies who already have a positive and often frequent amount of reviews and mentions, the goal of ORM is to help a company get connected to all the sources so you know what is being said about you. They can connect to those voices and take action to be involved in the conversation and respond accordingly. Promotion — companies that have a great reputation ORM can help promote a company's reputation to influence more customers and drive measurable business results. Let’s take a closer look at those three categories. Growth and repair This initial stage includes growing or establishing your business’s presence online and taking care of any negative search results or comments that may have been neglected. Charles Lee Mudd, Jr from Mudd Law explains, "A business’s online reputation comes from its primary presence (let’s say the website), the image projected, social media, SEO, review sites, negative review sites, Glassdoor, content about the people associated with the company, quotes, and more."To first establish your presence, E-Intelligence CEO Jitesh Keswani emphasizes the importance of owning a website and related domains. "Once your website is set, you can go ahead and invest in owning multiple domains. This is going to reduce the number of negative data that surfaces on the first page of the search result." Here’s an example: contact.firstnamelastname.comradiofirstnamelastname.comcustomer.firstnamelastname.comfirstnamelastnameconnections.comAfter getting your primary presence set up, you need to look outside of your own site to social media sites, review platforms, and business directories. "Not only should a business show up in the top 43 online directories," says Robinson, "but sites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp (if applicable) are a MUST! Depending on the company there are other websites such as Angie's list, Houzz, Glassdoor and more, that may need to be monitored. This is why having the proper ORM tool is very important.""Every business is susceptible to public opinion," cautions Lessaris, "there are over a hundred specialized review sites and dozens of social channels that can literally make or break a business. Consumers have more power today than ever before and studies have shown that consumers are more apt to write a negative review than a positive one. But it's not just what people are saying about you, it's also the frequency of public interaction that is now a large part of search rank. And the overall rank, the total number of reviews and average rating can make a business an obvious choice, driving measurable impacts to traffic online and in-store."Establishing your business’s listing on social media and other platforms like Google My Business is a must. "Being proactive about getting your reviews will help for that rainy day when someone has a bad experience at your business," says marketing executive and consultant Ryan Vet. "If you don't have many reviews and someone decides to take to the web to blast your business, your rating will be greatly impacted. If you have a nice cushion of reviews, you shouldn't have a problem.""Most companies only need it when they get negative reviews," explains Reputation Stars CEO Pierre Zarokian. "However, if you are the type of company that expects to get negative reviews or wants to protect yourself against future negative reviews, then proactive ORM is recommended." But what if you haven’t been proactive about your reputation? "Depending on how long you have neglected your reputation, and how serious the incident was that is dragging it down, it could take as little as a few minutes, to a few years [to repair]," explains Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva. Where should businesses start? "It starts with identifying the problem," explains digital marketer Nolen Walker. "Bad reviews might be spam in which case they can be removed from the platform. If they are legitimate reviews, a professional and courteous response can go a long way towards restoring credibility. If the problem is systemic then the firm would have to reassess everything from who is handling social media posts to the content on the company's About Us page."Lessaris adds, "Driving new reviews and focusing on positive PR is the easiest way to impact a negative reputation. Removing existing reviews is something that has to be assessed based on the legality and impact of the reviews." Monitor, listen, and respond This next phase is all about being present. It is about monitoring customer feedback, actually listening to it, and responding in a positive, appropriate way. Nyman points out, "A brand’s reputation is everything. When customers leave feedback about their experiences, it can be a great asset or a massive liability — it’s entirely in how it is managed. While you cannot prevent negative reviews, other searchers are watching to see how they are handled by the brand. Prompt, appropriate action can improve the experience and ultimately lead to a more positive online reputation."Robinson suggests that businesses, "Listen to what the people are saying. Fix it and then turn it into an ad campaign." He expands, "As a business owner, you should want to know what customers are saying about your business. As an advertising guru, I find my best copy in the reviews. As a business owner, you will find what I call ‘million dollar criticism’. These are small gems that customers leave in the reviews that would 10x your business. I have seen it done." How do companies take advantage of customer feedback? Vet explains, "There are so many platforms out there from Podium to Birdeye to Reputations.com in generating online reviews. These are great for small and local businesses, healthcare practices, etc. The most important thing to make sure is that it complies with the terms of Google, Yelp and other review sites. The second thing you want to make sure is that it is easy for your customers to use."Using these platforms and their notifications can be super helpful. Nyman explains, "Given the massive volume of data consumers are generating in interactions across platforms, networks, and devices, it’s no longer possible for brands to keep up with manual ORM processes alone. Customers expect a response to their feedback within 24 hours. Brands must be empowered to monitor in real-time for all locations and to respond from within the same platform." Speed is key when it comes to managing your reputation. Aegis FinServ Corp president Jim Angleton explains that measuring ORM success is "the swift ability to recognize wrongful data posted and alert the customer for details and direction. If a provider takes more than one day to alert you to adverse postings, something is wrong and they may not be right for you. Speedy, focused attention to harm is important." Is replying to reviews that important? "Yes, people look at reviews," says Robinson. "People Yelp, and will Google company in a heartbeat. It’s a new way to complain. An insane amount of companies miss out on a ton of business because they don’t respond to negative comments. " How should you respond? "Mitigating a negative review is a simple process," explains Masjedi. "You reply with an apology, and extend an olive branch. Offer to connect privately to discuss the matter. The best case scenario is that the person follows up with you, and you win back your customer. At the same time, you demonstrate to other readers that you genuinely care about your customers' experience. Even the worst case scenario under effective ORM is not all that poor, as you halt the troll in their tracks, and demonstrate your sincerity to others." Promotion This final component to the ORM mix is promoting the good things about your company to influence your customers’ purchase decisions and ROI. This includes "strategizing optimization and producing creative content," says Keswani. Zarokian adds, "Mostly, [ORM] is done by creating more positive content online, such as social profiles, mini websites and writing many articles. There is a lot of SEO involved to push the positive content up." The bottom line Online reputation management is a million things, but basically, it means establishing an online presence, then monitoring, mediating, and promoting the positive of your business. "A business simply can't compete online in 2019 without ORM," says Walker. "It should be a baseline service offered by all agencies since SEO is largely inconsequential without it. The benefits are very straightforward because they impact the bottom line. They include lead generation, boosted sales, and business growth."Robinson puts it another way, "The bottom line is this: If you don’t put serious time and effort into ORM, then that just shows you only care about money. You won’t be in business long that way." Read more: The Do's and Don'ts of Choosing an Online Reputation Manager View Best Digital Marketing Agencies
Everyone wants a piece of customer reviews. Why? Because they've eclipsed nearly all other forms of influence for what we buy and don't buy, with the exception of the influences from close family, friends and topical experts. People are flocking to review sites...and with good reason. For instance, a 2015 study by YouMoz found that online reviews affect 67.7% of purchasing decisions. More than half describe online reviews as a "fairly," "very," or "absolutely" important part of their decision-making process. In a recent Zendesk survey, this influence was found to be even stronger, especially for positive reviews. Ninety percent of survey-takers said positive online reviews influenced their buying decisions; 86% said the same about negative reviews. If you combine this with growing consumer distrust toward companies and their messaging, you find companies with scant options: get better at reviews or get passed up. That's good and well, you say, but what if, even after throwing everything I have at this challenge, I only get a measly couple of reviews or none at all? This problem is more common than you might think and it can be more than frustrating for those eager to shine in online reviews. Below is a checklist of 7 potential problems to diagnose your brand's online reviews shortage and get things back on track: 1. You don't have enough customers Consider these stats from the aforementioned Zendesk survey: Of customers who have bad experiences with companies, only 35% turn to online review sites to voice their feelings. Only 23% of those who've had positive experiences leave online reviews This behavior of sharing with others negative or positive customer experiences goes up somewhat when people share on social media, instead of online review sites: Of customers with negative experiences, 45% tell their stories on social media Of customers with positive experiences, 30% do the same What does this mean? If you have a relatively small customer base, your potential number of reviews is much lower than, say, that of an automobile manufacturer or Tide laundry detergent. Does this mean that small companies should just forget about getting online reviews? Definitely not. In fact, anecdotal evidence shows that customer reviews on sites like Yelp or Angie's List for small local businesses are even more important than they are for larger brands. What this does mean is that smaller companies need to acknowledge that online reviews are a numbers game and set their expectations accordingly. 2. Your product/service isn't review-worthy Whether fortunately or unfortunately, this does happen. Sometimes, a product or service does not elicit powerful feelings one way or the other-not enough, anyway, to compel someone to talk about it online. Surely, no company wants to be in this category. Every brand wants to be memorable. The problem is, as long as your customer experience is forgettable, you're going to have a really hard time getting people to post reviews about you. When wading into the waters of online customer reviews, companies would do well to consider the possibility that their customer experience is boring. It's not infuriatingly bad. It's not mood-lifting-ly good. It's just boring. And ask some soul-piercing questions: Is your customer experience worth talking about? What is keeping it from being noteworthy? What changes are required at every level of your organization to make it noteworthy? In most cases, a non-review-worthy brand is more than one marketer, social media manager, or customer service rep can fix alone-it's usually a company-wide problem and will take the entire company to resolve. Ultimately, ensuring a great customer experience will supply you with more reviews than any other item on this list. Nellie Akalp at Mashable said it this way: "At the end of the day, the best path to having great reviews is to offer a great product and customer experience. If you're doing all you can to create a remarkable experience for your customers, there's no reason not to remind them about the importance of sharing reviews." 3. You're not asking If you are doing a great job in taking care of your customers, you shouldn't have to ask>/em> people to give you reviews, right? Wrong. The experts agree that most companies don't ask for reviews as much as they should. This makes sense. Marketers have learned to tell customers what they want them to do in direct calls-to-action: "Click here." "Buy one, get one free." "Buy now." So why not add "Leave a Review" to that list? Jeff Motter, the CEO and CMO of East Bay Marketing Group says, "The best way to get reviews is to ask for them." "Don't be afraid to say to clients, 'Hey, if we helped you, we'd be grateful if you let people know,'" agrees Bret Bonnet, CMO of Quality Logo Products. "They might take to Yelp themselves." 4. You're not asking the right customers As mentioned above, not all customers are the reviewing type. So, while it's not a bad idea to put some calls-to-action out there, there are some more review-friendly customers toward whom you you might want to direct more of your energy. Remember how the Zendesk survey revealed that customers were more likely to tell about their experiences on social media than on review sites? Well, the results of the survey painted an even more detailed picture of the most likely reviewers, for example: People who consumed products or services in a business context People from Generation X People who earned more than $150,000 a year These groups were found to share nearly all of their customer experiences, good or bad, frequently on social media. So if these demographics define your target reviewers, and the majority of reviews are happening on social media, maybe you shouldn't rely solely on CTAs on your website to get reviews. You should be inviting customers on social media-via the Facebook Reviews tab, for instance-to tell friends and family about your brand. 5. You're not asking at the right time Timing can be everything on a review call-to-action. If you ask them to give you a review right after you've delivered their purchase late, you risk not only failing to get a review, but also making them so angry they never come back to you again. But the opposite is also true. Right when you've successfully delivered a great experience is the ideal moment to ask customers for a review. For a restaurant, this might mean at the conclusion of a meal, right about when they are paying the bill. For a real estate agent, this would be during the euphoria that ensues after closing. For an online retailer, this would be at the moment the customer's order arrives on their doorstep. Megan Mosley from Referral Rock says, "There is a sweet spot when it comes to asking for a review. Actually a couple of good opportunities. The most obvious is asking post-purchase, as typically speaking, a customer is most happy then. Other times would be after a great customer interaction, if you receive a nice social media comment, or see people already talking about you. These are the perfect instances (and people) to ask for a review!" Additional tip: whenever possible, to increase the odds of getting a review, make this an in-person call-to-action. "There's no better way to ask for, and get, reviews than to do it in person," says Brian Patterson at Marketing Land. "The person-to-person request is incredibly effective, particularly if the requester has spent a lot of time with the customer. We've found that asking in person can garner you seven to eight times more reviews than asking via email." 6. You're not responding Nobody wants to feel like they're talking to the air. Just responding to other reviews will tell would-be reviewers that, when it comes to your business, somebody is listening and taking reviews seriously. Of course, if all of your responses feel predatory, overly confrontational, this will have the opposite effect. The one thing reviewers hate more than talking to the air is having their review thrown back in their face. In most companies, people leap at the chance to respond to the positive review. Thank them for their review but beware of tossing out incentives. Remember, they chose to leave a review simply because they enjoyed your product or service without expecting anything in return. Sometimes, offering a incentive after the fact can cheapen this. But what about negative reviews? Few companies really look forward to this, seeing it as just another uncomfortable confrontation with an angry customer. A growing number of companies, however, are turning these moment into opportunities to turn haters into advocates, in the words of marketing guru Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters. For instance, one French bakery chain actively sought out their most negative reviewers and made them a proposition. They needed the reviewers' help in making their service and food the best they could be. If the restaurant gave them a free meal once a month, would the reviewer be willing to supply them with their honest feedback? Intrigued and flattered, most of the reviewers agreed and went from being naysayers to being collaborators in building the restaurant chain's brand. 7. You're making it difficult You might be asking customers for reviews, but are you eliminating as many steps as possible to make it easy for them to post a review? Are you set up on all the major review sites-like Yelp, Angie's List, Google Local, Yahoo Local, LinkedIn, CitySearch, and TripAdvisor? Are you set up on your industry-specific review sites (Ex: Expedia or Travelocity for hotels)? Are you providing them with links to these pages so they don't have to hunt them down themselves? "Unless someone has a negative experience to share, the average customer is not going to look for ways to leave your company a review," says Akalp. "That's why you need to ask them to post a review and make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Put direct links to your review profiles in multiple places; for example, a follow-up email, newsletter, and your website." Getting Into the Reviews Game So how did you do? Did you find something you'd been missing in trying to secure customer reviews? Fortunately, there are so many opportunities to get the reviews your company needs to both create a strong brand presence and keep communication open with customers happy and not-so-happy.