“Managing a small business can be a lonely endeavor. When you’ve got to make a tough call to make, it’s often difficult to know where to turn for information or advice. Here are suggestions and resources that can make those tough calls a little easier”.
This article was first published in 2013 and reading it has given me the opportinuties to know when to jump or run from a bad investment.
This week I had a chat with Pierre Zarokian, CEO of Reputation Stars (ReputationStars.com) and SubmitExpress.com. Pierre recently did an interview with Search Engine Journal about the particular issues of Online Reputation Management (ORM) for small companies. I was intrigued. Here’s that interview, and he offered to also share some of his thinking with Forbes.
As usual, I did a little background research. Pierre’s original company is 15 years old. No reputational issues, but I did come upon this fun little gem – a CEO interview Pierre did five years ago with Visibility Magazine, in which he was asked to predict where he and his company would be five years out. Let’s see how he did.
“I see our company just growing and growing….As far as services, I think that 5 years from now, SEO is definitely not going to be the same. SEO will still be there, but it will entail much different work than is being done today. SEO companies like ours must adapt to new offerings….I am an entrepreneur by heart, and even if I retire from SEO, I see myself starting other companies…”
Pretty good, Pierre, and you hit the nail on the head about the changes the past five years have brought to SEO. As one of those changes, his company (like many others) is putting an increasing level of focus on reputation management, as witnessed by the creation of ReputationFixers.com in addition to his original company. Here’s what he had to say:
What can you do about negative reviews on consumer feedback sites such as Yelp YELP -4.00%?
As most consumers are aware, Yelp is based on user-generated reviews for local businesses. Getting negative reviews on Yelp can be especially bad for small businesses, Pierre says. The site has mechanisms in place to stop spammers from posting false reports, and to prevent business owners from creating 5-star reports for themselves. At the bottom of each page is a link for “filtered reviews”—the reviews Yelp considers untrustworthy. These reviews don’t influence a company’s ranking. Reviews from new Yelp users or from accounts that show lack of activity, or signs such as no connections or photo are likely to be filtered. As to how much Yelp reviews matter, consider the following data points:
Recommended by Forbes
83% of consumers say online customer reviews influence their purchase decisions. (Source: Opinion Research Corp., June 2008)
A word-of-mouth recommendation is the primary factor behind 20% to 50% of all purchasing decisions. (Source: McKinsey Quarterly, April 2010)
Harvard University research on Yelp shows that a 1-star difference in reviews on Yelp may result in 5% to 9% in business gained or lost. (Source: Harvard University, September 2011)
What can a business do about Yelp feedback gone wrong? There have been concerns reported about Yelp pressuring businesses into ad sales by purposely displaying more negative than positive reviews—in fact, Yelp faced several class action lawsuits in 2010 from business owners claiming extortion when business owners reported Yelp demanding $300 a month or more for the removal of negative listings; however, WSJ reports that both suits were dismissed in 2011. Pierre points out the forum Yelp Sucks as a source of advice and help for businesses that have been affected by these issues.
In general, Pierre’s advice is to avoid posting direct responses to sites such as Yelp, PissedConsumer.com and RipOffReport, as the additional posts will simply drive the stickiness of the bad results even more. Better to do what’s possible to resolve the complaint in private, if possible, and to set up other locations such as your own website or your Facebook page as a location for customers to post their positive experiences (or to let you know about their genuine concerns or complaints.)
How can a small business recover from a bad reputational incident, particularly if it was an issue that wasn’t their fault?
The best defense, Pierre recommends, is to make it a practice to resolve customer support issues as soon as they occur, before a customer becomes upset enough to post a negative review. Don’t argue, he suggests. Offer a discount or a refund instead, to avoid as much as possible the risk of getting a potential negative review. A single bad review could cost a business to lose dozens of new customers each month. The flipside, of course, is that happy customers can refer business to you through positive online reviews.
If an incident is severe enough, consider reaching out to the media directly to explain the situation and if necessary, to apologize publicly to customers affected. For example, one of Pierre’s clients was forced to work through a story of a shooting at the company’s establishment that resulted in an employee’s death. The situation was tragic and the business also lost a great deal of money in the aftermath. As part of its recovery, the client increased security at the business through video surveillance, and with the heightened security in place, issued a press release to announce the improvements.
Additionally, in a recovery situation and as a general practice, remember that just as content is king for SEO, authentic and relevant content is vital for reputation management as well. Create as many interesting and useful articles as possible about your company and its relevant topics. Post the articles on your own websites, but find opportunities to post “how to” articles in other locations as guest posts as well. Be sure to link these blogs and articles back to your company (in a meaningful way) and post and link the pieces, if possible, to some of your social media profiles as well. YouTube clips are especially helpful for creating results that may naturally rank on Google GOOG -0.61%’s first page.
Do negative online feedbacks serve any kind of a productive purpose?
Although every company is unhappy to see negative feedback online, the experience can provide a business with valuable insight about the way the operation is viewed through the eyes of your customers, and can alert you to problems. Every company should stay on top of any negative reviews to ensure any actual problems are addressed. Pierre suggests creating a medium through your own website or Facebook FB +2.11% page that customers can use to give you direct feedback when needed. Placing a review form on your website can be helpful as well, as a way for customers to provide their feedback directly.
What is the role of reputation management agencies, and do they really work? Are they worth it?
If they are responsible and reliable, reputation management agencies can do much to repair a damaged reputation on search engines by helping to remove disparaging information or helping push it further back so that it doesn’t continue to appear in the first pages of results. As experts, a good agency can also guide you through the process of acquiring a skilled attorney, when necessary, to have negative content legally removed. As I have reported before, however, take great care to speak to other customers of any reputation management agency to assure yourself of their reliability and credibility before getting involved.
As to Pierre’s company, here’s a final note I couldn’t resist including from what I found to be one of Reputation Stars’ most interesting blogs – An actual law is being proposed by California State Senator Anthony Cannelia to make “revenge porn” – yes, it’s become an actual category to describe the public posting of nude or sexually suggestive photos by an enemy or an ex – a misdemeanor that would be punishable by a fine of $1,000 and a possible month in jail. The concept is actually finding its way into the legal system—a notion so shocking it’s almost funny, except for the very real damage to individuals such as Audrie Potts (and others like her), where a teen committed suicide after graphic photos were circulated of a sexual assault by three peers at a party.Yet another word to the wise for everyone living and doing business in the Internet age (public officials included): If you don’t want a photo to be shared, don’t take it, don’t send it, and don’t store it in any place that can be backed up, restored or found by the web.