Prospective customers compare the search profiles between competitors. New businesses normally don't have the level of search profile that mature companies do. That puts new companies at a disadvantage.
Reputation and reviews drive the success of businesses worldwide. Every month, approximately 543,000 new businesses open up. 70% of new businesses survive at least two years, half at least five years, and a third at least ten years. Just a quarter of all new businesses survive for 15 years or more.
If you're a startup, but you want to grow bigger, even becoming a massive global entity, you still need to take things step by step. Prioritizing your efforts as a new business owner is a conscious effort. Every dime you spend it tracked. But it's far cheaper to do business reputation management before a problem that after.
During the crucial stages where your business is just getting off the ground, where you choose to spend your time, money, and efforts can make the difference between being one of the 25% that are open after 15 years—or one of the 30% that close before two years. Brand reputation management is one of the areas often ignored until it's too late.
What is Brand Reputation Management About?
When you’re just getting started, your business’s reputation is a blank slate. You have no history of social media blunders or negative Yelp reviews or stagnant website traffic, just a brand new site and a world-wide web of possibilities. But as any seasoned business owner can attest, it doesn’t stay this way for long.
Businesses need to participate in the online marketplace. Even those whose focus is strictly local have customers who expect websites, reviews, and the ability to quickly and easily communicate with the company, often through social media. The moment you’re online is the moment your brand reputation management strategy needs to be put into action.
Customers decide where to give their business based on factors both logical and emotional, and it’s the latter that you can serve to affect through an effective and ongoing reputation management campaign.
Start Review Management Very Early
The faster you get positive reviews at the beginning, the harder it will be for negative reviews to drive down your average star-rating.
Review management can be done very simply at first. A simple up or down vote email to every customer you do business with (and have their email) will give recent customers a chance to rant or praise your business. If a rant, you catch them before they have a chance to write damaging Yelp reviews. If praise, you can can direct them to the review site that is in most need of improvement. This should be done with your very first customer, and every one after that.
Why Start a Reputation Campaign Before Problems Start?
Your online perception dictates how likeable you are, how trustworthy you are, and if a customer should bother with you. New businesses don’t have the benefit of generalized brand awareness. There’s no inherent authority coming from your name. And when you’ve got a lot to prove, there isn’t a whole lot of room for mistakes. If you started your business on day one with a five-star rating across all relevant review sites and search results that only reinforced your awesomeness you'd be almost bulletproof. But new businesses must content with established players with hundreds of great reviews. It's an uphill battle, and one that should be started early.
A Brand Disaster Story
In 2006, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo opened Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona. Though they were a small, local company, their closure nine years later was the subject of an incredible amount of publicity nationwide, with many cheering on their demise. The reason? Poor social media etiquette.
Amy’s Baking Company appeared on a 2013 episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. And while their inclusion on the show certainly made clear that the business was already struggling, it wasn’t what ultimately shut them down. The episode went viral for being the first where Ramsay was unable to help the owners and ultimately threw up his hands and left.
Following the airing, viewers flocked to social media, review sites, and message boards to talk about the company. A certifiable PR nightmare for any business, new or old, the Bouzaglos chose to jump into the mess, resulting in plenty of rude responses to commenters and ending in a pretty epic Facebook meltdown. They were never able to recover.
A Negative Reputation Can Break Your Business
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Amy’s Baking Company, but what it most clearly highlights is that a negative reputation can break your business. It can be said that Amy’s didn’t close because of poor product—they closed because of poor attitude. Instead of spending their efforts putting out their PR fire, they ignited it further, increasing the backlash and destroying credibility. It was a disaster that most new companies would not be able to survive.
Brands Should Decide Their Own Reputation
Effective brand reputation management isn’t just about avoiding public meltdowns. Most companies won’t be faced with large-scale disasters, especially early on. Instead, the primary focus of brand management for new businesses should be building name recognition and positive associations.
Start with Your Website
To begin, you’re going to need your site to rank high in the search results if you want people to find it. Ranking badly for your brand name can be a death knell online. Start with a good website and then add to it's content on a regular basis.This simple inbound content plan can help.Collaborate with other relevant sites to share links to and from your page. Properly utilize SEO keywords and tags so that you’re coming up for appropriate search terms.
Setup a Few Social Media Profiles
Next comes your social media presence. Create pages, keep them updated and fresh. Use content and social media not just to build awareness but to interact with consumers and others in your industry. Build positive associations - incent satisfied customers to “like” your pages or share good reviews about you (see simple up or down vote email above).
Tempted to Buy Reviews?
Most people that end up buying reviews online do so because they didn't start with their reputation management program early enough and got caught out in the cold. While buying reviews is frowned upon, it's done all the time. Even the President has millions of fake twitter followers. If you start early, your online presence should be strong enough to withstand some bad reviews now and then, and you won't need fake reviews. It's the unprepared online brands that get hurt.
Control Reputation Early
Taking the reins early on is necessary if you’re going to cultivate a positive presence. Take advantage of the blank slate afforded you by being a new business and take the time to develop a brand reputation management strategy that sets you up for success.