What’s your online reputation worth?
Small companies can be completely ruined by one person that decide to vent his grievances online. And for large companies losses can amount to millions of dollars. All it takes is one disgruntled employee or customer.
More than an eye for an eye
Today's online world has enabled destructive people to have a field day. Small companies can lose a lot of money and even go bankrupt. Sure companies make mistakes but sometimes there is no proportion between what harm they have caused and the price they have to pay. But still few companies take precautions.
Beware of disgruntled employees and customers
One company got badly hit by a former employee making negative comments in a forum of relevance to their business. The comments swiftly came up high on Google's search results. Another example is an angry customer that took revenge on a small town company that had to close down as a result.
An IT company was mentioned in a thread on an online forum with thousands of comments. What the dissatisfied customer wrote had a huge impact and because the company didn't react swiftly the damage was huge. They are still having problems despite the fact that the customer in question was compensated years ago.
How much does bad online reputation cost you?
Having a bad reputation online can easily be calculated financially per month or year. A company that suddenly has a bad reputation just need to compare their sales to the year before. The difference is the price they are paying.
Ruining your brand or burning your company?
If customers don't dare to buy from you because Google is wrongly giving the impression that your company is surrounded by conflict you will suffer. All it takes for that to happen is that someone googles your name and a revengeful post ends up high on the first page of search engine results.
Is your customer service excellent?
The customer is always right. But regardless if they are or not, you have to make sure your customers are content. Already before the internet one upset customer meant you lost ten. Nowadays you may lose thousands. So having excellent customer service is absolutely fundamental in our online world.
Does your internal communication make staff feel appreciated and important?
Many companies, especially SMEs, have not paid much attention to internal communication and merely regarded it as an expense. Nowadays that’s no longer possible. Do your employees feel “part of the family”? If not, do you communicate in ways that make them see what’s in it for them? Do they have access to you or other superiors to air their grievances? If not, they are likely to vent their concerns online. Nowadays everyone has an online audience, Facebook friends if nothing else. So if your internal communication isn’t making staff identify with and like the company, you have a problem that needs to be rectified swiftly.
How can you change your online reputation?
By pushing already highly-ranked negative posts down search engine results pages so that they are seen by fewer people. Several companies have started blogs and used social media to turn around their reputation online. By constantly updating their blogs and social media accounts it normally takes about three to six months to squeeze the bad post down from the first to second page on Google.
Prevent it from happening
All businesses should keep an eye on the web and do what they can to prevent anyone from harming their reputation. You have to start monitoring SERPs (your search engine result pages) and how and when you are mentioned in online articles and forums. A simple way is to use Google Alerts or other such tools. It's also important to make sure that you own all the URLs that could possibly be used to give the impression that the information comes from you. Angry environmentalists for instance purchased a .net for one company and started publishing negative information with the intent to harm.
Have you adapted to the internet recording everything and forgetting nothing?
With the increasing number of constituencies using the internet to find information, are you doing online reputation management? Do you know what your employees, customers or the public at large write about you online? If not, it's high time you look into this aspect of our online world. The World Economic Forum recognized the importance of doing so by naming one online reputation management company as one of the 31 Technology Pioneers for 2011. Through proprietary technology they enable companies to monitor the web, delete information, and control how they look when searched online. If necessary, use one of those companies.
The tools are there, so what are you waiting for? Someone to get a negative article about you published online? That people bent on revenge should have this kind of power is in my opinion completely wrong. But that's unfortunately the way it is so, like it or not, it's time to start contemplating how we should live our lives in a world where the internet records everything and forgets nothing. There are software that enable companies to see everything a person does online, including on social media. And once that kind of software is widely used the tables will be turned and revengeful people will find their online reputation ruined. They will not be able to get a job and people will be reluctant to do business with them. Presumably that will make such people think twice before trying to harm someone online. But until then, invest in internal communication and customer service to make sure your customers and employees are happy. It’s a small expense compared to a bad reputation online.
Photo: Christopher Hill – PhotoExpress