8 ways to effectively manage your online reputation

how to manage your online reputation
Whatever you do don’t stick your head in the sand and hope problems will go away

Reputation is the lifeblood of any business. Here are 8 things you can do to make your online presence sparkle and attract new, engaged customers.

There’s a famous line in Shakespeare’s Othello.

It’s belted out by Michael Cassio, a flamboyant Florentine who sees his world falling apart. In a tense moment he cries out in desperation to his friend Iago:

Reputation, reputation, reputation!”

Little does he know that his ‘friend’ is actually a snake, hell-bent on destroying his reputation (and the reputation of everyone around him). The outcome is bleaker than ten thousand Eastenders Christmas specials combined.

Reputation is everything.

We care about what other people think of us. As we get older we might worry less about some of the small things (I don’t care what people think of my odd socks) but on the whole we all want to be liked, respected, thought well of.

It’s not just on a personal level either.

Businesses are built on reputation which is
why it really pays to manage yours

When 3 different friends tell you that Bob the plumber is a trustworthy chap who gets the job done at a great price the chances are you’ll listen.

We’d much rather use someone with a great track record than someone we’ve never heard of.

It happens online too.

If 353 people on Amazon give a book a 5 star review and a sparkling write up there’s a good chance others will think about buying it.

The way we shop and engage with businesses is constantly evolving. It used to be that if you wanted to talk about your bank account you’d make an appointment with your bank manager.

Now you can tweet someone at the bank from your mobile phone while listening to thrash metal, eating a sandwich and playing a game of scrabble online. All at the same time.

Like it or loathe it everything we do is entangled in a great web of connectivity. In the age of smartphones and laptops reputation is more important than ever. People can write reviews while they’re commuting to work.

It can take just a few seconds for someone to write something negative that could damage your business for weeks or months.

How poor reputation management can easily destroy a business

Recently there was a feature on the One Show about a company called Clever Owl (thanks to Insider’s Edge reader Paul for the heads up about this).

I’d never heard of this company but they seemed to have a fantastic fan base.

Actually it was a bit too fantastic…

You see a BBC reporter had uncovered that they’d paid a company on a freelance website to put up fake reviews about them.

Why had they done this?

Yep, reputation.

They had 5 fantastic (and honest) testimonials from former clients but they didn’t feel that was enough.

In an already crowded marketplace they felt they needed to stand out from the crowd and they panicked and took the easy route and paid some dodgy outfit to artificially pump up their reputation.

It’s wrong, misleading and very poor form and he should have known better. At the same time you can see how a stressed small business owner might be tempted.

That doesn’t excuse his actions but it might go some way to towards explaining them. The key thing now was how he would deal with this negative publicity and what we can learn from this.

A great example of turning negative press into something positive

Here’s what happened to Clever Owl.

The guy behind the company faced the music.

It must have taken a lot of guts to do that. He appeared on the One Show on BBC 1 – a programme that goes out to millions of people.

Here’s the thing. Instead of trying to deny the allegations, to shirk responsibility or get defensive, he explained put his hands up and took responsibility.

He was honest, apologetic and very human about the whole thing and you know what? He came across very well.

People, on the whole can be pretty forgiving and if you face up to your mistakes (instead of doing the politician thing of not giving straight answers or trying to hide the truth) you’ll get credit for it.

He’s a sample of the response on Twitter:


I would say that’s pretty supportive. He’s managed to turn a situation where he thought he was going to have to shut down the business into something quite different.

His business got massive coverage for all the wrong reasons but because he was honest and likeable and able to take responsibility he may well have salvaged a bright future for Clever Owl.

He did something else. It’s been taken down now but when all this was going on he changed the logo on his website. Where it normally it said Clever Owl and had a picture of an owl – he’d drawn a little arrow to the logo and written ‘Not so’ so that it read ‘Not So Clever Owl’. Nice touch.

He then posted an article on the front page which you can still see here entitled:

How not to market your business

It’s a good article and I’d recommend giving it a read.

QUICK TIP: Whatever you do, do not use one of these online reputation management firms that seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment. They promise all sorts of wonderful things… like knocking bad reviews off the top pages on Google or getting rid of negative press.

These outfits charge a fortune and you have to ask yourself, how are they doing it? More often than not they employ strategies that mask the problem and create junk sites loaded with certain keywords so that they appear above the negative ones. This is NOT how to deal with the problem long term and could create even more problems than you started with. Positive reviews can get knocked off and you could get punished by Google for using ‘black hat’ strategies.

8 ways to rebuild your online reputation and turn a
‘bad’ situation into something positive

People make mistakes.

Businesses make mistakes because they are run by people.

Sometimes we forget to do things, write things down wrong, or come across a little curt…

Things happen.

Sometimes really bad things happen. A representative of a company lies or misleads a customer or in the case of Clever Owl a desperate chief exec buys fake reviews to try and attract more business.

Again these things happen. They shouldn’t but they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the business is inherently bad. It doesn’t always mean that something can’t be salvaged from the rubble.

What do you do about people complaining online about you or your business?

1. Take a deep breath and try and remain calm

I know that’s easier said than done, because when reputations are on the line emotions run high. If someone’s slagging off your good name (in your mind for no good reason) it can be tempting to go online and publically read them the riot act.

“How DARE you accuse me of this and that and blah blah blah” (replace ‘blah blah blah’ with swear words, a bright red face and good deal of spittle).

What does this achieve? Nothing.

It angers the disgruntled customer further and worse, it shows everyone else who’s reading (potential customers) that you’re a hot head.

Who wants to work with or give business to a hot head? No-one.

Stay calm and rational and polite. Try not to come across as defensive or preachy or condescending or you’ll do even more damage.

2. Nip it in the bud, deal with the issue now before it escalates

One of the worst things you can do is bury your head in the sand. If you ignore the problem the situation can escalate and suddenly that isolated complaint, online rant or bad review can snowball into something far worse.

Before you know it a bloodthirsty mob has mobilized and is egging each other on to vent their frustrations. Left unchecked I’ve seen people/businesses getting absolutely pummelled on forums and comment threads by a handful of disgruntled posters.

I’ve also seen forums where businesses or a representative has gone online and started responding to complaints in a calm, measured and friendly way from the outset.

This immediately puts a human face on things. It lets readers know that you care about your business and reputation and it should help put an end to speculation and slander.

3. If someone’s written something about you that’s untrue or inflammatory see if you can get it deleted!

Every now and again you’ll get someone hell-bent on spewing bile and misinformation no matter what the consequences to you or your business.

Some are just lonely and looking for attention, others are jealous or disturbed. More often than not I expect they’ve had a few too many pints that night and are spoiling for a fight.

Rather than getting into a long drawn out battle with someone who’s never going to see reason, try getting in touch with the individual or organisation who manages the website.

Explain the situation and ask them to remove the offending comment. If it’s on a social networking site you may be able to simply click the ‘report a violation’ button and proceed that way.

If someone makes completely unfounded claims or allegations about you or your business and you can prove it, or if they write something that could be classified as ‘hate speech’ (for example anything that’s racist or homophobic or sexist) the law is on your side. The last thing a webmaster wants is a hassle from the authorities.

4. If you’ve got it wrong apologise – with feeling

It’s not just about what you say… it’s often about what you don’t say.

How do you feel when you get bad customer service?

Not good right. The thing is most of us are reasonable people and know that mistakes happen. Computer’s crash, emails get lost in spam folders, human beings occasionally get things wrong.

I went through a complaints procedure with 2 companies recently. Both cases involved overcharging and poor accounts management.

Company A – Has offered no apology for any of their actions, despite the fact I have hard evidence that I have been overcharged. This has meant that I’ve got even more annoyed – not only is this company incompetent, they don’t take responsibility for their actions. As a result I’ve complained higher and higher up the chain. Now they’re facing an investigation from the Ombudsman.

Company B – Have emailed and then called and spoke to me at length to try and put the situation right. They listened to my concerns, apologised with feeling and as a result we now have a stronger business relationship. When I launched the complaint with them I had in my mind that I was going to push for compensation – when I got off the phone I felt that I didn’t want to do this at all.

Here’s the crazy thing.

The time Company B spent putting the situation right must be a 100 times less (that’s no exaggeration) than the time Company A must have spent writing me defensive responses and trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility.  Company B are also getting A LOT of bad press from me as I bore my friends incessantly about them in the pub.

5. Be human and use humour if appropriate

You want people to see you as a person, not a faceless business. It’s easy to get angry at a ‘thing’, at something we don’t see as having feelings.

I know a lot of people who rant and rave about McDonalds for example: “I hate everything they stand for” etc. etc.

Now these same people are extremely unlikely to go into a chain of McDonalds and start shouting at the girl behind the till about the “plague of junk food on society.”

Why not? Because we’re more sympathetic to people than we are to brands.

Don’t be afraid to use humour where possible too! This won’t always be appropriate (and you need to judge this on a case by case basis) but sometimes a bit of self-deprecating humour can be a great way to diffuse tension.

Whatever you do, never make a joke at the other person’s expense (they won’t find that funny) and don’t make light of their concerns.

However a bit of humour at your own expense can help show that you’re human and that’s at the heart of it really.

6. Thank them for bringing any issues to your attention

If someone’s pointed out that you’ve made a mistake that’s helped you to see where there are problem areas in your business, thank them!

Again this will put you in a much better light. It’ll show that you’ve been able to admit your mistakes and that you’re willing to learn from them.

People admire that kind of honesty and will be pleasantly surprised that you’ve not only taken their complaint seriously but that you’re doing everything you can to stop it happening in the future.

They may even start singing your praises to others. A well dealt with complaint can be fantastic PR.

7. Make positive changes where possible – and then shout about them!

Reputation management doesn’t just have to be about damage limitation, it can be about improving your brand, your business, even the way you work.

The most successful businesses learn from their mistakes – and put new measures in to help prevent them from happening again.

Saying “sorry” and then repeating the same mistake again is completely pointless. Think about how you can improve things and put new measures in place.

If they’re things that are going to improve your service let people know. Send out an email to clients and say “we’ve listened to what you have to say and we’ve put some changes in place that we’re pretty excited about…”

Suddenly a complaint or a problem has turned into a selling point.

8. Keep an eye on your Social Media accounts – remember, the whole world is watching

Twitter in particular is used in news stories all the time these days. Sometimes it IS the news story.

It’s a fantastic source of quotes and incriminating sound bytes for journalists.

They can simply go on there for free and look at everything an individual has said on that platform for as long as they’ve been on the site.


All the drunk throwaway comments, all the angry rants, the slightly risqué jokes, everything.

The same thing happens to an extent with Facebook (although they might have to blag their way into friending you or finding someone who already is). Those pictures of you on holiday when you were young and doing things that perhaps you shouldn’t suddenly come back to haunt you.

We’ve seen recently just how dramatic the implications can be. This policeman has just had to resign after Tweeting about Margaret Thatcher and this 17 year old girl, Paris Brown, has had to do the same after offensive tweets (some of them years old) were found on her page.

Paris makes a good point when she says:

“I’m sure many people today would not have the jobs they are in if their thoughts in their teenage years were scrutinised.”

She’s absolutely right. The problem is we need to adapt to a new world were technology and information is king. To stay on top of your online reputation you need to be managing it effectively.

That means…

– If you’re on Facebook set your account to private so that only friends can see status updates and comments and photos (make sure your photos are set to private as well). Don’t post anything offensive – because once it’s there, written in black and white – you don’t know who might have seen it. Let off steam in the pub with your friends.

– If you’re on Twitter NEVER EVER write anything that you wouldn’t be happy for a potential customer or employer to read.

If want to have an account where you want to vent why not make a parody account under a completely different name and email address? Twitter allows you to do this.

– Make sure you manage any other social networking sites you might be on. LinkedIn for example or MySpace or one of the other networks.

A couple of years ago I had to hire a couple of new writers where I was working. You know what the first thing I did after I’d shortlisted the best CVs? I name checked them online so I could whittle them down further. Nearly every employer does this.

Remember everything that you put out their online that’s public is an advertisement of you.

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