A savvy new marketing strategy known as Online Reputation Management (ORM) is giving small businesses a cutting-edge angle for competing with national chains. This service, now being offered by specialized online marketing companies, employs positive online feedback from grassroots internet users to improve sales. In a world where local business owners are continually losing customers to large, faceless chains, online reputation management might just be the antidote for the underdog.
What is Online Reputation Management?
Online reputation management involves promoting positive content about a specific entity, while diminishing the impact of negative content. Legitimate ORM firms do not attempt to delete legal or factual information about a client firm. Rather, through the intelligent use of search engine optimization and creation of additional positive content, a professional ORM firm can subtly change the composition of search engine results for a given business.
With online reputation management, local businesses can create and optimize a consistent flow of favorable information to be found by anyone searching on the internet. By allowing potential clients to see positive reviews, even the smallest businesses can magnify their advertising reach and seriously compete online – without the need for a large advertising budget. The search engine giant, Google, even offers a specific page to allow users to manage their online reputation.
What Online Reputation Management is Not
Small business owners interested in hiring a firm for online reputation management should watch for several warning signs. Reputatable ORM companies do not guarantee deletion of negative items, and they do not promise to fabricate positive reviews. At its core, ORM involves two simultaneous goals:
- Highlighting existing positive feedback to attract new customers
- Offering a graceful outlet for dealing with negative feedback (to encourage unhappy customers to complain internally, rather than on public review sites)
ORM is best described as a “cyber conversation between a company and the collective voices of its customers”.
As the technical details of ORM are quite complex, even well-known reference sites acknowledge the importance of working with an ethical company. Respectable firms always disclose their true identity and never rely on techniques that violate the quality guidelines of major search engines.
Raj Verma, manager at online reputation management firm Argon Marketing, explains one manner in which ORM occurs:
An ORM company works in concert with the small business client to identify customers who are already happy with the client’s service, but who don’t post online reviews. By encouraging these loyal followers to express their delight online, the ORM company can boost the client’s online reputation by simply capitalizing on publicity from customers who are already satisfied.
Here’s another great quote by Scott Stratten [from the editor]:
I’ve heard a lot of brands say they don’t want to use social media because they’re afraid of negative interactions. That doesn’t make any sense. The negative brand sentiment doesn’t vanish because you’re not there to yell at. It just gets unheard and therefore the anger brews.
Why Online Reputation Management is Important
Because the democratic nature of the web gives new dimensions to freedom of speech, firsthand accounts from users of a product or service can make or break a local business’ reputation. Even a single negative review on a popular review website can scare away potential customers for a small business. With a few negative mentions spread across multiple sites, many of a local business’ existing customer base will soon be shopping elsewhere. For this reason, it is vital for small businesses to have a response plan for negative feedback and a process for encouraging positive feedback.
For small businesses, ORM can mean the difference being growth and bankruptcy. Large-scale marketing efforts by national chain stores provide a basic level of expectation to all customers. Unfortunately, for small competitors, wrenching these customers away from national chains is a difficult proposition. Even shoppers who would prefer to frequent small, local establishments are hesitant to trust the mom-and-pop outfit without the benefit of word-of-mouth or evidence from online reviews.
How Online Reputation Management Companies Can Help Your Business
Online Reputation Management is a complex service that requires constant vigilance. Small companies cannot afford the dedicated, in-house marketing teams common in large businesses. For this reason, many companies are turning to professional online marketing companies to handle corporate reputation management. An experienced ORM firm can amplify the inherent advantage local companies have over the giant competitors.
With the help of Online Reputation Management, local companies can gain a foothold that will allow them to compete vigorously in the marketplace. Consumers often shop at national chains only because they believe there is no viable local alternative. Rightly managed, ORM can bolster a small business’s online reputation, so that customers can walk “unchained” into the local store and do business with a face they recognize.