Is Google hurting your company's sales?

Is Google hurting your company's sales?

Link to Original Article

Author: Chris Hornbeck, CEO, Resort Insiders

Published: Resort Trades M&O - July/August 2011

Negative online publicity can destroy brand identity and adversely affect sales retention: Learn how your company can fight back

The field of Online Reputation Management (ORM) is emerging as a crucial business process in many industries, but in none is it as critically important as in vacation ownership, a business where sales interactions rarely conform to the traditional "research before buying" consumer model. The rise of blogs, social media, consumer opinion sites, and the coinciding increase in visibility of individual online consumer complaints have created a unique problem for an industry that relies heavily on post-sale retention and minimal cancellation rates.

To counterbalance negative online publicity and normalize sales retention, many companies are choosing to implement a well-defined ORM strategy - a multifaceted action plan that involves the synergy of resources from the fields of communications, law, customer service, and information technology to create an effective strategy for monitoring online reputation, creating positive publicity, and addressing online complaints as they arise.

In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving environment, operating one or two websites or blogs is simply not enough to face the deluge of negative publicity that can be generated by a relatively small, disgruntled faction of your customer base. While it may be quite easy to lock down the No. 1 spot in Google for your company name with your flagship website, it is a bit more difficult to make sure that 30 out of the next 40 search results don't have something bad to say about your company.

Monitor, address, and engage
Effective monitoring of search engine results and social media is important for two reasons - it gives you a baseline against which to measure future results, and it creates an early warning system, which can call attention to new problems as soon as they arise. Start keeping close tabs on the top 50 Google results for each major search term related to your business, use social media and search engine monitoring tools to alert you when people discuss your brand, and keep an eye on consumer review sites like TripAdvisor and RipOffReport, both favorite gathering places of online complaint filers.

When a complaint is found, make every attempt to address it immediately. It is usually preferential to first attempt to contact the consumer directly to solve the problem. In many instances, timeshare buyers complain online because they simply don't understand what they've purchased and feel frustrated - something that can be quite easily remedied with the proper customer service approach. If the complaint is unsolvable, but makes untrue or libelous assertions against your company, many times the offending remark can be removed through direct interaction with the administrators of the review site in question.

Equally important to the preservation of your online reputation is an effective social media interaction strategy and accompanying customer outreach program. By creating multiple avenues for customers to submit complaints, solve problems, educate themselves on the product, and most importantly, open lines of communication between themselves and your customer service team, you can effectively intercept a large portion of online issues and complaints before they get beyond your control.

Accentuate the positive
The best defense against bad publicity is a good offense - generate, identify, and tirelessly promote as much company-positive online content, in as many different places, as possible. The main focus of an effective ORM strategy should be to "turn positive" as many relevant search result positions as you can. Don't put all the content you create on one website or you'll only occupy one or two positions.

Your strategy should be to mitigate negativity in the search rankings by covering as much online "real estate" as you can with positive publicity about your company. Placement of additional online content can be accomplished through many means, including suppl ementary websites, blogs, customer testimonials, article placements, and paid press release distribution.

The idea is to create or identify as many positive company-related search results as possible, and then take action to promote and rank those results above any existing negative results through the use of online publicity and basic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. This is accomplished in its most basic form by simply linking from your websites to other sites and articles that show your company in a positive light.

Eliminate the negative
Once you've got your online publicity machine running on all cylinders, and you've implemented a strategy for absorbing and solving as many problems as possible, it's time to turn your attention to getting rid of as much unfounded negative publicity as you can. As mentioned previously, a good first step in getting an unresolvable complaint removed is to contact the administrators of the review site where the complaint appears. Many are quite reasonable and will remove complaints that are visibly meant to be spiteful, damaging, or harmful.

Many consumer review sites, however, make money from these negative reviews and are content to hide behind the protections offered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which provides legal safe harbor to online publishers. In this case, and in any case where the offending comment is being published personally by a complaint filer (as with a personal blog), the only solution to get the material removed may be to address the complaint filer directly in a legal manner.

If you come across an online comment that is plainly defamatory against your company, you do have legal recourse. That being said, legal action is rarely the easiest or cheapest thing to undertake, so the responsible online reputation manager may find that a "carrot-and-stick" approach works best when dealing with individual complaint filers. A simple peace offering, combined with a gentle, but firm, reminder of possible legal action, is usually enough to convince the complaint filer to remove the offending material and agree in writing not to re-post it. Tread lightly, though, as heavy-handed legal action can sometimes backfire, creating additional unwanted publicity for your company.

Helpful tips

- Take ownership of negative phrases in your web copy. Many unhappy consumers search for terms such as "ABC Company Scam," but very few people think to use that same type of phrase on their own sites to keep consumers from running across bad publicity. It can be tricky to work negative phrases into your websites. A little creativity goes a long way.

- When undertaking an ORM campaign, avoid search engine optimization strategies or reputation management firms that employ disreputable techniques to manipulate search results. Many companies have been recently punished for the use of such techniques by having their websites' rank reduced or their sites banned from the search engines altogether.

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