On holiday recently, I overheard a conversation (well, in fact you couldn’t avoid it they were so loud) involving a guy who described himself as being in the ‘reputation management’ business. He was brash and quite obnoxious, but it was his boasting about how his business gets paid huge sums of money by clients to manipulate online reviews that was most interesting.
Now, we all know that online reviews must be taken with a pinch of salt, but businesses need to be aware of the deliberate sabotage that companies are actively undertaking. Clearly this is most troubling for businesses in the hospitality sector, especially because competitors could be appointing agencies to pay people to stay at hotels and eat at restaurants, etc., and then submit scathing reviews (regardless of their experience). In this sense, the review is legitimate as that person was actually a customer, but the motive is sinister and the review inaccurate and nonsensical.
Remember, though, it is not just consumer facing businesses that face this challenge. Google Reviews often pop up on the right hand side of search results for any kind of business, and that could affect you whether you whatever professional you are in.
In today’s online world, poor reviews can be very damaging. But they are really just an evolution of how customer negativity is articulated. In the days before the internet we used to call it ‘word of mouth’. If you had a bad experience with a company, you’d tell your friends, family, work colleagues, etc. and it would quickly get around that they should be avoided.
PR agencies have always been able to assist with reputation management in this sense. But rather than wait for the crisis to happen – perhaps motivated by consultants who are being paid to wreck a business – an ongoing communications campaign has to be the way forward. This includes telling the story of satisfied customers on your website, and through all possible media channels, and building a brand personality that customers will want to engage with.
Your products and services must also be right, of course, but as this tale illustrates, there is never a time not to be actively communicating everything that’s good about your business, and be ready to defend your business professionally when customer criticism is levied towards you – genuine or fake.
If you’d like an informal discussion about this issue, or your communications strategy more generally, please contact us.