Every company will have dissatisfied customers.
I don’t care how good you are – someone is eventually going to be dissatisfied with your product or service.
I’ve spent most of my career involved in crisis communication in some form or another.
My first big crisis assignment was also my biggest – managing the digital communications strategy for American Airlines during the events of 9/11.
I’ve handled four airplane crashes, three cruise ship sinkings, and countless CEO infidelities.
I’m also a bonafide SEO geek.
In this column, I’m going to address some basic strategies and tactics every company can employ to help mitigate the damage of a future crisis.
1. Monitor Your Brand & Executives
Many crises can be avoided through the early detection of a problem.
The most important thing you can do today to avoid a future crisis is to monitor your brand and key personnel.
That’s right – it’s not enough to just monitor your brand terms.
You need to keep tabs on the digital presence of your leadership team, including your CEO.
The worst online reputation management issues involve company leadership.
These issues have been exacerbated in the last few years as the private lives of company leadership are detailed on social media.
There are numerous examples of companies that have watched their business decline because of the personal actions of their leadership team.
There are numerous tools available for monitoring your overall digital presence.
But even if you are on a budget, that’s no excuse not to monitor.
At the very least, you can set up Google Alerts for your brand and leadership team. Google alerts are free and simple to set up.
Just go to Google and type in Google Alerts and you’ll see just how easy they are to set up.
If you have a larger organization or volume of content written about your company, Google Alerts can quickly become cumbersome.
Larger organizations require more robust monitoring tools – and frequently more than one tool, as different tools have different strengths.
I haven’t found one tool that is great at monitoring search engine results pages, social media, online reviews, and traditional media.
Many organizations will require multiple monitoring tools.
There are many tools available, and I’m not going to get into any of them because I don’t want to endorse any one tool.
As I said, each tool has its own strengths and weaknesses.
For many organizations, the proper tool is the one that works best with your team’s workflow and has an interface that you prefer.
2. Get More Positive Reviews
Most of your satisfied customers won’t leave a review – unless they are asked to.
Companies that have been in business for a significant length of time have satisfied customers.
If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be in business.
But most companies don’t have great reviews.
Positive reviews help your digital presence more than anything short of a glowing story in the Wall Street Journal – and even high-profile stories lose their effectiveness over time.
Reviews have a logarithmic perception.
That means that if you have five reviews and two of those reviews are negative, it looks like you are a bad company.
However, if you have 500 reviews and 10 of those reviews are negative, it looks like 10 people were having a bad day.
Bottom line – the more positive reviews you have, the less impact a negative review will have.
I prefer to create a process for requesting positive reviews from customers rather than just simply requesting reviews.
And you need to be careful here – it can be against the Terms of Service in places like Yelp to even request a review.
Be sure to understand any risks involved with asking your customers for reviews.
3. Tell Your Story Early & Often
If there is nothing out there about your company, and something negative pops up, the damage will be much greater.
If a crisis hits a blank slate, the crisis wins every time.
Every company should be telling its story as often as it can.
You need to talk about the positive things going on in your company – even if they seem somewhat mundane to you.
Highlighting promotions and awards, talking about culture and charitable contributions – the list goes on and on in regards to the stories most companies can tell.
You need to write content about your company.
But it’s not enough to write about your company on your own website.
At the end of the day, proactive online reputation management is about controlling the real estate on the search engine results pages.
Most of the time, your own site will only be able to take up one listing in the SERP – two if you’re lucky.
If you want to have positive items about your company in the SERPs, you have to get other people to write about you.
I’m a huge fan of interacting with influencers in your community.
Every industry has influencers.
Even the local plumber can find that one person in the community that influences the decision-making process when it comes to who fixes the neighborhood’s sinks.
Find your audience’s influencers and talk to them.
Don’t just talk to them about your company, become a valuable resource for them about what is going on in your industry or community.
If you provide value without the had-sell of your own content, you will be much more likely to get something written about your company when it really matters.
And it really matters when a crisis hits.
When a crisis hits you need friends.
Invite your local influencer to have a beer or a coffee.
An in-person meeting with an influencer is frequently worth hundreds of emails.
But above all, become friends with your influencers.
You never know when you’re going to need them.
4. Create a Crisis Response Workflow
When I worked with American Airlines, we had at least five phone book thick documents of crisis plans.
We didn’t have a plan for if we couldn’t get our people to the site of a disaster.
And of course, on 9/11, we couldn’t get anyone anywhere on a plane because all the planes were grounded.
Overall crisis plans are overrated because you can’t think of everything.
Crisis workflows, however, can pivot quickly and are effective in most crisis situations.
Crisis workflows are simply plans about who will do what and when they will do it in the time of crisis.
The most important part of a crisis workflow is the appointment of who will respond to online items, who will approve the responses, and how quickly the response will be initiated.
Create crisis drills.
Set up a mock crisis and surprise your team with it – and see how well the crisis workflow runs.
Make adjustments based on what happens during the crisis drill.
Proactive online reputation management – things like monitoring, telling your story, getting positive reviews, and creating crisis workflows – can mitigate the damage that can be caused by a true crisis.
Remember, even if the current news cycle is only two weeks, things stick around in Google for a lot longer.
By working to create a positive brand reputation in the SERPs, you stand a much better chance of weathering the storm a crisis can bring.
- 7 Ways to Improve Your Brand Perception with Reputation Management
- 7 Expert Tips to Protect Your Online Reputation
- Local SEO: The Definitive Guide to Improve Your Local Search Rankings
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