Brand Control: Reputation Management for the Entrepreneur

July 31, 2015

Starting a business is undeniably hard.

For many entrepreneurs, it measures as one of the hardest things they’ll ever do. Launching a company is unlike almost any other profession: it takes over all hours, moves incredibly fast, and requires personal investment and sacrifice unlike any job or education. From bootstrapping the earliest days of the business to hiring, managing, and sometimes even firing a team, launching a new venture entails total immersion.

This complete submission to the business can feel like it takes more than it gives back. As a result, certain corners of the process tend to be overlooked — especially when the list of paying customers is still short, and revenue is the primary concern. One such area is brand control: the systematic measurement and management of what prospective buyers can find out about you and your business online.

This kind of reputation management is particularly important for any business that relies on distribution channels where user submitted reviews play a role. Whether selling on Amazon, iTunes, or in a brick-and-mortar store, understanding and responding to what is being said about your business is essential to long term growth. Surveys show that 90% of all consumer buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, and that consumers treat reviews online from sources such as Yelp, Google+, and Yahoo as being the most trustworthy advertising medium by far.


Reputation Management Matters

By consistently reading and responding to these online reviews, however, business owners can ensure that the effort, investment, and sacrifice they’ve made in starting their companies is not undermined by a few critical comments or an unfairly written perspective.

One of the truths of online marketing is that the breadth of material about a business or product extends far beyond the scope of what the company or vendor releases directly. While it’s critically important to have clear content marketing, a robust strategy for developing leads, and a consistent set of branding guidelines when describing your own company, few entrepreneurs spend time or energy on what other people are saying about them.

This is a mistake, but thankfully, it’s one that can be addressed fairly easily. Justin Morgan, of Dental Marketing Guy explains “a strong framework for reputation management needs to encompass three things: Awareness of where users are searching for your business, Responsiveness to reviews in a consistent and brand-friendly way, Continual focus on building external champions for your product and company.”


Become an Engaged Voice

A key component of a robust reputation management strategy is to have a well-defined and documented response workflow, laid upon a foundation of what kind of brand and company you are, and reflective of how you project that identity to the world.

While few review sites will allow you to directly remove information that other users have posted, most do allow business owners to respond. Actively doing so, both by thanking reviewers for positive feedback and addressing the concerns raised in any negative comments, has both an immediate effect on the reviewer as well as a compound result of demonstrating commitment to customer service and engagement.

Engagement is a powerful differentiator, and over time, communicating clearly and consistently can help to assuage even the most skeptical prospect when they do come across less than stellar reviews. It shows that you care, and that you are present and accessible — key components in many buying decisions.


Measure and Monetize Your Community

A further benefit of this kind of responsiveness is that you will begin to build a community around your product. When prospects can see and reach out to your satisfied user base, you reap the rewards twice: first in that you have a much higher chance of closing new deals, and secondly in that your message and values are projected without requiring staff to do so.

As a baseline approach, if your distribution channels allow for reviews, consider prompting buyers to write a few lines about your product after they’ve used it for a week or two. Similarly, when someone has a good support experience — ideally one that you’ve measured from a follow-up survey after they contacted your team — consider asking them to post about it on social media. By working with users to create positive reviews when they’re most likely to feel satisfied, it is possible to create a widely distributed set of positive data points that come from people other than your own marketing or sales team.

Don’t overlook the signaling effect that comes from this kind feedback. Research suggests that by nurturing the most enthusiastic customers, CEOs and operational leaders can materially impact company and revenue growth.

Reputation management is the entry point for this kind of community-driven promotion, and it’s approachable — even vital — for very small companies to engage in it. The path towards long term market adoption relies on creating a brand that’s known for being responsive, delighting most customers, and having a wide set of supports to whom prospective buyers can turn when deciding if they want to join you.

It’s that simple and powerful.

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