It's a question we are being asked with increasing frequency lately. Several (mostly US based) reputation management businesses have started operating on this side of the Atlantic. So let's examine what we mean by reputation management - the perception, and the reality...
- "Our business has negative comments showing up in a Google search - reputation management will somehow 'get rid' of those (or at least bury them)
- "Reputation management will get positive comments written about us on the web - to show up in Google searches
|One business we have met was allegedly quoted a five-figure monthly sum to 'manage' comments about them on this very consumer-friendly US reviews site - and the advertisement in the grey box speaks volumes|
Both the above are true; in part...
'Getting rid' of negative comment is shorthand for 'driving negative comment far enough down the Google search results that very few people will look far enough to see it', and that's fair enough. We tend to see this kind of SEO-driven activity as akin to standing on a football in a swimming pool: as soon as you take your foot off (stop paying), the ball (negative comment) pops up again.
But more important than that, it pits your business (and your reputation management) against the might of Google. Google's core objective is to provide the best possible search results, so they invest very heavily in addressing reputation management. Simply put: they don't want the value which is their life's blood tampered with. And they have the determination, combined with the resources, to fight reputation management all the way.
Reputation managers will focus on getting your customers to write positive comments on sites that you feel matter to you; but beware this siren call. This may initially appear to be a good thing; but it almost always ignores the one site that matters most of all to you and your potential customers: your own! And...
You can fool...
If you look for examples of reputation management in operation they soon become obvious. Why? Because it's impossible to stem the flow of negative comment right across the web. You will see the reputation managers' clients begin to look really good on whichever site they choose to flood with positive reviews, but they find it very difficult - and expensive for you - to focus on more than one site at a time, simply because it's not possible to ask hand-picked happy customers to post to more than one site.
We looked at one high-profile example (of a client of a reputation management company). The ten natural search results for "company name + reviews" consisted of the following:
- Two critical press articles
- Two critical forum threads
- A link to reviews on their own site - all uniformly positive
- A link to reviews on a well-known review site - almost all uniformly positive
- Four links to other sources of reviews - almost all uniformly negative
Isn't this very like what HelpHound's Dialogue™ does?
We are in the business of managing consumer relations through reviews.
We enable our clients to show consumer feedback:
- On their own websites - the number one priority for driving new business, and
- manage any negative feedback in private
We then set about enabling them to get that feedback to sites that matter, and Google loves this. Why? Because verified (and therefore credible) consumer comment is a very valuable commodity for Google.
If you're in hospitality we'll get reviews posted to Google and/or TripAdvisor, if you're an estate agent we'll get them to Google and/or your key review sites. It won't necessarily be a quick fix, and it will mean that your core business practices must be sound, but it is the only viable long-term solution for well-managed businesses.
Then you won't need to hide behind reputation management.
If you're interested in finding out more about how reputation management works (and can sometimes backfire) where positive consumer relations and an open attitude to PR might be a much more effective (and less costly, in pure £'s and in terms of lasting brand damage) solution, then read this great article first posted in the San Francisco Examiner. Another unwanted outcome can be the 'Streisand Effect' - the online community doesn't take kindly to overt reputation management either!
It's important to differentiate between effective customer relations and reputation management, whilst they may at first appear to be closely related, the harder you look, the further apart they are.