Ten Steps for Repairing and Protecting Your Online Reputation

Kate ZabriskieBy Kate Zabriskie

“The worst customer service experience ever! The bed was dirty, and the bathroom had hair on the toilet seat. My dog refused to enter the room. He slept in the car. I don’t know why I didn’t do the same thing. Do not EVER stay here!!!!!!!”

“If you are offered a job at this place, run! Do not walk to the nearest exit. This company is an asylum. I have never worked with a more dysfunctional group of people in my life.”

“There are a lot of fake reviews on this site. Anyone who has ever been here knows there is no possible way on earth a real customer would say this place was anything but a pit. Enter at your own risk. You have been warned.”

Ouch! Those hurt.

And there it is, right there in black and white for anyone and everyone to see—the naked truth: what someone thinks of your product, your service, or your organization.

Bad reviews can bite, wound, and sting. Worst of all, a mountain of them can appear in a matter of seconds. Social media, it’s a wonderful thing, until it turns against you.

So, what’s a person to do when his or her online reputation is suffering at the hands of others? Plenty.

Step One: Take a deep breath. You can fix it. Not overnight, but you can fix it.

Step Two: Get over any hurt feelings or embarrassment, and do it quickly. The people who complain have done you a great favor. It’s now up to you to decide if negative reviews are going to be the kiss of death or a wakeup call.

Step Three: Uncover everything that is being said about you. If you found a bad review in one place, there are probably others. You will need to spend a few hours researching yourself online. Start Googling, and take a notes of what you find and where. A word of caution: resist the urge to respond to anything. Be strategic, not impulsive. You will need a game plan before typing a word.

Step Four: Automate. Sign yourself up for Google Alerts at www.google.com/alerts. If new content mentioning your company shows up online and Google sees it, the search engine will send out an automatic alert letting you know. There are also a variety of free and paid services that will monitor online search terms and any major review sites for mentions, and will quickly notify you if new information about you is posted. If you are serious about managing your online reputation, these services are extremely valuable.

Step Five: Once you have a good picture of your online grade, get ready to roll up your sleeves and start problem solving. If your employees are rude, train them. If your establishment is dirty, clean it. If people hate working for you, investigate. Unless you are the victim of competitor sabotage, what you are reading is probably based in truth. If needed, revisit step two.

Step Six: Involve your team and communicate your improvement plan. You will reach your goal faster if everyone in your organization understands what it is and is working toward it.

Step Seven: When you are interacting with people, ask them what they think. You already know some of them have no problem sharing their opinions with the world, so they will probably be willing to candidly tell you the good, bad, and ugly. Asking your customers or clients for help can prove extremely beneficial.

“We are working hard to improve. Would you be willing to talk to me for a few minutes? Thank you. What two or three things could we have done differently in order to make you experience with us better?”

If at all possible, have these conversations verbally. You may be surprised by the quantity and quality of information you are able to quickly gather.

Step Eight: Once you have a clear sense of what is going on with your business and are on the road to smoothing out the rough spots, get back to the reviews. It’s time to answer them.

First, thank the reviewer for letting you know about a problem and include something positive about your business, too.

“Thank you for your feedback, and I’m sorry your son’s birthday experience with us wasn’t what you expected. We’ve hosted over a thousand birthday parties for children in our five years of business, and we strive to delight each of our guests.”

Second, describe what you have done to prevent the issue from occurring again.

“We’ve taken a few steps to prevent what happened to you from happening to another parent of a birthday boy or birthday girl. Since your visit, our staff has taken several classes to improve their service skills. They’ve focused specifically on techniques for positively engaging with children.”

Third, ask the person to give you a second chance.

“Please celebrate with us again. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised. My name is Kate. If you ask for me when you make your reservation, I will take care of you personally.”

Resist the urge to be snarky, judgmental, or to correct your customers. Yes, some customers are wrong—however, pointing that out will not help. Lots of people are going to be watching how you respond to others. Take advantage of the opportunity to be polite, helpful and solution-focused. People who rely on the reviews can often tell when other customers are being difficult. If you are gracious in your dealings with them, you will win in the long run.

Step Nine: Ask your happy customers to post reviews. Over time, your average will improve. Obviously this approach only works if you are indeed making changes and removing the causes of bad evaluations. If you are not, prepare for more of the same reviews you’ve gotten in the past because they’re coming. You simply cannot turn off the social media tap.

Step Ten: As tempting as it may be, do not post fake reviews or go to a service to get others to do the same. Apart from the fact that it’s dishonest, it’s also dangerous. If you get caught, you will look even worse than you did before. Instead, get busy writing more content to post on your site, press release sites, and other appropriate places. The more that’s out there, the less visible a bad comments be.

Followed closely, this 10-step plan for a reputation overhaul could earn you five stars. What do you think?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

What You Need to Know About Social Media Etiquette

Margaret PageBy Margaret Page

Like children with a shiny new toy, adults introduced to social media jumped in and started playing: posting personal photos to Facebook, accepting requests for “friendship” from long-lost high school pals, and checking into everywhere from the coffee shop to their favorite local eatery. What fun! Suddenly we were getting an inside look into the lives of people we hadn’t connected with in years!

But unlike a new toy, social media didn’t come with any real instructions. We unwrapped it, signed up and off we went, sharing our world with… the world. As more and more people glommed onto this new way of communicating, the seeds of chaos were planted.

Rules of Engagement: Without guidelines on how to use social media, disaster is just a tweet away. Many people – and companies — have found this out the hard way. Embarrassing gaffs, impulsive rants, and misguided comments have ensued.

What you post on social media sites is out there forever. The Internet never forgets; a “selfie” posted after a night on the town or a tweet about a colleague can cause more damage than you think. It’s dangerous to assume privacy settings protect you. Even if you’ve locked down your Facebook page, once it’s posted to the web you can guarantee someone who is not directly connected to you will find it. All it takes is for one of your friends to share it with their friends.

And what you say CAN and WILL be held against you! Your future boss, clients, partners, voters and vendor are watching.

A good rule of thumb, whether you are engaging on social media for personal or in business is this: “If you wouldn’t say it loudly, in front of your mother (or boss!), you shouldn’t post it online—anywhere!”

With so many companies supporting BYOD, it’s more important than ever that a clear social media policy is in place for employees. Your employees are representatives of your brand, and in business, perception is everything. To protect yourself from the embarrassment of a social media faux pas, create a policy that clearly states what you expect from your employees when it comes to social media use. Set clear boundaries, especially for those who are part of your brand building process.

Do I Know You? In this world of connectivity, how connected are we really? Has the word “connected” lost its meaning? With our ability to connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere through social media, the term “connected” has been watered down. Think about how many of the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” invitations to connect you receive each month. Very few of them are from people you have truly “connected” with outside of social media. It feels a little like “the person with the most fans and followers” wins. But do they, really?

Before there was LinkedIn, you wouldn’t dream of asking a new acquaintance to buy something from you just minutes after you met. And, you certainly wouldn’t show up at a networking event in yesterday’s outfit. Just like offline networking, building relationships online, follows the same basic etiquette rules.

Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Be professional. On Twitter, don’t be the egg; post a professional photo of yourself on your profile. This holds true on all social media sites. A business colleague should recognize you from your online picture. Include information about yourself. Your social media profiles are the equivalent of your business card, so be sure you keep it updated as your professional information changes. Always keep your basic contact information updated and link to your other professional profiles.
  • Introduce yourself. Want people to get a sense for who you are? Post interesting, value-added content on your social media accounts to showcase your professional expertise. This is especially true with LinkedIn; when you update your status with useful information, you’re building trust among your network – opening doors for introductions to new connections.
  • Be authentic. Just like in real life, no one wants to connect with “that guy.” You know the one: the guy in the sleazy suit who spends his time schmoozing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook is not personalizing the message in the invitation. Swap out the default message with something like “George. I really enjoy your blog at xblog.com. The leadership content you share is so valuable. I’d like to add you to my professional network and get to know more about your business.” This will let the recipient know how you found them and why you want to connect. In turn, they will know that you aren’t connection for the sake of just adding to their numbers.
  • Listen. Building connections through social media isn’t just about pushing out content on this network or that. If you’re not taking time to listen and engage with influential people (the ones you are hoping to connect with), you’re missing an opportunity. Choose a handful of key people you want to build a business relationship with, read what they are posting, and where there is an opportunity for you to add value—jump in!

Whether you are connecting with people in the online world, or at a dinner party, knowing how to present yourself in a positive way is the same. Think before you speak translates to “think before you tweet.”

Margaret Page is a recognized etiquette expert, speaker and coach, who helps people and organizations be more professional. She is the author of The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success and Cognito Cards — Wisdom for Dining & Social Etiquette. She is the founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a leading Western Canadian training organization. To learn more about Margaret follow her on Twitter and Facebook or sign up for her Etiquette blog or Etiquette Edge Newsletter. To contact Margaret, please visit her website at etiquettepage.com, or call 604-880-8002.

The 7 Key Steps for Leveraging Social Media Marketing to Drive Real Results

By Natalie HenleyNatalie Henley

Investing in marketing campaigns can be a nerve-wracking decision for many small and medium sized businesses. CEOs and Marketing Directors know that when you have limited resources, you must be strategic with your budget, and every marketing investment has to pay off. This is why social media campaigns tend to be the first thing cut. Although free to setup, they take valuable staff resources to manage, and the ROI is not as apparent. While launching a social media campaign likely won’t bring leads and sales pouring in your door tomorrow, when you implement a few social media success strategies, you’ll find it much easier to drive a positive ROI with social that benefits your organization for years to come.

1. Reframe your outlook. Many businesses fail at social media because they think it means Facebook or Twitter. Social media is actually much more than that. Rather than putting labels on social media, think of it as a concept. Social media is actually about engaging with your audience in a broader way. Traditional media has always been one directional—you place an ad, the customer calls, and you have an offline private conversation. Social media is the first time where businesses can interact with their community in a public online forum. That openness and transparency is scary to many business owners, but it’s exactly what customers crave.

2. Start small. As you delve into social media, begin with the platforms that can make the biggest difference for you. Usually, this means starting with the three main platforms that can drive results and interaction: Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Depending on your business model, there may be others; however, if you are just getting started, this is a great set to begin with.

  • Facebook: Facebook has a high adoption rate and people of all ages spend time on this social media platform, thus giving you great exposure.
  • LinkedIn: While LinkedIn is not consumer-focused like Facebook, it can help with B2B sales, vendor connections, recruiting, and other business needs.
  • YouTube: Although a bigger investment than the others, consumers resonate with different types of content, and YouTube videos tend to pay off in the long term.

3. Don’t be boring. Guess what … your brand, services, mission statement, and corporate values are boring. Although they may represent you as a company, they don’t represent the human element and personality of your team. Social media is about not only building a community, but also engaging your customers. Doing that requires that you show some serious personality.

For example, if you’re located in a city that has an NFL football team, you can support the local team as part of your company’s personality. Or, if you’re a family-oriented company, you can post updates about your “Take Your Kids to Work Day” and include photos of the event. In essence, it’s about strategically deciding what your company’s culture or persona will be and then posting interesting content that relates to that. This means getting outside your comfort zone and talking about things that interest you as a company, not about your industry, products, and services.

4. Don’t over-invest. As you delve into social media, don’t rush out and hire a full-time person to manage it. Instead, start by looking around your company and finding someone (or a team of people) interested in the additional responsibility. Chances are you have someone personally involved in social media who would love to have this as part of their job description. As your social media presence grows and becomes successful, you can see the business case for growing the department.

5. Look beyond the “likes.” Judging a social media campaign solely by the size of your Facebook likes is a bit backwards. Although “likes” can be a good indicator of success, a new Facebook like won’t feed your sales team’s families. In order to measure a successful social campaign, here are a few of the major metrics that social media can influence, and that you can measure:

  • Reach, Likes, and Shares – This soft metrics of social lets you know you are keeping your audience engaged.
  • Social Referral Traffic and Goal Completions (Measured through Google Analytics) – You can figure out who is coming from social media and either buying something or filling in a lead form on your website (cha-ching!).
  • Social Media Leads – Yes, you can drive business leads from prospects straight on social media.
  • Increased Search Engine Rankings & New Inbound links – Having a presence on social media can have a huge effect on any other organic or SEO programs you are running. Social media can be a key component of driving search engine traffic to your website.
  • Increases in Branded Traffic (Measured by Google Analytics) – If you are keeping your audience engaged and getting prospects “warmed up” on social, you should see an increase of consumers searching for your brand in search engines.

6. Measure your results based on goals. Now that you know that results are more than just “likes,” decide how you are going to measure results before you start any social media activity, as well as the specific metrics you’ll use to determine success. Social media is just like any other marketing initiative, which means you have to answer some key questions, such as “Why are we doing this?” and “What are we hoping to get from it?”

Each business will have its own definition of social media success. For one business, a metric like sales or leads is vital. Other businesses focus more on market share. Decide before you start what’s important to you. For a free measurement tool, use Google Analytics. For standardized reports, consider using an out-of-the box report suite, such as Sprout Social or Raven Tools.

7. Commit to it. Too often, a small- or medium-sized business sets up a Facebook page, goes gung-ho with it for a few weeks, and then gets busy and forgets about it. That sends a negative message about the business. To avoid this scenario, start small with activity you can handle and stick with it. Post something daily, or at the very least weekly so your company can stay relevant.

Additionally, make sure what you’re doing looks professional by getting custom banners to match your website. If you are pinching pennies and don’t have a designer in-house for custom designs, you can get something that looks reasonable on sites like Fiverr, or something that looks very professional on sites like 99 Designs. Both are better than just “winging it”.

Go Social! Social media can be one of the best investments your company makes. The key is to be smart about it and to treat it like any other business activity. So if you’ve attempted social media in the past but let it go by the wayside, or if you haven’t embarked on this journey yet, now is the time to take the plunge and get on the social media platforms. By following these strategies, you’ll find social media to be a rewarding, enjoyable and profitable endeavor.

Natalie Henley is the Vice President of Client Services at Volume 9 Inc. Volume 9 creates custom search marketing campaigns for clients, including a mix of SEO, paid search management, social media, local search marketing and website development for over 100 clients and 200 managed websites. Natalie and Volume 9’s enterprising team leverage search marketing into real bottom line results for their clients’ businesses. They were recently honored by both the Inc. 5,000 and the Denver Business Journal as one of the fastest growing companies in Denver, and in the US.

Your Guide to Social Media: Disconnect to Connect

By Pat HeydlauffPat Heydlauff

According to several research studies done in 2011 and 2012, 39 percent of Americans spend more time on Facebook than in face-to-face relationships and 10.5 billion minutes per day are spent globally on Facebook alone.

The warp speed shift in social relationships and how we interact is due to social technologies, according to a July 2012 study, “The Social Economy: Unlocking values and productivity through social technologies,” by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The study states that there are greater than 1.5 billion networking users globally and 80 percent of them regularly interact through social networks causing sweeping cultural, social and economic change. People participate online in daily gossip, forming, maintaining and breaking social bonds and even getting married. It maintains that social technologies have literally changed how millions of people live.

The Social Media Catch-22: Social media is here to stay with no end in sight for the possibilities. Most would argue this is a good thing. But, is social media fostering generations of disconnected teens and adults that are constantly in contact but are never really connected? People post messages, email, text and play endless electronic tag with no nurturing results, no-face to-face satisfaction and no tangible interaction. The result – great imbalance in personal relationships.

Are you more connected to your mobile apps, iPod and iTunes than you are with your family and friends? What about your children – are they techno addicts? Do you have face-to-face time with them? What about senior parents who wait by a phone hoping you will call just to hear your voice?

Do you have tangible dependable trustworthy relationships that nurture, encourage and give you face-to-face feedback? Ones that can reach out and hug you when you are down, laugh with you when you are happy, congratulate you with a pat on the back when you are successful, and console you when you are sad.

Technology addiction, isolationism and indifference continue to race toward a non-descript finish line with no rules, no direction and no thought toward the future. Rapidly exploding technology provides instant information and messages, beams pictures from Mars in real time anywhere on planet Earth, allow you to do a virtual tour of real estate you may wish to purchase three thousand miles away and download the latest music release from your favorite artist – but at what price?

Are Relationships at Risk? Social media is dramatically changing personal and business communications, face-to-face connections and relationships. Today, there are at least two generations of loners, adults and teens, who are so technologically oriented they no longer know how to interact in person with family members, teachers, peers and bosses.

Relationships between children and parents suffer and disengage in this impersonal, pre-recorded faceless world. No longer are there any real connections with each other – no face-to-face talk time, no hugs, and no directly engaged interaction. Client/business relationships suffer from lack of eye contact, phone conversation where you can hear the receptiveness of the other person, and no visual body language to observe. Are adults, children and employees so electronically in contact and isolated that they have no meaningful connections? This form of contact takes a huge toll on society and leads to:

  • emotional isolationism

  • disengaged clients and consumers

  • inability to communicate face to face

  • loss of connection and respect between parent and  child

  • loss of civility when communicating

Balancing Relationships with Social Media: Social media is very addictive. Create a plan to prohibit the social media takeover of your life and that of your children. The objectives are to create balance and to re-connect on a personal level – in person.

Set aside at least two hours per day where you are not wired or connected electronically – that means no iPads, computers, cell phones or other electronic gadgets. Reserve that time to connect with family, children, friends, clients or co-workers.

Eliminate impersonal communications by surprising a loved one or client with an actual phone call instead of a text, email or tweet. Return a phone message promptly instead of just listening to someone’s message. You and the caller become more engaged and connect emotionally when directly interacting. Due to massive high tech electronic interaction, people are emotionally impoverished and highly value the personal engagement.

Reach out and touch someone (or several someones) emotionally on a daily basis. Even though people are in constant contact, they are never emotionally connected when using social technology. You cannot get a nurturing hug, empathetic look or reassuring touch from a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower. Unfortunately you can be emotionally hurt by a bully posting or tweeting something hurtful.

While there is great untapped potential for social media in the business community, there is great risk for relationships and face-to-face connections with family and friends. Create a plan that will protect you from the downside of social technologies yet fully take advantage of the upside.

Pat Heydlauff speaks from experience. She works with organizations that want to create an environment where employees are engaged, encouraged and involved, and with people who want to be in control, anxiety-free and confident. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Engage: How to Lead with Power, Productivity and Promise and Feng Shui: So Easy a Child Can Do It. She can be reached at 561-799-3443 or engagetolead.com.

Social Technologies: A $1.3 Trillion Opportunity

By Pat HeydlauffPat Heydlauff

Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, the speed of change today is transformative.  The cause of this warp speed change: social technologies, according to a July 2012 study, “The Social Economy: Unlocking values and productivity through social technologies,” by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The study states that there are greater than 1.5 billion networking users globally and 80 percent of them regularly interact through social networks. Yet only 70 percent of businesses use social technologies, most on a limited basis. Of those 90 percent acknowledge some benefit but only three percent feel they derive a substantial benefit from social technologies.

There is no doubt that social technologies such as social media, online purchasing, networking, publishing, email, mobile apps, research and simply connecting online have caused sweeping cultural, economic and social change. People get married online, can cause governments to fall and can purchase anything from a golf ball to a house.

The Opportunity: However, social media technologies are swiftly changing and moving into collaboration and content creation rather than just consumption. The opportunity lies in the fact that social technologies are fast becoming an important business tool. The study states that social technologies have enormous potential to:

  • Raise productivity of knowledge workers
  • Extend the capabilities of high-skill workers
  • Streamline communication and collaboration
  • Lower barriers within the organization
  • Import additional knowledge and expertise from extended networks

All of this can lead to an increase of $900 billion – $1-3 trillion of annual value. The adoption of social technologies on the business level will be driven by the need for innovation, advances in technology, economics and speed. Social technologies provide the never-before available speed and scale of the Internet, zero marginal cost, lowered barriers, and interaction with large or small groups across all geographies and time zones.

Unleash Social Technology: Most people automatically think external communications or connections when considering social media applications to business. But the real value to the business community is internal. Social technology platforms should be applied within to communications, knowledge sharing and collaboration. According to McKinsey, when social media technology is fully implemented, the productivity of interactive workers, high-skill knowledge workers, managers and professionals will increase 20 to 25 percent. The improvement in productivity of these three categories has a domino effect and raises the productivity of the overall business.

Overcoming the Big Obstacle: One might think budget, time, talent or desire might be the obstacle(s) standing in the way of creating a 20-25 percent rise in productivity but no, it the business’ corporate culture. In order to capitalize on such great opportunity, major organizational transformation must also take place. A corporate environment must be created that is filled with trust, respect and equality when it comes to thoughts and ideas – a workplace where the physical, emotional and mental environment is conducive to unleashing the flow of focus and innovation.

A new organizational chart is in order for a business to create the culture necessary to maximize success with the social technology requirements. A new era has emerged from behind 500-year-old Newtonian walls and boxes in the business community: it’s called ORBS. The “orbital effect” demands that a strong vision is in place, requires a nurturing environment that spawns innovation and engages the workforce and customer through the use of soft skills.

The wave of the future has arrived in the form of social technologies. Because of that, transformational change in the organizational structure is a necessity not an option. The “Orbital Effect” works because it implements the same non-restrictive flow of information, connectedness and innovations as do social technologies. Use it and watch your productivity increase, efficiency improve and business thrive.

Pat Heydlauff speaks from experience. She works with organizations that want to create an environment where employees are engaged, encouraged and involved, and with people who want to be in control, anxiety-free and confident. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Engage: How to Lead with Power, Productivity and Promise and Feng Shui: So Easy a Child Can Do It. She can be reached at 561-799-3443 or engagetolead.com.