Every company will have dissatisfied customers.
I don’t care how good you are – someone will eventually be unhappy with your product or service.
I have spent most of my professional life dealing with crises in one form or another.
My first crisis response assignment was my biggest—managing the digital communications strategy for American Airlines during 9/11.
I’ve dealt with four plane crashes, three cruise ship sinkings, and countless CEO betrayals.
I am also an expert in search engine optimization (SEO).
In this column, I’ll go over some key strategies and tactics that every business can use to help mitigate the damage of any future crisis.
1. Monitor your brand and executives
Many crises can be avoided through early detection of a problem.
The most important thing you can do today to avoid a future crisis is to keep an eye on your brand and key employees.
That’s right – it’s not enough just to keep an eye on your trademark terms.
You need to keep track of the leadership team’s digital presence, including the CEO.
The worst online reputation management problems involve company leadership.
These problems have worsened in the past few years as details of the company’s leadership’s private lives have been exposed on social media.
There are many examples of companies that watched their business decline due to the personal actions of their leadership team.
There are many tools available to monitor your public digital presence.
But even if you’re on a tight budget, there’s no excuse for not watching.
At the very least, you can set up Google Alerts for your brand and leadership team. Google Alerts is free and easy to set up.
Just go to Google and type Google Alerts and you’ll see how easy it is to set it up.
If you have a larger organization or a volume of content written about your company, Google Alerts can quickly become overwhelming.
Larger organizations require more powerful monitoring tools—and oftentimes more than one, as different tools have different strengths.
I haven’t found one great tool in monitoring search engine results pages, social media, online reviews, and traditional media.
Many organizations will require multiple monitoring tools.
There are many tools available, and I won’t go into any of them because I don’t want to endorse any one tool.
Like I said, every tool has its strengths and weaknesses.
For many organizations, the right tool is the one that works best with your team’s workflow and has an interface you prefer.
2. Get more positive reviews
Most of your satisfied customers will leave no feedback – unless asked.
Companies that have been in business for a long period of time satisfy customers.
If they don’t, they won’t be in business.
But most companies don’t have great reviews.
Positive reviews help your digital presence more than anything less than a glowing story in the Wall Street Journal — and even standout stories lose their potency over time.
Revisions have a logarithmic visualization.
This means that if you have five reviews and two of them are negative, you appear to be a bad company.
However, if you have 500 comments and 10 of those reviews are negative, it looks like 10 people were having a bad day.
Bottom line – the more positive the reviews are, the less impact a negative review has.
I’d rather create a process for asking for positive reviews from customers than just asking for reviews.
And you need to be careful here — it might be against the terms of service at places like Yelp to even ask for a review.
Make sure you understand any risks involved in asking your customers for reviews.
3. Tell your story early and often
If there is nothing to do with your company, and something negative comes out, the damage will be much greater.
If a crunch hits a blank slate, crunch wins every time.
Every company should tell its story as well as it can.
You need to talk about the positive things that are happening in your company – even if they seem a little mundane to you.
Highlighting promotions and awards, talking about culture and charitable contributions – the list goes on and on as far as stories most companies can tell.
You need to write content about your company.
But it is not enough to write about your company on your website.
At the end of the day, proactive online reputation management is all about controlling real estate on search engine results pages.
Most of the time your own site will only be able to occupy one listing in the SERP – two if you’re lucky.
If you want to get positive stuff about your company in the SERPs, get other people to write about you.
I’m a huge fan of interacting with influencers in your community.
Every industry has influencers.
Even the local plumber can find one person in the community who influences the decision-making process when it comes to who fixes neighborhood sinks.
Find the influencers in your audience and talk to them.
Don’t just talk to them about your company, but become a valuable resource for them about what’s going on in your industry or community.
If you provide value without selling your content, you are more likely to write something about your company when it really matters.
And it is really important for a crisis to happen.
When crisis strikes, you need friends.
Invite your local influencer over for a beer or cup of coffee.
A personal meeting with an influencer is often worth hundreds of emails.
But above all, be friends with your influencers.
You never know when you’ll need it.
4. Create a crisis response workflow
When I worked with American Airlines, we had no less than five thick documents from the phone book for crisis plans.
We wouldn’t have a plan if we couldn’t get our people to the disaster site.
And of course, on 9/11, we couldn’t get anyone anywhere on a plane because all the planes were wrecked.
General plans for a crisis are exaggerated because you cannot think of everything.
However, work flows during a crisis can pivot quickly and be effective in most crisis situations.
Crisis workflows are simply plans about who will do what and when they will do it in a time of crisis.
The most important part of a crisis workflow is determining who will respond to items online, who will approve responses, and how quickly a response can be initiated.
Do crunch drills.
Set up a mock crisis and surprise your team with it – and see how well the crisis works.
Make adjustments based on what happens during crunch training.
Proactive online reputation management—things like monitoring, telling your story, getting positive reviews, and creating crisis workflows—can mitigate the damage a real crisis can cause.
Remember, even if the current news cycle is only two weeks away, things stay in Google longer.
By working to create a positive brand reputation in the SERPs, you stand a much better chance of weathering the storm a crisis can throw.
- 7 ways to improve your brand awareness through reputation management
- 7 expert tips for protecting your online reputation
- Local SEO: The Ultimate Guide to Improving Local Search Rankings
Featured image: Sammby/Shutterstock