We’re all familiar with businesses that promise to fix your online reputation; many of them are totally above board, completely circumspect, and do a fine job. There have been criticisms, however, based on ethical considerations. But are such firms your only option if you find your online presence is threatened by bad publicity? Actually, it turns out that you can do quite a bit on your own to fix your reputation and save your e-Commerce enterprise.
As e-Commerce evolves at dizzying speed, it spins off new acronyms and even new fields at an amazing rate. A new subdivision of Public Relations, largely the offspring of SEO, is the field of reputation management. This new type of public relations activity addresses the matter of negative search engine results, which can be devastating to e-Commerce success.
Many sites ask for feedback in the increasingly interactive arena of cyberspace, and of course feedback can be positive or negative. Any e-Commerce vendor wants to publicize its positive feedback and hush up negative responses. E-Commerce sellers thrive or wither on the basis of customer feedback after purchases.
How do you deal with bad ones?
Your first step is to correct the problem that the bad review is complaining about. This is just common sense and applies to a brick and mortar business just as much as to an e-Seller. If you can turn a dissatisfied customer into a happy one, he or she may remove the negative feedback item, and perhaps even submit a new review gushing over your responsiveness to feedback. If posted information is simply incorrect, it may be sufficient to point that out, and the slur may be removed. Legal challenges of libelous sites are even a possibility.
Another corrective measure might be garnering positive references on authoritative third party sites. Press releases are a time-honored tool of public relations, and they can be used in this way. Like any other tool of public relations, reputation management can involve abuse. Sellers have been known to offer discounts as rewards for positive reviews.
John Morgan of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, with his colleague Jennifer Brown of the same university’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, studied feedback processes in connection with selling activity on the best-known site for e-Sellers, and found that positive feedback was being bought and sold through discounting practices. Items were being sold for as little as a penny, simply in order to generate a positive feedback blip, thus raising the positive feedback percentage, a crucial matter for an e-Seller.
Astroturfing – Or The Art of Masquerading
Fake reviews and even fake bloggers, talking up a product or service, are sometimes employed. Of course the ethical boundaries are very fuzzy here. Just what constitutes a “fake” blog? Not every hired blogger is misrepresenting the truth, but some are.
The new term for this type of activity is “astroturfing,” taking its cue from the way astroturf masquerades as real grass. An astroturfing site strives to hide its connections to the individuals that produce it, and particularly to hide its basis of financial support. Astroturfing can be used by competitive rivals who upload fake reviews trashing other suppliers in the same field.
Strong-arm techniques are not unheard of. A spam bot can harass a site so seriously that it has to leave the web entirely, or submit to demands to remove content.
Effective Solutions For The Long Run
After all, what’s the best solution for the small time e-Commerce entrepreneur, who may not want to pay top dollar for a Reputation Management concern? Here are some possibilities that can be part of a do-it-yourself portfolio:
- Turn to your customers, your loyal fans (hopefully), and ask them for positive feedback. While it would be inappropriate to offer them discounts in return, it is legitimate to discreetly make it clear to them that a good relationship between the customer and the firm, perhaps involving a positive review, will benefit both parties in their future commercial relationship. This is not rocket science or anything particularly new. Merchants need to be nice to their customers, and when they are nice, the customers will be happy, and will say so.
- Set up a legitimate blog – It’s not unethical to hire bloggers for this – to blog positively about topics related to your product.
- Get yourself a guest blog gig on other blog sites related to your product. Obtain the same sort of gigs for your writing staff and public relations operatives. Use these opportunities to garner positive name recognition for what you do.
- Register with directories like Yelp and others, and solicit reviews there. Of course, make sure that the product or service referenced by the directory is one that will produce a positive response among users. Again, be nice to your buyers and they will be nice to you.
- Establish relationships with third party sites that can talk about your site. Get some interviews. Use all of the time-honored techniques of old style public relations and advertising. Press releases are good possibilities. Of course each of these releases and interviews needs to be promoted with good SEO techniques and other SEM practices.
- Upload some YouTube videos, and push them with keywords.
- Maintain a presence on public forums, and engage your writers to do the same, making sure that they do not violate the boundaries of truthfulness or ethics in what they say there.
- Monitor your success with alerts that can be placed on Yahoo, Google, Twitter, and other sites. These media concerns will let you set up alerts about search results that will let you know how you’re doing.
With a combination of the new techniques of Reputation Management, used ethically, and the time-honored techniques of garden variety public relations, you can keep your e-Commerce entity in the clear with a good online profile and healthy search results.