Managing reputations – doing the best for business

Ade Potts, Managing Director of Experian’s SME business

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As Socrates once said: “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of – for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.”

But we’re not going quite as far back as Socrates’ time, just to a time before internet, when the reputation of a business was based almost entirely on word-of-mouth. Businesses would get their feedback from clients, suppliers and customers and take them on board to maintain a favourable reputation.

Online reputation

Today, it’s a very different story. It’s never been easier for people to voice their opinions publicly via forums, social media, review sites and beyond. Online commentary has the potential to reach infinitely more people than word-of-mouth, making it vital that businesses know not only how to understand an online reputation, but to effectively and proactively manage it too.

Even those businesses without an online presence still have an online reputation. They’re often added to maps, reviewed, rated or discussed. This isn’t just external, employees from within companies have access to tools to blow the whistle or simply give their personal opinions on how it is to work with or for companies.

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People will likely look at online reputation before making purchasing decisions. Whether using a search engine to read a review, browse social media accounts, or look for previous customers’ feedback, research is common in today’s data age.

Those who take the time to research won’t be willing to make a purchase from a company with overwhelmingly negative reviews. They’ll be looking for those with the more favourable reviews, with the goods at the price they can afford. If a company has no reviews at all, then that isn’t necessarily a bad business, but typically, if a prospective customer is concerned enough about reputation to be conducting a search in the first instance, it’d be reasonable to assume that having online reviews could influence purchasing.

An online reputation is crucial, and it can exist online even if the business doesn’t. When customers can seek out online reputation information before buying or entering contracts with a business, it matters. A lack of information online puts businesses at risk of losing out on attention to competitors.

Scoring reputation

The reputation score of a business is a measure of its online reputation. This can be calculated through a combination of online customer reviews, as well as overall online presence.

For example, how well does the business appear in search engine results and is it listed accurately in all online directories? It’s clearly a significant concern; so taking research-driven action is a wise move. So what should businesses do next?

Research where your reputation currently stands. Make use of different platforms, social media and search engines, to establish where your business has a presence. Hunt out reviews and source the comments. Look at the different elements feeding into the decision-making of prospects and customers.
Establish and grow an online brand presence. Get the company name out there and then make an effort to promote it sensibly and honestly. Find the bad reviews and work out why they are negative and what can be done to address the points raised. Encouraging satisfied customers to leave genuine reviews on popular platforms is good practice.
Review and keep reviewing. How the business envisages an online reputation strategy developing will probably dictate how much resource is channelled into the process, but whatever is decided, it will need periodic reviews to confirm it is working.
The reviewing process can be simple and manual, like repeating the research phase every month, or monitoring using online reputation management software. Whatever method is chosen, it’s important insights are used, to create an advantage, drive business decisions and shape strategies.

Reputation. Manage it, nurture it – just don’t ignore it.

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