Just a few days ago — on the last Friday of June — an unsolicited email was delivered to me from “Reputation Central” touting their reputation repair services. Heaven knows why it didn’t end up in my “Junk” folder, because that’s exactly what it was: junk. (I somehow think that in slipping this email into my Inbox, the Universe was giving me an opportunity to write about something not many funeral professionals take enough time to think about: our online reputation.) Consider the opportunity seized.
And here’s one nugget of truth you need to walk away with today: No matter what you do, your reputation will someday come under attack. In fact, Oxford Metrica, an analytics and advisory firm which focuses on corporate reputation, warns that during the next five years, 83% of companies will face a crisis that will negatively impact its share price (by as much as 30%!)
In an online article, The Dark Side of Reputation Management: How it Affects Your Business, Forbes contributing writer Cheryl Conner shares a dismaying comment from a U.K. contact: “there’s a huge list of websites they claim they are able to remove bad reviews, reports, affair complaints and trade complaints from. Our team became aware of a scandal where we found that many of these sites have either been setup by the company themselves, or have created financial relationships with the owners of the sites to remove content when paid.”
And there are more companies like “Reputation Central” — the source of that spam email I got last Friday — today than ever before, because online reputation management, or ORM, is becoming big (albeit somewhat seedy) business.
So, what can you do? That’s easy: take control of your funeral firm’s online reputation. (That’s nugget #2.) But you don’t do it by responding to an email like the one I got last Friday, paying an unknown entity to repair your funeral home’s reputation. Instead, you get proactive. And you keep your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
Monitor the Buzz
If your online reputation is how people talk about you when you are not in the room, it’s easy to see how you simply need to get into that room where people are doing all the talking! So, where are they?
They are talking about you on consumer review sites, like Yelp, Google Places for Business, Merchant Circle, and CitySearch, among others. They are on sites like Ripoff Report, and Pissed Consumer. And then there’s Facebook, Twitter…and they are talking, believe me. Just look at the report I got when I entered “funeral home” into the Pissed Consumer search bar — and this is just one of dozens of negative listings about funeral homes around the country.
Here are some tips to get you started…
Take ownership of your listings! Either create your own pages within the review sites like Yelp, or CitySearch; or “claim” the page created for your business by the site owner.
Google your company name at least once a month. “Don’t simply look at the first page of Google results”, says Andy Beal, of the social media monitoring company, TrackUr. “Even though the vast majority of search engine users don’t go any further, you should always check pages two and three for negative content. Given how frequently search rankings change, that content could end up on page one overnight.”
Track what you see in a spreadsheet. Create columns for the URL, page title, status of the page (whether you own it, control it, or have some influence over it) and the sentiment (whether it is positive, negative or neutral).
Set up Google Alerts for important keywords so you know as soon as possible when new content about you hits the Web.
Let’s say that you discover a lousy review of your funeral firm on a review site. Don’t panic and offer a “knee-jerk” response online. In fact, experts, like Richart Ruddie, of ProfileDefenders.com, tell us that responding to the posts on consumer complaint sites can actually be counterproductive. “Responding to the complaints at all, particularly on the most prevalent sites,” he argues, “will simply serve to enhance the longevity of the items and increase their rankings with every new entry, thus driving the issues even further up the chart on the list of results.”
So, what’s the right thing to do? When you encounter a negative review, research and rectify the issue — personally. Evan Carmichael, of EvanCarmichael.com, makes it very clear: “Start by understanding that no matter how hard you might try, you can’t fully monitor or control these comments,” he says. “But you can join in them.” Here’s his advice to follow when responding to a negative comment:
1) Make it personal. Knowing that most comments are written impulsively and tend to be emotionally driven, is important. Begin by crafting your response in a friendly tone, and always start by thanking them for their feedback.
2) Apologize. Even if you’re not at fault for what the commenter is complaining about, take responsibility for it.
3) Plan a course of action. Ask the commenter for specifics about the situation and how and why that made him unhappy; provide yourself as their resource. Then devise an appropriate plan to solve the problem. And then follow-up with them to confirm their satisfaction.
Show Them You Care
Not just about your online reputation, but about them. The focus on your online reputation management activities should always be to allow families in your community to see that you really, truly care about their opinions and experiences. To that end you should:
- Listen to what people say
- Talk to people like they’re people
- Engage people by building relationships
- Measure where and what’s being said
Warren Buffet said (and these are wise words to remember as you tackle your funeral firm’s ORM activities): “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Your funeral firm’s good reputation is vital. Leave us a comment. Let us know what you’re doing to protect both your online — and offline — reputation.