Online reputation is now everything online, with social media and online websites dedicated to sharing reviews of business services.
So if you're a new business that has made the effort to build your website and set up webhosting, you'll also need to concern yourself with online reviews and help develop trust with your potential customers.
Existing businesses are probably already busy doing this, but it has to be said, there's always room for improvement.
Therefore here we'll feature a handful of companies essential to your online reputation. In some instances there will be no surprises, such as TripAdvisor for travel websites and businesses. However, even Facebook can be an excellent tool for not just reviews but also recommendations, as well as general communications.
Here then are the best in online reputation management services.
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Best online reputation management - at a glance
- Google My Business
Put your business on the Google map
Google My Business is a service that allows a business to register itself for display in local searches using Google. This is a key consideration, of course, because Google remains the most widely used search engine in the Western world.
What you also need to bear in mind here is that Google has spent the past few years actively promoting its own business listings for local searches. That not only means that Google is offering the potential for free promotion, but also that so long as you ensure a positive overall customer experience, then this will be one of the most visible ways of getting that message to other customers.
Signing up is easy to do, but you shouldn't just sit back and hope to get a free sale. Instead treat your listed business profile as a microsite. That means providing new and constant updates to keep your profile fresh, sharing information, and actively making an effort to engage with customers who might ask questions through it.
Done right, a Google My Business profile will provide a very visible platform for your local customer base, and a way to prove you have a reputation strong enough to leverage that visibility to attract more sales. However, some business users may find that they have more limited control over their listing than they'd like.
The social review network
Yelp is a crowd-sourced local business review and social networking site, which is powered by both a website and mobile app. The aim is to provide users with incisive reviews and recommendations, but it can also be used by businesses to engage and communicate with both customers and potential customers, in order to encourage a positive overall experience.
As well as the listing services, Yelp also provides training for small businesses in how to respond to reviews, as well as how to work with social events if and when required. There are also additional information features such as health inspection scores.
Yelp has a huge user base and mobile reach, which makes it an especially important place to develop a good reputation, not least by taking the time to post promotions and updates, as well as being able to respond to any customer concerns or queries.
However, like other user-content generated sites, there's potentially room for abuse in terms of fake reviews. Additionally, sometimes Yelp users aim to be a little more creative with their reviews which may make some look eccentric – but don't worry, this is aimed at getting other people's attention and not intended to reflect badly on your business. In fact, if you do get a more creative review it can go viral, increasing your exposure.
Putting trust in reviews
Trustpilot is an online portal for customers to post reviews about business products and services. While business owners can sign up to Trustpilot for free, they are limited to just responding to reviews.
In order to more actively use Trustpilot as a resource you will need to sign up to a subscription plan, which start at $299 a month (paid annually). Once enrolled, when verified sales are made through the business, the customer who made the sale is invited to post a review on Trustpilot.
Because customer reviews come from verified purchases, this means that Trustpilot ratings carry a particular weight. This is all the more important as Google may display Trustpilot ratings with a business website listing in Google searches.
However, the biggest value is arguably for a business to display a high Trustpilot ranking directly on its website. This helps to reassure potential new customers that the business is indeed worthy of their attention, and can deliver when it comes to customer service.
The result is that so long as the business treats its customers well, the Trustpilot rating should remain high. This is important not just because such a rating can be highly visible online, but also because it can encourage new custom and increase sales.
Not just for travel companies
TripAdvisor is a website where users can post reviews of holiday and hospitality-related services. It is considered an essential guide for travelers looking to find not just hotels and holidays, but also places to eat and other local services. Because of this, it is also an essential platform for any associated businesses to engage with customers.
While it may be regarded principally as a travel-based website, it has a wider remit that can include a lot of other services, not least business events that may include your company. This is especially the case in the "Things to do" category, where any business products or services encountered by tourists and travelers may come up.
For that reason, a lot of companies that are otherwise not directly involved in the holiday or hospitality business need to pay attention, especially if they are involved in or sponsor local events or other local promotions which may be mentioned. TripAdvisor provides an opportunity to reach a wider audience than you might expect, especially if there is any tourism activity in your area, so it can be an important website to claim your business listing on.
Basic listings are free, but you can pay extra to have a featured listing.
Don’t forget your social reputation…
Facebook is the world's biggest social media platform, which means it can provide an essential vertical for ensuring your business reputation. This means not simply treating the website as a direct marketing opportunity, but instead as a communications platform – in other words, not just talking to customers, but listening to them.
Facebook makes it simple for you to create a dedicated page for your business, so you can easily interact with Facebook users, listen to customer concerns, and try to resolve difficult issues to everyone's satisfaction. This is especially important because Facebook users will commonly use the website's search function to find a company if they have a problem, in order to raise it directly with that business.
While bad customer experiences are in nobody's interests, at least having a Facebook page to make it easy for negatively impacted customers to reach you can help to turn the situation around. Better still, being able to provide a good resolution on such a public platform can help encourage other users to consider your products or services.
While privacy concerns continue to plague Facebook, remember that ultimately, you do have a degree of control, and can choose what business details and information you wish to share with the social network.