My wife and I used to frequent a small breakfast restaurant in our neighborhood quite often. But, after a while, we found ourselves less inclined to visit. The food seemed to be getting increasingly mediocre, and we also saw a local news report that said the city’s health inspector had given the place a failing grade.
So we weren’t surprised a month later when the place closed down. What was surprising was that it reopened again two weeks later with a spiffy coat of new paint and a new name . . . but with the same owners.
A negative news report is the sort of bad publicity that few small businesses can handle, and in this day and age, one could only surmise that the online reviews thereafter were brutal. What were the owners to do? Like a computer that gets some malware and freezes up, the owners clearly decided to start over and reboot. The negative complaints could not follow them if the business had a new name.
The above example was a radical solution to a problem that all businesses have to some degree— namely, the protection of their brand and handling any negative comments, both online and offline, about their business.
A big business example: Back in the 80s, several people died when someone had gone into some supermarkets and laced bottles of Tylenol with cyanide. The onslaught of negative publicity would have crippled many companies, but the makers of Tylenol got proactive. They voluntarily and immediately took the product off the shelf, and thereafter, invented safety caps and packaging. They turned what could have been a disaster into a lesson in brand management, as Tylenol became known as a business committed to their customers and product safety.
Brand management is especially critical for a small business because if the name of your business gets sullied, you may not have the resources that big businesses do to counteract the bad publicity. So the first thing to remember when it comes to protecting your brand is that these days, brand management requires a commitment and constant vigilance.
Not sure where to start? Here are 5 steps to take:
1. Know where to look: The number of places where someone can post negative comments (and positive ones too!) is amazingly vast: Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Angie’s List, Google reviews, Citysearch, Blogs, local news sites, forums and message boards.
2. Create a Google Alert: You can create a keyword alert using Google for your name or business. Then, anytime the search engine finds the keywords that are in the alert you created, it sends you an email.
However, the system is not perfect— it needs to be managed. First of all, you need to figure out the specific keywords that might match the potential complaints about your business. That isn’t always easy, especially as you cannot anticipate what sorts of complications cause unhappiness.
Additionally, sometimes Google Alerts can be too broad— it’s important to make sure you are still regularly searching the list of above sites, since not everything can be caught using this system.
3. Take action: It is your job to find and root out those vocal, unhappy customers who can damage your brand, whether online or off, and make them happy. Make sure you are proactive, and when you find an unhappy customer, discover what went wrong and be willing to correct it (even if it’s not your fault.) Be humble. Fix the problem, and then ask nicely if they would remove their negative review. If they won’t, be sure to add your own comment that you rectified what went wrong.
4. Hire a reputation management service: You don’t have to manage your brand’s reputation alone, which is why there are a host of reputation management companies out there that can help you – Reputation.com, for instance.
5. Be proactive about getting positive publicity: Let the press know about all the good things you are doing for the community. Post those things on your site and blog. Publicize your community involvement in your store. And get your happy customers to write positive online reviews about your business. As these will be more recent than the old negative reviews, they may turn up first in a search.
Remember, being attentive about your brand’s reputation can help it remain just as sterling as you want it to.
How do you currently manage your brand? Share your strategies below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.