While the internet does present numerous opportunities for small businesses to speak to customers and reach new markets in ways previously unobtainable, it has also encouraged the rise of the consumer champion — and has elevated customer voices, opinions and experiences to levels of unbridled exposure. Where previously a customer of a small business may have complained only to the business itself, before having the situation resolved or moving on, now the risk is that consumers will take their complaints online for all to see.
No business wants a bad reputation, online or off, but gaining a poor online reputation can happen at a fast pace and cause extensive brand damage. For small businesses this can be devastating, but what can be done if you don’t have teams of people specialising in PR or departments of digital marketing staff ready to intervene? Fear not. There is a lot that can still be done!
Monitor social media
Now that social media lends itself to so many as a way of documenting the trials and tribulations of daily life, brands and business interactions are often mentioned publicly on these channels — and not always in a positive manner. There are various free social media monitoring tools that can flag up instances of a brand, product or service name being posted about, but for those with a real lack of resource, monitoring can be done informally. Google Alerts can be set up to email interested parties any time content with a certain word or phrase is posted. Saving hashtags on social media channels can also be helpful. Ensure notifications are turned on for all tags on social media channels and linked to a smartphone or device so that posts can be quickly checked for their content when flagged.
Facilitate online reviews
If businesses do not give their customers the opportunity to post online reviews in a designated place, they will go on to post them anyway — entirely uncontrolled. Using a third party independent review website allows for rapid monitoring and responses to reviews, as well as the ability to use analysis software and tools ‘behind the scenes’ to judge customer sentiment, areas for concern and improvement, repeat themes of feedback and even Net Promoter Score. These clever programs give insights into customer perceptions and actual experiences, allowing businesses to continually improve and confirm regularly that they’re moving in the right direction for their audience and onward brand and business growth.
Brands who build rapport with their customers (both existing and potential) online are more likely to understand their audience and their wants and needs better than brands who do not. This alleviates the risk of issues happening, and/or escalating, as well as encourages consumers to communicate directly with the brand, should any problems arise. Reputation management isn’t just about avoiding negative ‘buzz’, but nurturing positive engagement and communications too. There are many examples of good conversational online brand management about — consider the supermarkets all chipping in on the Cuthbert vs Colin caterpillar debate, and Specsavers intervening in missed goals and Barnard Castle eyesight tests. Online engagement need not be just sell, sell, sell!
Know your audience
While it may seem as though every brand should have a Facebook and Instagram as standard social media fare, this will never be appropriate for everyone. Knowing a business’s target audience is imperative to ensuring that they show up in the right place for those people — posting the right content, in the right place, at the right time. Doing too much or the wrong thing online takes up unnecessary time and may lose customer engagement as the content posted simply won’t be of interest to them. If a company truly understands its audience, it can tailor their online presence to them to best fit.
In the event that something does go wrong and a customer airs their issue online, don’t be afraid to intervene and respond as soon as possible. Apologise, broach a communication channel that is suitable for a more detailed discussion as appropriate to them, and be upfront and honest about the issue that has occurred. In any apology or statement issued, include a mention of what work is being done to rectify the problem and stay open, honest and transparent about progress made. No business is perfect, but the general public are more likely to have a little sympathy for small businesses over large corporations.
Nine times out of ten, the fear of inadvertently generating a poor online reputation is worse than it actually happening. ‘Cancel culture’ is overstated and very, very rarely would such a mass action be taken against a small business. Simply knowing your audience, staying active online and being open in communications can help negate the risks and even boost your brand — online and off — to all who come across it.