How to Avoid An Online Reputation Crisis

online reputation crisis - your reputation matters

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As a business owner, you know how important your reputation is online and in your local community. It takes years to build a great reputation and only seconds to completely destroy it. With the globally connected digital and social media world we live in, small businesses are becoming more and more concerned with the possibility of an online reputation crisis.

If you’re wondering, “how can I protect my reputation online from a potential crisis?”, then you’ve come to the right place. The marketing and PR tips below will help you avoid most online reputation crises.

What is an Online Reputation Crisis?

Online reputation crises have become a trend the past 5 years. Over the past few months alone we have been inundated with stories of alleged racism and discriminatory behavior from business owners. Business owners all across the country are being “outed” and boycotted for their political leanings and for the hobbies and activities they do outside the workplace. It’s never been easier to go viral, for the right or wrong reasons, and that’s terrifying for many businesses.

In case you haven’t been following along at home, here are some real life examples of recent social media and reputation crises that have happened to local businesses:

The Local Lion Killer

Remember Walter Palmer? He’s the dentist that shot Cecil the Lion while on a hunting trip in Zimbabwe. Shortly after the news article was published that he had shot Cecil, the Yelp page for his business was immediately overrun with negative reviews. Most of the reviews that came in were from people online that had never even visited his dental practice, but they had read the story about Cecil and felt obligated to share their two cents. Needless to say, it’s going to take a while for his dental practice to recover.

Racism and Wings

The owner of Just Wing It, a restaurant in Pennsylvania, was recently accused of using racial slurs towards a patron. It didn’t take long for that story to spread and dozens of people to leave 1 star feedback on the business’s review pages, including Yelp, Google, and Facebook.

Here’s one of the reviews you can find on Just Wing It’s Yelp page:

Pittsburgh “Businesses for Trump”

Shortly after the 2016 election, a list was published online of businesses in Pittsburgh that “supported” Donald Trump’s campaign. The list uses “withdraw” or “spend your $ here” to differentiate between businesses that are being protested because the business owner personally donated to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. You can view the list here.

Whether they deserve it or not the situations above are 100% real and the results have been significant. As a business owner, are you prepared to deal with these types of online situations? Are you taking the proper steps to avoid these types of situations? Even with a strong crisis management plan, the truth is that these types of events usually move too fast to be controlled.

Tips to Avoid An Online Reputation Crisis

True or not, if you or you business are accused of discrimination, racism, poaching, bigotry, or even taking a public political stance, it could have significant consequences to your business and the lives of you and your employees. To help you protect your business, we’ve put together this list with a few tips to avoid a reputation crisis in 2017 and beyond.

NOTE: Racists, bigots, and jerks will NOT be able to avoid an online reputation crisis. These tips are to help good people and businesses avoid potentially devastating mistakes. 

1. Remove the Lines Between “Personal and Business”

The internet has removed the lines between who we are professionally and who we are in our “free” time. When used properly, this could be a huge benefit to your business. For example, with social media you and your employees can leverage personal connections to reach more people, make more sales, and grow your business.

These “social” strategies are extremely effective because customers buy from people they know, like, and trust. Who knows, likes, and trusts you better than your inner circle?

Unfortunately, the internet and social media can also do the opposite, potentially destroying everything you’ve worked so hard to build. For example, if you are harassing people, online or offline, there’s a good chance it will end up online and be traced back to you. You should anticipate that any statements or actions you take in public could be found, seen, recorded, posted online, and used against you and your business. 

There are no more arbitrary lines between business and personal. Both worlds are interconnected.

2. Educate Your Employees About Online Reputation

online reputation crisis - your reputation matters

Day in and day out your employees are the face of your business. As the face of your business, they need to understand their role in the business and how their online or offline comments could result in a reputation crisis. They also need to understand that if the business suffers, it could potentially impact everyone’s job and everyone’s pockets.

Recently, a business we work began receiving Facebook messages at random on a Sunday evening. Turns out that one of it’s employees had made a controversial comment about someone’s religion, using their private account, on Facebook.

The purpose of the Facebook messages this business began receiving were to threaten the business to terminate the employee because of his comment. They even wanted the business to make a public statement against that employee. If the business didn’t follow their instructions then the group would have to alert their local friends, family, and online groups to boycott the business. 

Your employees need to understand how their personal and social life is connected with their professional life. They also need to understand how your business’s online reputation impacts the success of your business. For example, many employees don’t realize that 5 star businesses online are chosen ahead of 2 star businesses. A few negative reviews can seriously impact their employment.

3. Provide Excellent Customer Service

Remember, your reputation relies heavily on the quality of your customer service. An angry or disgruntled customer is 100 times louder than a happy customer. This is true both online and offline, but it is amplified online.

The best way to deal with an unhappy customer is by providing exceptional customer service. This is even more important online where the rest of the world can see how you handle the situation. Before the internet you could potentially lose a disgruntled customer without it impacting your business long term. Now, it is more important than ever to ensure that your customers are happy because they are able to share their story with a lot of people online.

One disgruntled customer online can detract hundreds of new customers from calling you for many years. Their comments will live online forever acting like a wall between you and new customers. Keep that in mind next time you are dealing with a frustrating customer.

4. Take Control of Your Online Reputation Before a Crisis Occurs

Building a great business with a great online reputation is the best defense to a potential reputation crisis. 

If you have no reviews online, or even just a few reviews online, then your business is at risk. It would only take a few unhappy customers, or even random people, to attack your business online and destroy your reputation fast, and quite possibly for good. However, if your business has hundreds of 5 star reviews from happy and satisfied customers, then it’s much harder for a small group of people to destroy your online reputation. 

Don’t wait for a reputation crisis to occur before you decide to take control of your online reputation. Take the time today to get happy customers bragging about your business online. Then create a system and routine to ensure that you get new reviews on a regular basis. Having a strong 5 star business online is the best long-term deterrent to a potential reputation threat.

Have questions or need a hand building your online reputation? Join us in the comments below!

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