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What is Reputation Management?

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Updated 7/14/2020

Reputation is an evaluation.

It’s the collective beliefs people have about your organization and it’s significant because it shapes your organization’s identity. Your reputation is the tool customers, employees, and the market use to evaluate tangible and intangible qualities like value, trustworthiness, or value.  

The better your organization is at shaping perception via reputation management, the easier it will be to minimize your organization’s “stumble rate.”

Table of Contents

What is reputation management?

Reputation management is an ongoing effort to influence, nurture, and shape the public’s perception of your organization. As a discipline, it’s approached at the artificial intelligence, industry, group, individual, and levels. 

  1. Artificial intelligence and reputation: If your reputation is who and what others think you are, artificial intelligence systems like Google or Bing shape the world’s perception of your organization. A strong reputation on Google, Facebook, Yelp, Apple Maps, or TripAdvisor means you’re better able to influence, nurture, and shape public perception surrounding your organization. 
  2. Industry reputation: A strong review portfolio and aggregate ratings across search engines and review sites increase your organization’s social status. This differentiates your organization from competitors who are jockeying for position. 
  3. Group reputation: Aggregate review ratings in Google (and Bing) search results increase both reputed and presumed credibility, attracting more clicks in search results. Organizations with more aggregate review ratings generate more traffic and conversions to their digital properties.
  4. Reputation with individuals: Feedback via review platforms, first and third party reviews, social media, and user-generated content persuades individuals. This content shapes perception, fosters goodwill, and improves reputed credibility.

In their paper, Reputation Management: Theory versus Practice,  researchers Gary Davies and Louella Miles state that: 

A firm’s reputation is an intangible asset. The nature of such a reputation depends upon everything the firm does as an entity, and particularly the signals and communications it chooses to give to the marketplace. 

Reputation management filters everything your organization does through the lens of perception. Looking at this definition, it’s easy to be taken in by the idea that it’s possible to wield complete control over your reputation. Take a look at all of the places your brand can appear online:

Each of these contributes to your organization’s online reputation and each of them requires ongoing attention. Continue reading, and you discover that there’s more to reputation management than simply removing negative feedback.

Why is reputation management important?

Leslie Gaines-Ross in her book, Corporate reputation: 12 steps to safeguarding and recovering reputation cite the growing stumble rate—the incidence of reputation loss— as the reason why reputation management has become so important. According to Gains-Ross, 79% of the world’s most admired companies have lost their number one positions in industries in that time period. 

The history of reputation management

Historically, there wasn’t a whole lot of feedback or review options for customers. Before the internet, customers were forced to rely on specialized sources like advertising, brand surveys, journalists, the Yellow Pages, word-of-mouth, and referrals. However, the drivers of reputation — customer experiences, expectations, perceived quality, and value — have remained the same.

In the late 90s, early 2000s, reputation management was largely a response to negative sentiment. Someone leaves poor feedback to your product or service on internet forums, surveys, or with customer support; your organization is criticized publicly, or privately. Then, reputation managers responded to negative sentiment in three ways: 

  1. Burying or censoring negative content via takedown requests, advertising, or paid content. 
  2. Legally fighting content via legal action (e.g., lawsuits, cease and desist, or gag orders). 
  3. Counteracting negative sentiment with positive press campaigns or apology tours.

The focus of reputation management used to be to:

Reputation management includes strategies like:

Reputation management has changed.

How has reputation management evolved?

Today, reputation management has changed, thanks to the rapid growth of the internet, Google, and online review platforms like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Reputation management now includes review management — brands have a significant amount of control over their online reputation. Here’s a brief look at the evolution of reputation management. 

In the 1920s, public relations was the main driver of reputation management. As a discipline, public relations was popularized and established by Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays; It was spread internationally by American brands with PR departments. 

PR was used to rally support for and against a particular brand in the marketplace; consumers were largely excluded from the process. 

Before the internet, consumers relied on the Yellow pages and word-of-mouth. This was beneficial, in the short term, for brands as their reputation depended primarily on a customer’s personal experience. 

That changed with the rise of the internet. 

In 1999, online reviews became a fundamental part of the customer buying process. Customers visiting a few seller specific platforms like eBay began to include online reviews. 

Epinions, RateItAll, and Deja, were the first mainstream platforms to emphasize online reviews, generating a total of 1,146,201 reviews across various products and services. 

Soon heavy hitters like TripAdvisor and Yelp began offering online reviews, giving consumers a voice and the chance to shape a brand’s reputation (for better or worse). The reputation management landscape exploded as consumers began to share their experiences publicly. 

At first the term “reputation management” was largely used to describe a reaction to negative customer sentiment. Today, the term “reputation management” is used as an all-encompassing term to describe, reputation management, review management, crisis management, public relations, and more. 

Customers need the reactive and proactive elements of reputation management to keep up with the change.   

Brands don’t have complete control. Today the roles have shifted dramatically; customers, writers, and communities now have more control over a brand’s reputation than they did before. They’re part of the conversation — brands are welcome, but they’re expected to align with their audience, the prevailing culture, and the values their audience holds. 

It’s a considerable improvement for the better. Previously with reputation management, your options were to manage, censor, or remove negative or unflattering feedback. Now, with the rise of online review management, companies can proactively build their online reputation by reaching out to customers directly. 

Thanks to reviews, brands are now using online reviews to:

What's the difference between reputation management and review management?

Reputation management refers to all of the activities involved with maintaining a stellar reputation online. This includes monitoring and responding to press, reviews, feedback, or conversations taking place online. It includes local search, responding to reviews, citation management, social media management, and more. 

If there’s a conversation taking place about your organization, it’s part of reputation management. 

Review management is a subset of reputation management — you’re monitoring, optimizing, and responding to the reviews that come in via mainstream and niche review sites. Review management is typically a semi-automated process that relies heavily on software to do the heavy lifting required to stay on top of reviews. 

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What should be in your reputation management strategy?

Successful reputation management campaigns are consistent; organizations invest ongoing effort to monitor, nurture, and shape their reputation. You’ll need to do the same.

  • Reputation monitoring: This is simply listening to the conversation that’s already taking place about your organization online. Your industry, offerings, and customer preferences will dictate where you need to listen. Restaurants and hotels will rely primarily on review sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp. Attorneys may rely on sites like Avvo or Martindale. Both sites will need to monitor social media, blogs, press, and specialty platforms for unstructured feedback (i.e., blog reviews, YouTube reviews). .
  • Local citations management: A local citation is a mention of your organization on the web. This typically includes your company name, address, phone number, website address, hours of operation, etc. Your local citations across the web should be accurate and up-to-date, with no conflicting data that would create customer confusion.
  • Requesting reviews/feedback: It’s important that you work to generate a steady stream of online reviews and feedback. Aggregate reviews and the age of your individual reviews impact local search rankings, so this is a must for your organization. The ongoing effort will prevent competitors from overtaking your positions.
  • Review/feedback response plan: You should have a pre-planned response protocol that guides your responses to customers (or critics). Your response templates should provide you with clear cut options for responding to positive and negative feedback, as well as clear indicators outlining when you shouldn’t respond. Your response plan should provide you with options for unstructured feedback (i.e., blog reviews) as well.
  • Reporting and analytics: If you want to improve your performance over time, you’ll need meaningful data from your campaigns. You’ll need actionable data that shows you what’s working, which review sites produce consistent results, and the overall sentiment hidden in your campaigns. You’ll also want to assess the quality and quantity of your review management campaigns.

These are the key differences between reputation management and review management.

How does reputation management help businesses?

Online reviews produce a variety of important benefits for brands looking to grow and scale their business. Let’s take a look at the benefits that come with a strong reputation management campaign.

Reputation Management Benefit #1: Online reviews boost visibility

GMB profile optimization, when combined with a strong review portfolio, is a straightforward method to increase online visibility. Customers are using local search more and more to find what they need.

  • According to Moz, online reviews are the fifth most important local ranking factor, after a completed GMB profile (#1).
  • Research from Think with Google shows mobile searches for “best place to buy” have grown by over 70% in the past two years.
  • There’s been a 200% growth in mobile searches for “Open” + “now” + “near me” (for example, “restaurants near me open now,” “stores open near me right now,” and “pharmacy near me open now”).
  • “Near me” mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have grown over 500% over the last two years.
  • 150% growth in mobile searches for “___ near me now” (for example, “food near me now,” “gas station near me now,” and “delivery near me open now”).
  • 900% growth in mobile searches for “___ near me today/tonight” (for example, “open houses near me today,” “cheap hotels near me tonight,” and “movies playing near me today”).
  • According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey, 91% of consumers stated positive reviews made them more likely to use a local business.
  • Mainstream and niche review platforms rank well in Google search results. The better your reviews, the more visibility you earn.
  • Mobile makes up 84% of all “near me” searches.

Here’s why this data is so significant. 

Requesting and responding to reviews is a surefire way to increase online visibility in Google’s local search results. Don’t take my word for it; here’s what Google has to say about it. 

“Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business. High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location. Encourage customers to leave feedback by creating a link they can click to write reviews.”

What about rankings? 

According to Moz, via their Local Search Rankings Factors Study, review signals contribute 15.44% to your brand’s local search rankings. Google agrees, citing reviews as a large contributing factor to your local rankings.

moz local ranking factor reviews

Another large local ranking factor? Google My Business (GMB) ranking signals contribute 25.12% to your brand’s local pack/finder ranking factors in Google and 8.85% in Localized Organic Ranking Factors. Why such a heavy role for your GMB listing? 

Your GMB listing plays a prominent role in: 

knowledge panel oriole restaurant
google local finder oriole
local pack oriole

This means a completed GMB profile, combined with a strong review portfolio, is responsible for 40.56% of your local pack rankings overall. Online reviews and review platforms are responsible for almost half of your local ranking results.

This means there’s a significant upside for brands that focus their attention on improving rankings across Google’s properties. 

There you have it.

The more reviews you receive, the more engaged you are with customers, the better your online visibility will be.

Reputation Management Benefit #2: Online reviews build social proof

You’re probably already aware of the fact that reviews provide a significant amount of social proof. Social proof enables you to borrow trust from each of your happy customers, creating a buffer of trust, credibility, and authority with new prospective customers. 

Here’s where things get interesting. 

Customers use your review portfolio to complete their comparison shopping. All things being equal, your customers will compare your reviews with your competitors. Brands with a stronger review portfolio will win consistently. 

The data below demonstrates this pretty clearly.

  • 88% of buyers are influenced in their buying decision by reviews.
  • 66% of Americans trust an anonymous online review more than they trust a recommendation from an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.
  • 74.6% of people have looked online to find out about a doctor, a dentist, or medical care.
  • 48% of consumers only pay attention to reviews written within the past 2 weeks.
  • 57% of buyers expect a business to have more than 11 reviews.
  • 49.7% of consumers need to see a 4-star rating or higher to consider a business.
  • 83.5% of shoppers would not consider a business with a 3-star rating or below.
  • 66% of consumers stated many online reviews make them trust a brand online.
  • 59% of respondents stated that online reviews from other patients contribute to their decision when choosing a doctor, dentist, or other healthcare providers.
  • 27% of people that look for local information are actually looking for reviews about that particular store.
  • When choosing a restaurant, Gen Z and Millennials are 99% more likely to rely on social media and online reviews than are Gen X and Boomers.
  • Shoppers across all age ranges expect an average of 112 reviews per product when they search online.
  • Shoppers in the 18- to 24-year-old range expect an average of 203 reviews per product page.
  • 85% of consumers think that online reviews older than 3 months aren’t relevant.

What’s also interesting is the impact a strong review portfolio has on mob mentality. 

Mob mentality? What’s that? 

It’s a scenario where an unhappy customer writes a negative review, triggering more negative reviews from other unhappy customers. In extreme cases, several unhappy customers get together to bash the company in question. 

Happy customers change that. 

Brands that take the time to build a strong review portfolio, find it’s easier to recover from angry mobs of unhappy customers. Build a strong review portfolio, and you’ll find your customers will come to the rescue to defend and protect your brand (reputation). 

Reputation Management Benefit #3: Reviews show brands how to improve

In the early days of reputation, word-of-mouth was a largely private affair. Brands were, for the most part, excluded from the conversation with customers. Referrals and word-of-mouth were handed out privately. 

Online reviews changed that forever. 

Today, brands can glean a never-ending supply of data from their customer’s reviews. Customers today are eager to disclose what went wrong and why. Who did what and when. Thanks to the voice of the customer, brands now have a front-row seat. They’re able to get a first-person view of what’s working, what needs to be improved, and the deal breakers that would keep customers from signing up. 

  • Businesses that respond to even just one review earn 4% more than average.
  • Sparks trust with potential customers/clients.
  • Reviews help brands identify customer deal-breakers, objections, fears, challenges, and concerns.
  • Reviews show brands where they’ve fallen short with customers and provides a path forward.
  • Reviews flush out customer goals, KPIs, and expectations.
  • Strong reviews help brands convert searchers into leads.
  • Healthy review portfolios boost conversions, generating more clicks, calls, and sign-ups.
  • Reduces per lead and sale costs, making it easier to win customers.
  • Yet, with all of these benefits, local marketers only invest 17% of their time on reputation management.
  • According to a recent survey, 69% of respondents only spent 1-20% of their time on reputation management.
  • 50% of local marketers can’t put more effort into their online reputation due to a lack of time.

What’s amazing about all of this is the fact that you can monitor competitor reviews as well. Using their reviews, you can build a detailed picture that includes all of the details I’ve mentioned above, free of charge.

Reputation Management Benefit #4: Online reviews increase revenue

Revenue is the bit that moves the needle for most brands. As it turns out, a strong review portfolio has an enormous impact on a brand’s financial well being.

  • Research from the Harvard Business Review found that increasing the average rating on Yelp by one star could increase revenues by 5 to 9%.
  • Businesses with more than 82 total reviews earn 54 % more in annual revenue than average.
  • Businesses that claim free listings on multiple review sites make 36% more revenue. Google is the most important free listing for businesses to claim
  • Businesses that don’t claim their listing on any review sites earn 24% less revenue than average.
  • People spend up to 49% more money at businesses that reply to reviews.
  • 75% of businesses don’t respond to any of their reviews.
  • Businesses that reply to more than 25% of their reviews earn 35% more revenue than average.
  • Low ratings on Google and TripAdvisor have the largest negative impact on revenue for small businesses.
  • Locations that move their Google My Business profile’s rating from a 3.5 to 3.7 stars experience conversion growth of 120%.
  • Businesses with more than 9 fresh reviews (posted within the past 90 days) earn 52% more than average, and those with more than 25 earn 108% more than average.
  • Having five reviews increases purchase likelihood by a factor of almost four.
  • Between similar products online, 35% of consumers said better reviews had driven them to spring for the higher priced option.
  • For “near me” searches, a star rating increase of just 0.1 could increase the conversion rates of a business location by 25%.

There’s a direct correlation between reviews and revenue, but it may not be what you think. 

A study by Womply shows brands that earn a star rating between 3.5 and 4.5 stars earn more revenue annually than any other ratings. Brands with a 4- to 4.5-star rating earn 28% more in annual revenue. Surprisingly, five-star-rated businesses earn less in revenue than 1- to 1.5-star businesses.

The research on this is clear. 

Consistent, ongoing effort with review management is the best way to achieve the revenue lift you need. However, this lift will require some hands-on management. 

How to manage your online reputation

If you’re looking for a consistent way to build your reputation, you’ll need to take a proactive approach with online reviews. If you’re looking to suppress the effects of unfair or unethical actions on your reputation, you’ll need a reactive approach.  It’s two sides of the same reputation management coin.  With that in mind, how should brands go about managing their online reputation? You allow your circumstances to dictate the strategies and tactics you use.  Not facing a crisis?  Focus your attention on Positive Reputation Management
  1. Find, create, or claim your company profile on each of the review sites on your list. This list should include mainstream, niche, and industry-specific review platforms (e.g., Google, Facebook, Yelp, ZocDoc, HealthGrades, etc.).
  2. Build, fix, or edit all of the existing citations in your list. Verify that each of the review profiles you’ve claimed has accurate citation data (e.g., name, address, phone, hours, descriptions, images, etc.). 
  3. Ask customers to write a review for each of the profiles in your list. Using review management software, send your customers a semi-automated review request, completed at a specific point in the customer lifecycle. 
  4. Respond to customer reviews whether they’re positive or negative. Engage with customers, doing your best to meet them where they are. 
  5. Share your great and not-so-great reviews on your website and social media. Use your not-so-great reviews to showcase your willingness to take care of your customers. Use your great reviews to showcase your ability to achieve amazing results. 
Positive reputation management should be your default, the day-to-day work that’s done to grow your business. You take good care of your customers, then you ask them to share their stories with the world.  What if things go wrong?  Now it’s time to focus on Negative Reputation Management
  1. Create a crisis management plan that outlines your company’s response during a reputation crisis. This outlines your response to an overwhelming event, whether that’s positive or negative. 
  2. Activate social listening tools and resources to monitor the conversation that’s taking place about your brand publicly. These tools give you the ability to listen, approach and respond to reviewers, whether their statements are positive, negative or neutral.
  3. Implement the steps outlined in your crisis management plan. Your crisis management plan should outline which tool is used when and where. For example, lawsuits to deal with defamation or libel, SEO to bury fallacious or dishonest content that’s intended to smear your company, takedown requests to deal with dishonest reviews and positive reviews to bury misleading reviews. 
  4. Restoration and refocus to positive reputation management. Negative reputation management may be necessary from time to time, but it shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence. You’ll want to use negative reputation management to restore your company to good standing. From there, you can continue to build your brand with positive reputation management.  
It’s possible to do this manually, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you plan on maintaining your online reputation successfully over the long term, you’re going to need the right set of tools. 

What is reputation management software supposed to do?

You’ll need reputation management software to manage your campaigns successfully. Which software solution will be best for your business? Generally speaking, the best tools provide white label reputation management software with some level of customization to ensure you can maximize the results you receive.  Software vendors understand this.  If they take the time to customize their software platform for your business, you’re far less likely to abandon them for a competitor. There’s too much transitional pain and downtime involved. To identify the software tools that work best for your business, you’ll need to gather evaluation data.  Let’s take a look. 
  1. What do you need your software to do? Are you looking for local listings, review management, customer surveys, ticketing, chat, insights, or benchmarking? The platform needs to work with you as much as possible. 
  2. How much are you looking to spend? You get what you pay for doesn’t apply here. Providers like GatherUp or Grade.us offer more than large, well-known competitors. Comparison shopping will help you identify whether you’re getting the maximum value for your investment. 
  3. Customer support and uptime. This is a really important (but often neglected) detail. If you’ve found the cheapest option, but their support is non-existent, and their uptime is poor, have you really saved money? If you know you’ll need lots of hand-holding and support, seek out providers who can give you the level of service and support you want. 
  4. Will you need integration with existing toolsets? Does your provider offer an API? Do they integrate with third-party tools like Zapier or well-known tools like Salesforce or Microsoft? You’ll need to identify the integrations that are most important to your business. 
Need help choosing the right reputation management software? Our comprehensive guide provides you with 12 options, breaking things down by features, price, support, and more.  In general, you’re looking for software tools that can provide four basic functions. 
  1. Get customer reviews via email and text. Sophisticated providers will also include a print or QR option for storefronts or specialized service providers. 
  2. Monitor reviews (via review alerts) about positive and negative reviews. Your software tools should provide you with timely updates and prompt notifications. 
  3. Respond to reviews from a centralized platform. You should be able to respond to the vast majority of your customers from a single dashboard. 
  4. Share reviews via your website and social media. Sophisticated software tools provide you with several options you can use to link to, share, embed, and promote your reviews automatically. This shouldn’t require regular work on your part. 
These are the basics, anything above and beyond is a bonus. You’ll want your software tool to handle most of the heavy lifting for you and your team. This makes reputation management simple, scalable, and profitable. 

Reputation management protects your organization’s identity

Your reputation is the collective beliefs people have about your organization. 

Reputation management gives you the ability to influence, guide, and manage the gut feeling customers have about your organization. Reputation management has changed; it used to be about reacting, about waiting for the worst. 

Today, customers use the term “reputation management” as an all-encompassing term to describe, reputation management, review management, crisis management, public relations, and more. As customers have become more knowledgeable about online reviews, brands have begun to realize they need both ends of the reputation management spectrum.