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“I don’t give a damn ’bout my bad reputation.” ~ Joan Jett

It made for some great rock’n’roll, but when Joan Jett belted out the words to her hit “Bad Reputation” she was really talking about being true to herself and going her own way, no matter what the haters were saying. Reputation is how others feel about you and what they are saying about you. In business, you should give a damn. Your reputation matters.

The subject of online reviews produces drastically different responses from business owners. On one hand, we know that user-generated reviews help spread the word about your brand. People believe what consumers say way more than they believe advertising messages. On the other hand, many owners are afraid of receiving bad reviews and having them hang there out on the Internet like a dirty pair of socks.

Let’s take a big picture look at reviews and what they may mean to your business.

Reputation monitoring versus reputation management

You can’t hide from reviews. There are literally hundreds of websites today that offer consumers the chance to share their experiences online. The worst thing you can do is try to ignore them because they are not going away. Keeping an eye on your reputation can be as simple as setting up a Google Alert for your company name. It depends on how unique your name is. It may be necessary to do some online detective work.

Muse monitors client reputation as part of our comprehensive marketing services. We track reviews, articles, and comments across the Internet and offer guidance on how best to respond. “Managing” your reputation is a completely different kettle of fish. It suggests hiding negative comments and only soliciting reviews from your most satisfied customers. We recommend “reputation nurturing” by being honest and transparent. We call it Authentic Engagement.

Timely response is vital

The sooner you know about a comment or review, the sooner you can appropriately respond. Positive reviews are great, but they sure look better when followed by a “Thank You” sent by the company within hours or days. It shows you actually care. It is essential that you respond quickly to a negative review or comment. Again, it demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction, especially if you reply thoughtfully.

How can a “bad” review become an opportunity?

Consumers don’t expect perfection. They do expect honesty. We love it when people take responsibility for their actions. We reward them with the benefit of the doubt (and our business) when we see that they are taking responsibility. There are, unfortunately, lots of examples of what NOT to do in the media today. Certain large companies (and politicians) have demonstrated the “false apology”, by saying “Sorry if you think we have let you down” or “If I have offended anyone then I am sorry”. This is not an apology. This is, in fact, a missed opportunity. Whether you believe you have let someone down or not isn’t the issue. What really matters is that THEY think you have let them down. So say “I’m sorry.” Period. Never add “but”, “if” or any qualifier that diminishes the apology. After apologizing, now you can ask questions. Find out what went wrong. Find out what you can do to correct the situation. By demonstrating that you genuinely care about the customer, you can take a negative experience and turn it into a positive. There are many ways to do this both publicly online and privately offline. I will talk more about this in my next post.

(Coming up in Part Two: Fake reviews, “Astroturfing”, authentic reviews, popular review sites)