When you think of reputation, what do you think of? It’s a good bet that online reviews will spring immediately to mind. Little wonder, given how vital they are to local businesses today and how much they influence the opinions and actions of potential customers.

The truth is, reputation marketing for local businesses goes well beyond the humble consumer review…

It isn’t just about proactively taking steps to acquire online reviews and responding to them across various platforms.

It isn’t just ensuring you always put your best ‘public’ foot forward on social media with carefully curated content and updates.

It isn’t just sending out a PR to celebrate a great case study, award or endorsement, or networking with reporters to be mentioned in articles or on TV.

Reputation marketing is the broader overall strategy which sets out how each of those micro actions will be conducted and directed, with each considered in line with how the organization wishes to be perceived. It encompasses all of your brand messaging, tactics such as how you amplify good reviews, and plans for how you will cope in a PR crisis.

Forbes contributor Steve Olenski observed that with so much information available on demand online and so many forums for sharing opinions and experiences, reputation is created from a range of sources – comments, shares, recommendations, reviews etc. – and a constantly evolving ecosystem which shifts and changes at warp speed thanks to new publishers, platforms and apps springing up at a lightning pace.

Reputation marketing recognizes this and brings clarity to the chaos in the form of a documented global strategy that unites and controls the wealth of channels.

Why is reputation marketing important?

If the closest you have to reputation marketing at the moment is a crisis management plan (such as a template for responding to negative reviews) and you’ve done just fine with that so far, you might be wondering if you really need to invest the time as a local business to scale up your reputation marketing.

Taking a management stance means you’re reacting once the damage has been done. Your reputation is your most valuable asset, and if you’re only taking care of it when a blow has been delivered, it’s already at risk. The Harvard Business Review puts it this way: “Knowing first aid is not the same as protecting your health.”

Reputation is important to businesses big and small

Whether you’re the head of a juggernaut brand like BP, Airbnb or Ford Motors, or you run a ‘mom and pop’ convenience store, a bed and breakfast or a local veterinary surgery, what people say and think about your brand and business matters. It has a direct impact on whether people want to spend their money with you, feel they can trust you or would be better off with a competitor.

Reputation marketing isn’t just for big business. We’ve all seen examples of major organizations putting reputation marketing to work for them, but it’s just as vital for local businesses to embrace this discipline and have a strategy in place to amplify the good and deal with the bad.

The task of reputation marketing doesn’t have to weigh heavily on your local business as there are a multitude of affordable tools out there which can do some of the heavy lifting.

A free Google Alert, for example, can notify you of any online mentions of your brand. ResponseSource or HARO can deliver journalist requests directly to your inbox to scour PR opportunities, while BrightLocal’s own small business solutions can help you grow your customer reviews.

The perception of your brand directly impacts your bottom line

Brandwatch defines brand perception as both fluid and in the hands of consumers. They say,

Brand perception is owned by consumers, not brands. Regardless of your message, whatever people are thinking and saying about your brand, that is your brand.”

Meanwhile, marketer Dana DiTomaso says that “your brand is your promise”.

Those two statements, when put together, go a long way towards explaining why the perception of your brand matters – it tells the consumer what they can expect from you, and that is shaped by what is being said and shared online by others.

This is further compounded by the fact that the vast majority of consumers do their own research before making an important decision. Data released by Pew Research confirms that 81% will seek out their own information before making a decision and that journey, most often, starts online and involves resources such as Google and online reviews.

Pew Research notes that as trust in traditional institutions such as government has declined, the number of people posting reviews, comments and ratings online of things they buy and experience has soared. This has led to an interesting term, ‘distributed trust’.

Ratings and reviews are embedded in the path to purchase

Online ratings and reviews are now a pivotal stop on the path to purchase. They are used at each stage of the buyer journey, from initial research, through the consideration phase and through to playing a decisive role in decision making. Such is their power, 8 in 10 young adults ‘never’ buy anything without first looking at online reviews.

That figure is all the more impressive when you also consider that the same study found that half of all consumers will consult reviews and ratings before purchasing, yet just 8% will ask friends or family members.

BrightLocal’s annual Local Consumer Review Survey has tracked the growing importance of online reviews for a decade. Our latest figures indisputably demonstrate that reviews play a very nuanced role across the whole buyer journey:

  • Reviews help to establish trust, with consumers reading 10 reviews on average before feeling they can trust a local business.
  • 91% of consumers say that reading positive online reviews make them more likely to use a business.
  • Online reviews are the digital word of mouth, with 76% trusting them as much as recommendations from friends and family.
  • Businesses without 5 stars risk losing 12% of their potential customers.

A key point to note here is that the power of reviews isn’t restricted to review platforms. A cohesive reputation marketing strategy will allow you to repurpose and leverage your reviews to their fullest across a range of channels to amplify their impact. That could mean sharing on social media, posting on your website, creating case studies or showcasing in a TV ad.

Trust matters

Consumer trust is the heartbeat of your organisation. Without it, your local business simply isn’t sustainable.

Today, consumer trust is harder to win and more important to hold on to than ever. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust? discovered that being able to trust a brand is a major factor in purchase for 81% of consumers.

With three quarters of respondents saying they actively tried to avoid advertising by using things like ad blockers, reputation marketing can help you to demonstrate trustworthiness and create a positive brand perception, using a range of channels (reviews, social media, PR and local search, for example) in a joined-up and cohesive, consistent manner.

It gives you a rounded view of your business

At its most basic level, taking proactive measures to establish a positive reputation simply makes good business sense.

Through the course of reputation marketing, you’ll have opportunities to study how consumers perceive your brand, what they loved or loved about your business, where the niggles and disappointments were, even how you stack up against competitors.

This is not just a chance to see your business through the eyes of your customers, but an opportunity to gather intel and data which could help you make improvements and refine your offering.

Reputation is important for recruitment

Your business is only as good as its people. And to recruit the best people, you need a stellar reputation.

Research by the online jobs board Indeed revealed that just 23% of job seekers would be able to overlook a negative reputation when researching a prospective employer. For local businesses this is especially important, with LinkedIn reporting that a strong brand can help to lower the cost of recruitment, attract better candidates and speed up the time taken to fill vacancies.

How to build a reputation marketing strategy

Developing a reputation marketing strategy doesn’t need to be intimidating! Think of it as a fact-finding mission, followed by the creation of a plan to focus your efforts on the things that matter most to you.

Step 1: Research your current reputation

Your first task is to understand where you stand right now. What are people saying about you? How are they rating your products and services? What is their perception of your business?

Assembling all of this information manually can be daunting, but you don’t have to. There are numerous tools available to automate and speed up this process.

You could use Hootsuite or similar to compile brand mentions across the social media ecosystem, for example. BrightLocal can help you track reviews. There are numerous free and paid tools to track brand mentions as a result of PR activity and media mentions. Awario will clue you in to any mention of your brand across the web including in forums, blogs and news reports.

For this data to be useful, though, you’ll need to assign context and sentiment, so try to quantify them. A simple system such as ‘positive, negative, neutral’ is an easy place to start.

For small amounts of data, take a sample of statements from across these channels to get a general idea of how people are feeling about your brand. Be sure not to let your unconscious bias lead to you pick only very good or very bad comments. Cast a broad net.

Step 2: Send a NPS Survey

NPS (Net Promoter Score) is a scale which runs from -100 to 100. You ask a series of questions and then apply the scale to measure how willing your customers are to recommend your local business.

It helps you to understand loyalty and sentiment, which is useful when developing your reputation marketing strategy as it shows you what you’re working with, highlights any reputation problems to address, and indicates where your focus should lay.

You can use a tool such as Reputation Manager to ask your customers to give you feedback or reviews, and then apply the NPS scale to determine how they feel.

If you don’t want to survey your customers, you could add an NPS popup to your site. Many popular CMS systems, including WordPress, have NPS plug-ins which you can simply download and activate.

Step 3: Find out what matters to your customers and what helps them build trust

Trust is subjective. What gives one person peace of mind may not matter at all to another.

Data from PWC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey paints a very telling picture; consumers have a louder voice than ever before thanks to social media. They also demand more from the brands they do business with.

The survey of 22,000 people across seven countries revealed that more than one in three consumers consider ‘trust in brand’ as one of their top three reasons for choosing any given business. But that trust has many facets; brands need to be authentic, responsive to feedback, transparent, dependable, consistent, offer good customer service, maintain a high product or service quality, consider sustainability, have an ethical supply chain… the list goes on.

The purpose of this step is to find out what your customers expect from you.

Are they likely to forgive slow shipping if your customer service and product quality is top notch?

Do they expect a highly personalized service or do they appreciate more straightforward communications?

A crucial part of this stage of the process is determining which platforms, forums, apps and websites your audience uses.  PWC’s research suggests that social networks are the most influential resource when a consumer is deciding what to buy, but you need to know which social networks your audience specifically turns to.

Do they prefer Facebook to Twitter or Instagram to Facebook? Which newspapers do they read? Which forums are they active on? Which review platforms do they gravitate towards when they want to read online reviews or leave them after a positive or negative experience?

The purpose of asking these questions is to narrow down where it’s most important to build and manage your reputation. Referring back to the research conducted in step one should give you the answers to these questions.

Step 4: Set goals

For the time you invest in your reputation marketing strategy to really pay dividends, your actions must be both measurable and accountable. The goals you set will directly influence the tactics you adopt to manage your reputation and help you gauge whether or not your approach is effective.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve. If the results of your NPS survey in Step 2 above were disappointing, for example, do you want to see that improve by the end of this project? How are you going to go about that? For example, does your poor reputation stem from a genuinely poor customer experience? If so, you’ll need to start by resolving that.

If you get great reviews, perhaps you want to put a process in place for regular review monitoring to ensure they stay that way.

If you’ve determined that your audience reads a certain newspaper but you fail to feed their journalists positive stories of your achievement, maybe you want to raise your profile there.

You could well find that you need to add to or adjust your goals as you begin to execute your chosen reputation marketing tactics – and that’s fine. Don’t be afraid to adjust them as you get to work so that they continue to help you measure the success (or otherwise) of your efforts.

Step 5: Decide on your tactics

Deciding on the tactics you’ll use is the final piece of the strategic puzzle. From review generation to social media monitoring, you’ll need to choose the activities that help you meet your reputation goals. There’s a lot to pick from so let’s take a look at what your options are.

Overview of reputation marketing tactics

Review generation and monitoring

Requesting reviews from your clients is a no-brainer for reputation marketing. It’s well established that today’s consumers crowdsource information via reviews to help with the decision making process.

We have seen the value placed in the experiences and opinions of others soar over the last decade, with the average consumer now said to spend almost 14 minutes poring over online reviews before making a decision about a local business.

There are many compelling reasons to take a proactive approach to generate as many new reviews as you can:

  • the more new reviews you can obtain, the better your local SEO rankings are likely to be
  • they are trusted by consumers
  • they help to generate sales
  • they give you helpful insight which you can use to improve your business

Perhaps most compelling of all is the fact that 82% of consumers are less likely to use a business if it has negative reviews. This makes a poor reputation extremely costly.

Asking for reviews can be done in a number of ways, including with a review tool such as BrightLocal, via an email template or as a website link.

In addition to gathering reviews, you’ll also need to factor in the time needed to respond to reviews. Your responses are read by consumers searching for your business online, but they also indicate that you value feedback.

To really make the most of your reviews and further move your reputation marketing forwards, share the best outside of the review platform. For example, you could take your top Google reviews and share them on your website, quote them in digital and printed brochures, put them on product packaging or use them in advertising.

Google My Business monitoring

Consumers naturally turn to Google when they want to find a local business or share their experiences with a local business. To be in the loop, you’ll need to monitor your Google My Business profile. If you download the Google My Business app, you’ll receive an alert to your device when someone leaves a review for your business. That makes it easier to read the review and respond promptly.

It can help to think of your Google My Business profile as a mini website – this gets you into the mindset of ensuring that profile information is accurate and images and videos refreshed often.

Don’t forget, images can be a powerful force when cultivating your reputation so selecting professional images and regularly reviewing images shared by consumers is an important box to tick.

In addition to the reviews function, Google My Business has lots of other useful features for reputation marketing, such as the option to share news and offers via Posts, and respond to questions in the Q&A section.

If you haven’t claimed your Google My Business listing yet, it’s free to do so. Our guide here has step-by-step instructions.

Social media monitoring

Today’s consumers don’t just use social media to catch up with friends – it’s increasingly a place to discover new brands and products, aid in decision making and connect with local businesses.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing found that 62% of consumers now rely on their preferred social networks to influence their buying decisions. This figure rises to 78% for 16-24 year olds and 77% for 25-34. That alone is reason enough for your local business to factor social media monitoring into your reputation marketing strategy.

Adding a social media monitoring tool to your arsenal means you can keep abreast of what is being said about your local business on social media. There are plenty of free and paid tools available online with popular options including HubSpot, Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social.

Broadly speaking, you can segment your social media listening into two parts:

Part 1 is the monitoring itself, which flags up mentions of your brand (either manually or using a tool).

Part 2 is taking stock of those mentions, understanding the sentiment and then taking appropriate action, such as taking part in the conversation, thanking the social media user for their feedback or directing them to a relevant resource.

Monitoring brand mentions on the web

Opinions and comments about your local business aren’t just restricted to review platforms and social media; they can appear anywhere, from local newspapers and trade press to to forums and blogs.

This means you need to monitor the web to stay up to date with positive and negative comments about your business, ensure you’re able to react to them accordingly.

Keeping tabs on brand mentions online can be largely automated – simply go to Google and set up a Google Alert for your business name.

It’s advisable to also set up alerts for your own name if you are closely associated with the business and any brands or products specific to you. If you have budget available, there are a number of dedicated tools available. Brandwatch, Awario, Mention, Meltwater and Brand24 are good starting points.

When you’re actively seeking out what people are saying about you, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across negative mentions at some point. That could be in the form of a disgruntled customer, a disparaging rival or a less-than-glowing review on a blog or in a magazine.

The whole point of reputation marketing is to find this information early so you can react quickly and minimize the damage, which brings us nicely on to…

Crisis management

We’ve all heard the old saying that ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. Crisis management is one area where it really does pay to be prepared. The last thing you want is to find yourself faced with a crisis and no plan in place for minimizing the damage.

The easiest way to do this is to create a list of the worst case scenarios you can think of. Divide them into levels of crisis such as bad, very bad, the worst, and then outline what to do in each instance.

You’ll also want to assign specific roles to specific people so everyone knows what’s expected of them and who is responsible for putting out a press statement or updating social media.

Crisis management is a big deal so it’s worth doing your research. Mention has a 20-minute on-demand video sharing tips on how to respond to negative press, while Meltwater has a free crisis communications guide and The Chartered Institute of Public Relations also has a free library of webinars, podcasts and skills guides dedicated to handling an online crisis.

A crisis management plan isn’t something to be afraid of. It’s something that can be a lifeline when you’re being pulled in a dozen different directions and trying to save your business.

Even the biggest brands find themselves very publicly in the midst of a crisis from time to time, but you can turn a negative into a positive with the right approach!

Take a look at examples of the best-managed PR crises from brands such as KFC (running out of chicken), Starbucks (reacting to the actions of a racist customers) and Crockpot (ever seen This Is Us?) if you need a little inspiration.

Public relations

Reputation marketing isn’t just about reacting to what people are already saying; it is also about actively creating positivity around your business. Traditionally, this falls under the umbrella of public relations and generating positive press about your company.

Gone are the days when this meant you had to be well-connected to every editor on Fleet Street or have a direct line to the New York Times. It’s a myth to think you need a little black book of contacts to have any hope of getting your name in print. It’s entirely achievable for local businesses, so don’t be put off including this in your reputation marketing toolkit. All you need is a good story, a willingness to pick up the phone and perseverance.

PR isn’t a quick fix. You can’t send out a PR one day and wake up to front page news the next. While that may happen once in a blue moon, in most cases it takes time to build momentum and secure coverage, so the ‘slow and steady’ approach wins the race.

With that in mind, you’ll need to incorporate other PR tactics, such as sponsoring local events or organizations and entering local business awards. Both of these are also good ways to build links back to your site from reputable, relevant local sources to help with your local SEO.

HubSpot has a series of free PR templates here along with examples and tips for creating a newsworthy PR to boost the chances of your news getting picked up by journalists.

Conclusion

Reputation marketing is a broad area of activity with lots of moving parts, so you’ll need to be mindful of the broader strategy, goals and performance to master it. Using the strategy above and selecting the tactics that are right for your local business and current situation puts lots of benefits at your fingertips.

These methods and this approach enables you to see your business through your customers’ eyes. Most importantly, reputation marketing will help you bring your business and your customers closer together.

Do you have reputation marketing stories or strategies to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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