The Internet brings with it many advantages for consumers, not the least of which is the liberty that online users have to say anything they want, whenever they want. The ability to opine about any given topic means that the Web is rich with discussion about culture, sports, and politics, to say nothing of businesses and areas of consumer interest. While the chance for consumers to weigh in on products and services may seem like a good thing, it is not without its downsides -—particularly for the companies that makes those products and services.
As more consumers turn to the Internet for advice about companies and brands, business owners are increasingly endangered by the threat of bad reviews, online complaints, and even scam accusations. For industry-leading reputation management firm Reputation Changer, scam accusations are particularly lethal. By understanding the real risk that is involved, business owners can take the first step toward defending their brands from defamation.
An Ever-Present Threat
Many business owners believe that by focusing on offering excellent products and stellar services, they can ensure that their online reputation is above reproach. While striving to maintain a superior business is certainly admirable, it does not offer immunity from online complaints or from the threat of scam accusations. Because the Internet all but guarantees full, anonymous freedom of expression, anyone can say whatever he or she wants to say about a brand, regardless of how truthful or factual it is. This means that a bad review or scam accusation may be baseless and it may come from a source other than an actual customer—like a disgruntled ex-employee or even from a business rival.
The Cost is Enormous
The consequences of a single bad review or scam accusation are steep. There is much embarrassment that comes from this kind of online defamation, but that is only the beginning of the problem. Because consumers are increasingly turning to the Web to make informed decisions about major purchases, online defamation can lead to lost customers and sharply diminished sales. When a consumer sees that a brand has a less-than-stellar online reputation, it is all too easy to use Google or Bing to locate the closest competitor and take his or her business elsewhere.
There are further consequences of online defamation. A negative online reputation can lead to an increase in chargebacks and refund requests; a consumer who is on the fence about a product will be much more likely to express dissatisfaction if he or she sees that others have done the same. Similarly, bad reviews or scam accusations encourage consumers to post more bad reviews and scam accusations.
Protecting Your Brand
Even a company like Reputation Changer cannot prevent consumers from posting bad reviews, or from accusing your company of being disreputable. However, there are steps that any business owner can take toward brand protection. By insulating your brand with positive content, you can effectively render negative reviews and online complaints non-issues.
The first step that any business owner should take is that of careful reputation monitoring. Remember that a negative review or scam accusation can appear at any time and from any source. As such, it is vital for business owners to remain vigilant in checking out their own companies on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. One practical idea is to simply establish news alerts, automatically letting you know when new search engine listings appear that mention the name of your brand or your products.
Simply monitoring an online reputation is not enough; businesses must also be proactive in shaping their reputation. By establishing a strong, positive brand image, you effectively create a defensive wall, protecting yourself from negative reviews and online complaints. The first step is to sign up for exact-match domain names, asserting control over the brands most likely to rank well on Google whenever a user searches for your brand. Exact-match domains for a company called ABC Hardware, for example, would include ABCHardware.com, ABCHardware.net, ABC-Hardware.com, and so on. Even if you don’t plan to use all of these domains right away, buying them up means that they’re under your control; it’s a vital layer of reputation protection.
From there, cultivate as much positive, brand-enhancing content as you can. This content will populate the first page of search engine results, keeping complaints and negative reviews at bay. Post content —- whether a blog, a company bio, or product information—to those exact-match domains. Maintain vigorous social media activity, on as many social platforms as possible. These listings will cumulatively form a defensive content wall that makes it more difficult for those negative listings to poke through.
A good reputation is worth its metaphoric weight in gold—now more than ever before. According to Reputation Changer, scam accusations and unreasonable reviews can prove detrimental, but businesses have the power to protect themselves from this kind of online defamation.
Rich Gorman is considered an industry expert in the field of Reputation Management with over 10 years of experience with online marketing. He is currently working at ReputationChanger.com and also managing DirectResponse.net, the official blog for the Direct Response Industry.