If you think that only large brands should worry about their reputation, or that all press is good press, you’re mistaken. In the age of social media, companies of all sizes need to be aware of what their customers are saying – both online and in real life. To stay above the competition, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels – no matter how great your reputation might be.
Everything you do as a small business informs your reputation – from the way you approach your customers in person to your website design. Naturally, the quality of your product should be a priority, but a holistic approach covering all areas of your business is best if you want to keep your reputation afloat.
The impact of Word of Mouth
When you’re growing and evolving as a business, the impact you leave on your customers is everything. Statistics show that happy customers will tell 4-6 people about their experience, while unhappy ones will tell 20. Therefore, if you rely on local trade or a small circle of subscribers, it won’t take much to deter them from your business.
This is called Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM). Although Word of Mouth has always been influential, these days it is more important than ever to monitor what people are saying about your business.
“Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement,” James Cash Penney, founder of J.C. Penney Stores
Studies show that 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing. However, with so many outlets for customers to share their views (in person, on Facebook or via a Google review) there is nowhere to hide if your reputation gets tarnished.
How to avoid a bad reputation
In a perfect world, your business would have only positive reviews and glowing testimonials. However, even the most established companies suffer bad press from time to time. Complaints happen, but the secret lies in knowing how to respond.
A poor reputation can be damaging to a small business, but it doesn’t have to be fatal. As your company grows and evolves, some mistakes are inevitable. Therefore, you need to have a reputation management strategy in place to help you deal with the fallout.
How to manage your small business reputation
A multifaceted approach is necessary for managing your reputation as a small business. These are some key areas to focus on:
• Monitor online reviews
A negative Google or Trip Advisor review is less than ideal, but it is far less likely to leave lasting damage if responded to promptly.
Of course, with so many platforms to check, not every business owner has time to trawl through the Internet looking for comments and reviews. Therefore, the easiest way to stay on top of online reviews is to set up a Google Alert for your business name. Make sure you have accounts on Google and Yelp and that you respond to most (if not all) reviews and comments – even the positive ones. Doing this will improve your relationships with customers and help you minimize reputational damage.
• Have a consistent brand strategy
As a small business, your marketing will directly affect your reputation. Therefore, if you want your target audience to trust your brand, you need to create consistent marketing content and manage your public image.
Obviously, you should be careful not to offend anyone or post inappropriate content, but you also need to focus on the subtle messages in your marketing. Make sure all your blog posts, tweets, Facebook comments, signs and banners reflect your message, and that all of your team are reading from the same page. Remember that good brand marketing always tells a story.
Don’t spam your customers either. Cluttering up their mailboxes or continually posting ads on social media will only annoy your followers. This approach also undermines your authority and makes your business look desperate. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid posting content that’s overly promotional, or that doesn’t provide value to the customer.
• Build engagement
Managing your reputation isn’t just about damage control. You also want to encourage positive feedback by engaging with your customers. If you run a restaurant or café, for example, this might involve handing out loyalty cards with “Leave us a Trip Advisor review” printed on the back. You could also offer a discount or prize for anyone who reviews you online.
Engaging face-to-face with your customers is a great way to build your reputation, but you shouldn’t neglect people who reach out to you online. Whether they send you a complaint email or a complimentary Tweet, be sure to respond appropriately. Not only will this show your customers that you value their input, but it will also help boost your rank in search engines and help you build authority online.
• Create a positive company culture
Current and past employees will talk to others about your business. There’s no avoiding it. Therefore, it’s important to look after your employees and create a positive work environment, so those people have only good things to say about your business.
Indications of a healthy company culture include diversity, respect, fair treatment, equal opportunities, and honest communication. To create a positive company culture, you also need to place yourself as a strong leader with a good sense of direction and purpose.
You should also try not to share any negative feelings you have about the business with your team, and these can quickly spread and create a toxic atmosphere.
Don’t neglect your small business reputation
No matter the size of your business, you must develop a reputation strategy. Small businesses often rely on customer loyalty to grow and evolve, so it’s imperative to stay above the competition.
Of course, the best way to ensure a good reputation is to provide a quality product and exceptional customer experience – both online and in person. However, managing your reputation also involves a certain amount of damage control. Your job is to minimize complaints and reviews, but not shy away from them when they inevitably crop up.
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