One of the most meaningful statements on what online marketing is today comes from Intuit founder Scott Cook:
“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
If the internet does anything, it allows people to self-publish. Blogs, social media platforms, Youtube, photo editing, forums, and online review sites revolutionized the way people express themselves. What was conversations, letters, and word-of-mouth are social media posts, blog articles, videos, and online reviews.
All this consumer-generated content is at the heart of Scott Cook’s quote – it’s how consumers inform each other. This digital word-of-mouth has a huge impact on business reputation because it’s published online rather than just spoken, and because it spreads exponentially across people’s networks. A positive referral on a Facebook post quickly spreads to people many times removed from the person who made the original comment. An online review published on Yelp becomes part of the public domain, visible to anyone. Amazon product reviews build over time and are viewed by new buyers.
All of this content comes together to create a brand’s online reputation. Everyone from major brands to local businesses feel the impact of this content. A reputation people trust is a major marketing asset.
The reason consumers look to each other to to find out about a brand is because they trust what other people (particularly previous customers) say about their experience with the business far more than what the business says about itself. It is rightfully assumed that a business is biased – that it will cast itself in the best possible light. Fellow customers, on the the other hand, have no reason to do anything other than tell the truth about their feelings and experiences.
The word-of-mouth referral became the word-of-mouse review.
The Importance of Reputation Management
In a perfect world, word-of-mouse would be a boon for everyone. Excellent companies with perfect products and services would get glowing word-of-mouse from all their happy customers. Poor companies would get the reviews they’d deserve. What consumers told each other about a brand would be accurate and useful.
Unfortunately this is not the case. Two major problems plague online reviews:
- Fake reviews/social media profiles written by phony reviewers, competitors, or the business reviewing itself.
- Distortion of review profiles because of the tendency for angry customers to write reviews.
Fake reviews have been a bane of the online world for years. As soon as businesses realized the impact reviews had, they started manipulating them. This ranged from hiring writers to concoct reviews or post fake social media posts to intentional slander of a competitor. There are increasing services and programs that exist to detect and remove outright fake reviews.
Just as problematic for many businesses is their inability to reflect the happy middle of customers. That is, they get an occasional glowing 5-star review from an ecstatic client, loaded down with a series of 1-star bombs from their most dissatisfied customers – and nothing in between. The unfortunate reality is that upset (and often unreasonable) people are more motivated to write reviews of their own accord. The result is a distorted review profile that doesn’t reflect that actual value the business usually delivers.
These two problems are the reason reputation management is so important. Reputation management is a focused strategy designed to help a business present an accurate, legitimate review profile that helps consumers make the best purchase decision.
Listen to Bobby and Scott discuss reputation management strategies you can use:
As a business, you will ultimately be judged by your own integrity. If you produce fake reviews for yourself or against competitors, you’re entering the realm of the unauthentic that is the greatest risk to your reputation. Reputation manipulation is a short-term strategy that is ultimately self-destructive.
As both consumers and businesses, we increasingly rely on review services to police their own product so outright fakes can be removed. Amazon, Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, Top Rated Local, and other review platforms are better at verifying reviews and eliminating fakes.
As consumers, we must look at comments on random review sites or social media platforms with our own filters. If a review site allows anonymous, unverified reviews, can they be trusted? Do we know the person making a recommendation on social media? Do we trust their opinion?
It’s worth it to be proactive about getting satisfied clients to make positive comments so you can show that “happy middle” of your customer base. Recognize that this group often won’t write reviews of their own accord, so reach out and motivate them to do so. You don’t want to bribe them into saying something they don’t mean, but you can nudge them into telling why they’d recommend you.
Reputation management is important because you do have some control over what customers say about your business. You can influence the levels of trust customer-generated content creates.
As Scott says in the video, remember that your greatest asset in managing your reputation is doing work you’re proud of. That will take you far.
But you secure your position by making sure liars are not undercutting you. And by making sure your happiest clients are voicing their opinion.
Reputation is what people use to gauge how your services will work for them. You can’t escape its influence in the online world, but you can manage it.