From reviews to social media: why your online brand is so important

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What you say about yourself online and what others say about you online will affect your business’ bottom line. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, an overall one-star increase or decrease on a review site can result in a five to nine percent increase or decrease in sales. Similarly, a study by Edmunds.com discovered that auto dealerships with a 3.5 star rating or below get 30 percent less leads, said Brent Franson, Vice President of Sales at Reputation.com.

Eager to learn more, I moderated a panel discussion on building and protecting your online brand. Joining me and Franson on the panel were Shanee Ben-Zur, social media strategist and manager for NVIDIA and Daniel Bernstein, product partnerships lead for social/Google+ at Google.

Why your online brand matters

We’re discovered via our online brand. The content that we and others create about us from our online identity. Videos about us, photos we’re tagged in, our tweets, Facebook profile, and blog posts all form a collective representation of ourselves. Most entry points for this content are through Google, said Bernstein.

Your online reputation is found through search results, agreed Franson. The first two results from a Google search get 52% of all clicks. That first page of results get 72% of all clicks, and the second page gets the next 27%. After the second page of search results, there are barely any clicks.

Google may be where you’re often discovered, but it’s no longer the dominating force of your site traffic. We’re undergoing a major disruption of the distribution and consumption of media which has resulted in a shift of site traffic from solely search to now including social services such as Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and LinkedIn. This disruption is most noticeable via mobile, noted Bernstein, who said Facebook has been reporting a 25 percent increase quarter over quarter in mobile traffic.

Ever feel you’re never going to have enough time to dedicate to building and maintaining your online brand? You’re not alone.

Defining your online brand is not up to you. “The web is going to say something about you whether you like it or not,” said Franson. “There’s no option of me not to say anything.”

One-time management vs. ongoing management

There are two ways you can manage your online profile: Through one-time (or infrequent) management and ongoing management through social media.

Your best one-time management effort is to have a business website and social account. If you truly have no time to set up a business site, at bare minimum it’s easy to set up a LinkedIn page and forget about it, for at least a year, said Bernstein.

As for ongoing management, you have to contribute. “If you’re not contributing anything to the community, it’s not going to do anything for you,” said Franson. “If you want to have an active presence you should be talking about things actively… A Twitter account that you’re never updating is never going to do anything for you.”

Taking that first step on Twitter is not easy. “When you start on Twitter, you’re in a room talking to yourself. You want people to show up to your party. To get there you go to their room and their party,” said Ben-Zur who advises following key people in your areas of interest. Listorious is a great service to search for those people and Twitter lists others have created on that subject.

Bernstein argued that you don’t necessarily have to participate on Twitter. The “top misconception of Twitter is you have to tweet. You don’t. You can get tons of value from Twitter by just watching,” he said. Just follow the media outlets you normally follow and you’ll start observing a new phenomenon as your news arrives in bite-sized formats.

Where do you draw the line with negative criticism?

About five years ago I had a situation where I accidentally said something stupid on an internet show and I got an insane volume of criticism. In an effort to quell the anger I went into a chat room trying to explain what I was trying to say. My response only added fuel to the fire. It continued an angry discussion that I discovered died out when I just kept my mouth shut.

Staying quiet is rarely the best thing to do, but it’s sometimes the appropriate action. I asked the panel how they handle negative criticism.

Because of some involvement with Israel, NVIDIA received a mountain of criticism on its blog, much of it anti-Semitic. It was able to mitigate a majority of the situation because it had a public comment policy. This allowed it to delete, without repercussion, any post that had profanity in it. Posts with civil, yet negative comments, stayed up. To quell the continuing tide of non-profane criticism, it put up a short post to establish their position on the issue, said Ben-Zur.

When deciding whether to take action on a review look at the criticism first and ask yourself, “How sober is the person who posted the review,” said Franson. “If someone is legitimately upset you can apologize publicly or respond privately.”

Beware of using your corporate and legal muscle to take someone down. The internet has communications and distribution powers that are completely out of your control. The most notorious case of this is when Barbara Streisand sent her team of lawyers after someone who posted a picture of her home online. The person who posted the completely legit and legal photo did not buckle to the pressure.

Instead, he exacerbated Streisand’s concern by spreading it to his friends. The photo went everywhere, and the poor response resulted in a Wikipedia article called “The Streisand Effect.” In retrospect, it would have better if she did nothing. Keep this example in mind the next time you get into a debate on a review site, said Franson. Sometimes it’s a good idea, and sometimes responses only go back and forth and it just makes the situation a lot worse.

“People are forgiving of companies making mistakes,” said Ben-Zur. “They’re not forgiving of being ignored.”

People really appreciate and accept it when companies apologize, Ben-Zur noted.

How reviews can make or break your business

As evidenced by the statistics at the beginning of this article, small businesses need to focus on online reviews. Seventy-two percent of the public trust online reviews as much as they trust word of mouth.

The overwhelming majority, 80%, of reputation damage to small businesses is a mismatch of what people are saying online and what’s actually happening offline, Franson said. The scale tips to one side when a few unhappy people were the only ones that went out of their way to post a review online. To right the scale you have to go out of your way to solicit reviews.

New online branding opportunities

All the panelists agree that Google is the most popular entry point for your discovery of your online brand. To incentivize participation in its social network, Google is letting the Google+ identity carry through to its main Google search property.

If your business is on Google+ with pictures and reviews, that information will appear on the right hand side at the top of the page whenever anyone does a search on your business. It’s a phenomenal branding and real estate play, explained Bernstein.

Another huge branding opportunity is with photos, which have caused an amazing media disruption and are incredible attractors. Astonishingly, 10% of all photos ever taken were taken in 2011. More and more people live their lives through photos, said Bernstein.

Another astonishing statistic that Bernstein noted is that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. It’s bigger than Bing and Yahoo. While it’s not a major player with regard to reputation, videos can grab more Google real estate by being embedded in search results.

This article by David Spark originally appeared on Spark Minute and was published with permission.

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