It won’t surprise you to learn that your reputation is bound up in the conversations that people have about your business. If those conversations are good, you’ll fly and do plenty of business, no matter what the season. If they’re bad, you’ll struggle to make a lasting impact on your community.
Today, your reputation isn’t just confined to conversations people have in the physical world. It’s moved to the digital world, increasing the opportunities and also the perils. There’s never been a better time to spread the word about your business and enhance your reputation. You can communicate with thousands of people, all with a few clicks of the mouse. And you can reach people you would never ordinarily have been able to reach in the past. But with these new tools, there are also significant perils. Make mistakes, or get your PR wrong, and you could end up with a bad online reputation that’s hard to shift.
So with that said, what strategies can small businesses use to improve their reputation in the online space?
Step 1: Create Content That Demonstrates Your Expertise
Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist from Harvard University. When it comes to convincing customers that you are somebody that they can trust, she’s an expert. She says that the best way to build a good reputation is to gain the respect of your customers. When customers respect your abilities and understand your talents, they are far more likely to hand over their money. They want people who they can trust to deliver high-quality products, no matter what.
She advises small businesses not to focus on sales, but to push out informative and educational content instead. This is, in a sense, marketing by the back door. You provide customers with valuable information they would struggle to find elsewhere. And in the process, you build up a level of trust that then makes it more likely that they’ll come to you in the future.
Let’s say for instance that you’re a veg box company. People are constantly looking for easy ways to eat more healthily. You could demonstrate your expertise by finding healthy and tasty recipes and providing them for free on your site. You’ll then get lots of traffic from people looking to eat better, and in the process, some might sign up to your scheme.
Step 2: Engage With Your Customers Online
Cuddy says that people make two fundamental evaluations when they meet a new person. They first try to figure out whether they can trust them to do what it is that they want them to do. And secondly, they try to find out whether they are worthy of respect.
The same holds true for small businesses. People want to know whether they can both trust and respect a small business. Arguably, the best way to do this online is through customer engagement, specifically reviews. Reviews are a great vehicle to establish trust since people are more likely to trust their peers than they are your own marketing. And they’re an excellent vehicle for gaining respect. The more issues that you resolve, the more confidence your customers will have that you can deliver for them too.
Building reviews and engaging with customers online takes time. There are software solutions, like Chatmeter, for instance, that help to reduce this burden. But you’ll have to spend a proportion of your time managing your online relationships. Make sure that you check-in regularly on your social media channels using dashboard apps. Ensure that you’re pursuing likes and uploading fresh content for your followers to enjoy. The more activity that you can generate the more that Google will see this as a “brand signal.” The stronger your brand signal, the higher you’ll climb the rankings, and the more people will find you.
Step 3: Get Your Audience Chatting
Companies struggle to get people talking about them, often because they think that they have to always promote their product. And when your product is cut timber or scaffolding, that’s hard.
But the truth is that getting people talking about your business doesn’t require a focus on your product. Instead, you can create a buzz around an offer or an event. Perhaps everybody who turns up to your timber yard on Mondays can help themselves to a free slice of cake. Or maybe you’re doing a discount for people who wear charity stickers. Pick something that will get people talking and sharing. Discounts, events and prizes are all great ways to do this.
Another tactic is to do personal shout-outs to your customers. Whatever it is, it all helps to get people talking and Google to notice.
Step 4: Use Local Publications
Small businesses want backlinks from authority sites, like Forbes and Inc., more than anything else in the world. And while links from those locations will do a lot to boost your ranking, they’re not the only sites you could approach. Small businesses need to start locally before they move to the national stage. That’s why it’s worth contacting local press first, as a platform before moving onto the larger publications. Featuring in local publications will help your geo-search rankings. If you’re smart, you can also target publications directly related to your business. Through these publications, you stand a good chance of getting referral traffic to your site.
Step 5: Use Branding Rather Than Ad Conversions Or “Impressions”
There’s a debate running right now as to whether impressions really are a good metric to use when it comes to online advertising. Both large and small businesses have questioned their ability to improve your reputation and build a brand. The main problem is that it’s tough to measure the ROI of impressions. Sure, MIT researchers may have found that ad impressions stick in people’s minds after just 13 milliseconds. But there’s no real way to connect the impression to the final sale or conversion.
Banner ads are becoming an increasingly unpopular way for businesses to build the reputation or customer base. Instead, many are not turning to the very branding methods we’ve discussed in this article. Click through rates are poor performers compared to other types of digital outreach.