Online Reputation Management with Andy Beal

Online Reputation Management

Have you ever Googled yourself and found people talking smack about you or your company? Or discovered an undeserved negative review of your business on Yelp? Discover to how to take control of your online reputation from industry expert Andy Beal in this interview.

Managing your company or brand’s online reputation isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity. In a world where social media platforms are endless, even just one negative thread in a forum can snowball into a PR nightmare.

Knowing where and how to monitor what’s being said about you – as well as when to get involved and when to hang back – is the key to building and maintaining your online reputation. With the right tools, you can even build your own ‘army of evangelists’ that will boost your credibility and even go to bat for you if your reputation is questioned.

Andy Beal is considered one of the world’s most respected online reputation management consultants. Highly respected, he has worked with many top companies seeking his internet marketing advice.

Andy-Beal-PinterestRich: Andy Beal is the CEO of Trackur and principal of Reputation Refinery, the co-author of the critically acclaimed book, Radically Transparent: Monitoring And Managing Reputations Online. Beal has spent more than a decade advising individuals and businesses on how to manage their online reputation.

His latest book is, Repped: 30 Days To A Better Online Reputation, and it provides a practical plan for improving personal and corporate reputations. Andy has appeared on ABC news, CNBC and NPR and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Businessweek, Inc Magazine, Forbes and many other publications. There is probably nobody better suited to talk about the topic I want to talk about today, which is online reputation management. Andy, welcome to The Marketing Agents Podcast.

Andy: Thank you, Rich. I’m looking forward to chatting with you and hopefully sharing some tips today.

Rich: Excellent., I’m just kind of curious, how did you first become interested in online reputation management?

Andy: It was really necessity. Probably 12-13 years ago working the executive team for a really large search engine marketing firm, and we found when you’re one of the largest firms out there, people like to take potshots at you and try to criticize you and so I led the charge of making sure that we protected our reputation in forums and on blogs. So it really was out of necessity, and then we started to bring that to clients and then started offering it as an actual full service, and then that became my focus. Ten years and lots of clients later, here I am.

Rich: Excellent. Well, I’m glad you made it here and you’re able to help us today with our problems with online reputation management. Now, how do you define what is online reputation management, and is it drastically different than what people might just think about as traditional reputation management?

Andy: Well, online reputation management is basically improving the amount of positive mentions that are about your brand or your name online, while managing and reducing the amount of negative mentions that show up online. So, for online reputation management, it’s a little bit more narrow than just general reputation management because there is certainly offline and crisis communication and that kind of stuff.

Online reputation management encompasses search, social, PR, branding, a whole lot. However, when most people think of online reputation management, they think of managing more shows up in Google. So they’re thinking of Google reputation management.

Rich: Ok, good to know. Let’s say you’re a small business and one day you’re doing a Google search on yourself – which so many of us do – and in the top 10 results are some really negative comments about your business, whether they’re true or not. What do you recommend somebody do when they see that?

Andy: A good thing that you’ve pointed out is to make sure that you do Google yourself on a regular basis. Few people do that and so weeks or months go by between popping their name into Google and all of a sudden they’re blindsided, whereas if they had done this on a regular basis – once a week, perhaps – and looked at the top 30 results they could keep an eye out for anything that’s starting to move up and look negative, and they wouldn’t be blindsided.

However, let’s go with the scenario you just laid out and they have discovered something negative showing up. The first thing to do is to do a complete audit of their Google reputation and look to see what is it that’s being said, has it been deliberately optimized, is it true or is it defamation. It’s a different approach if it’s something that’s negative but true, versus negative but defamation.

You kind of need to get a lay of the landscape. And then for the most part, something negative shows up because there’s not enough positive, influential, trusted content that Google deems worthy enough to be in those results so it goes out looking for other stuff. And just like sensational stories sell newspapers, sensational webpages gain backlinks, which means they show up in the top 10 of Google.

Rich: Ok, so if I’m hearing what you’re saying, we should be regularly checking our Google results and looking past page 1, so that if something is starting to bubble up we can be aware of it before it actually hits that first page.

Another question we should be asking ourselves, “Is it true or is it defamation?” I’m assuming if it’s true, maybe we need to look inside our own companies and see if we can fix this. And if it’s defamation, do we have any sort of recourse there? Can we call up Google and say, “Hey, that’s completely B.S., I need you to take it down.”?

Andy: Uh, no.

Rich: I knew it wasn’t that easy!

Andy: Yeah, I wish it were that easy. However, you can follow up with legal channels as you would for any other kind of defamation. And if you get a court order to agree that something is defamation, then you can present that court order to Google – and they have an official channel for you to do that – then Google will take that down. But you do need something official like a court order, you can’t just call or send them an email and say, “Hey, that’s defamation, take it down.” If they did that every time they got a request, then half the index would be missing.

Rich: Sure, that makes a lot of sense. So let’s say that we discover some sort of negative result, and maybe it’s somewhere between truth and defamation. There’s definitely a lot of gray area in terms of whether something’s actually defamation or not. What are some tactical steps that we as entrepreneurs or small business could take to kind of de-emphasize a negative result in a Google search?

Andy: You need to understand that for just about every business out there, you should be #1 for your own brand. So that makes you the superbrand. Which means as far as Google is concerned, there’s no other website out there that is more relevant to your reputation than the one that you own. And that’s good news because we can then pack that authority on to other sites, other profiles that we own.

So what we’re trying to do is build content that is equally relevant and linked to – in other words, popular – for our name. So instead of optimizing for a particular product like North Carolina Real Estate or iPhone Accessories, we’re going to start optimizing content for our name. And one of the great things that we can do once we create a page – let’s say it’s a Facebook page – we’ve optimized it, it’s got our reputation as the name of the page and we’ve got posts up there. Then if we link to it from our corporate site or our personal blog, that’s passing on a very strong signal to an already relevant and optimized site to Google and saying, “Hey look, if someone searches my name, this site is also relevant about me as well.”

So that’s what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to create content that is more relevant and more trusted than the negative pages that are showing up. And what a lot of people do is they throw a lot of stuff on the wall and hope it sticks, but you’ve got to be a little more precise than that.

Rich: Alright, so that makes a lot of sense. So what I’m hearing is I want to have my homebase optimized for my own brand name, and then I want to use a lot of these social media outposts – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and be linking from my website to kind of share some of that trusted linkage. That way it’s going to kind of push potentially negative reviews off the homepage. Is that correct?

Andy: Right, exactly. And at the same time you need to look for content that fits your business scope. So if you don’t have a large audience on Facebook then it’s going to be very hard to promote that page and get it ranking well enough in Google if nobody ever visits it and nobody ever links to it and nobody cares about it.

You’ve gotta find content that is relevant, trustworthy and also it’s got to help your business. Otherwise it won’t get the traction and you’ll get bored and face fatigue because you’re trying to promote something that nobody has interest in.

Rich: Ok, makes a lot of sense. We talked about Google results now for a little while, let’s talk about the case that brought me to you. I knew somebody who was running a franchise and in one of these franchise forums somebody asked, “Hey, do you like franchise X?” And there were a lot of positive comments but then all of a sudden there was a negative response, and it kind of steamrolled. And so the name of that particular thread became one of the top links and it was kind of negative towards this company. Is there much we can do in a situation like that? This was a forum that was actually focused on their specific industry.

How might you overcome that? Obviously there could be things, maybe you need to fix the franchise. But if it’s just a matter of defamation or a matter of this gray area, what might be the steps somebody could take in a situation like that?

Andy: Well I think one of the first things you need to do is you need to make sure that you monitor your reputation and our software tracker that we offer does this. For example. we monitor forums. You can’t be expected to keep an eye out for every, single forum that’s related to your industry. We do that for you and bring you the results.

If you get into the conversation early, you can prevent it from flaring up, you can take it offline, you can address whatever the issue is. But you’re right, this needs to start with a better practice with your company or service. By understanding what the problem is that they’re facing, how can you make your business better so that they’re not having this complaint in the first place.

But early monitoring, being active, getting into the conversation will help a lot of things.. Otherwise it’s like a cancerous mole flaring up on your foot. If you don’t look at the bottom of your foot, you’re not going to know it’s there.

Rich: Ok, good analogy there. So this comes up to an important point, though. We sometimes see negative comments about our company sometimes in places we can control, like our Facebook or a blog comment, and sometimes not places. The question is always delete, ignore or engage? We don’t always have the option of deleting, but do you have a rule of thumb of when we should ignore and when we should engage somebody who’s saying negative things about our company?

Andy: It’s very subjective, so I think you really need to look at what’s being said. If somebody has a relatively benign statement to make where they bought a product from you and it just didn’t really fit their needs, then that may not require much interaction. If it’s something where they bought your product and a battery exploded and now they’re going to tell everybody and write a blog post about it, then that’s something you may wish to intervene and kind of respond.

Deleting stuff I don’t recommend unless it’s something obscene, something racial where it just wouldn’t be tolerated by normal society. Or if you’ve made a statement that is racial or very insensitive that would continue to cause concern or judgement or stress the general population, then certainly you need to delete that. But for the most part, deleting things just kind of sparks more discussion or more energy to the conversation because it raises the question as to why you deleted it.

For the most part, you want to take any discussion offline or at least move it out of the confines of whatever platform it is. So for example, if somebody comes to us and they have a complaint and they tweet to us, we’re not going to be able to resolve that in 140 characters. It’s not going to do ourselves justice and it’s not going to be fair to them. What we do is we give them another means – a helpdesk or email – where they can reach out to us and we can actually have a better platform to assist them and make it right. While at the same time, not making it public for everybody.

That doesn’t mean we’re trying to sweep it under the rug, but we’re trying to give them a better service. We are trying to remove the back and forth that nobody needs to see, and hopefully we’re going to have the mindset that we really want to make this customer happy.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense. And my experience has been when you delete something, sometimes people just want to vent. When they find that you’ve now taken their vent away, there’s only a million other places on the web where they can complain, some a lot more public than the place you’ve just deleted them from anyway.

Andy: Right, exactly. And so if you take away that channel, that opportunity for them to discuss youm they will go elsewhere. And that is why you find a lot of individuals or companies with bad reputations is because the customer wanted to vent but there was no official channel to do so. Even a channel such as there was no toll-free number or nobody received care at the reception desk, or whatever it may be, and so they want to show you and tell everybody they know on Facebook and Twitter.

Whereas if they know there’s an official helpdesk or Facebook page or something, then they’ll be drawn to that. But if they feel like you’re just going to delete their comments or there’s not a place to have their say, then they’ll go to Yelp or Tripadvisor or the Better Business Bureau, and that’s where they’ll voice their complaints.

The more you can do to let your customers know ‘we care about your opinion, we care that you have a great experience doing business with us and here’s who to contact if that isn’t the case”, the more you do that the more you can reduce conversation that then makes it online.

Rich: Ok. Now a lot of what we’ve talked about so far has been about people who have maybe legitimate complaints about a product or service that we brought to market. What tactics do we have if we just have somebody that has an axe to grind, maybe an upset ex-employee or an angry customer, and they seem to be going over the line? Are there any practical steps we can take to deal with this, or do we just let the fire burn out?

Andy: It really does depend. These are what we call “determined detractors”. These are the opposite of a brand evangelist, these are people that are out to get you. They may have an ulterior motive, they could be a competitor, disgruntled employee, a jilted lover, whoever it may be. It really depends on how far and extreme they’re willing to go as to how you respond. If they’re just posting a few things and they don’t have a large audience, nobody seems to interact with them because they see that they’re just disgruntled, then they may not need for you to respond.

But if they have a popular blog that starts showing up in the search results and everytime you do a press release they’re there to say something negative, then really one of the best things you can do is have a face to face sit down with them and give them an opportunity to air their grievances, find out what’s wrong and then listen to their feedback. Then discuss with them how you can make your company/products/services better in their eyes.

Even if you can make just a little bit of ground, make a small change that they think you should do that won’t really hurt your business but would mean a lot to them, you can potentially turn that determined detractor into somebody that at best is an evangelist but maybe at worst now somebody that isn’t really going to pick on you as much because they see that there’s an effort internally to try and be better.

Rich: Makes sense. I have a st question to ask, you kind of already answered this. It seems like there’s an infinite number of places where people can leave feedback these days, how do we possibly track them all?

Andy: Great question. So in Repped, we talk about finding your centers of influence. With a lot of pressure on us to be on every, single social media channel that’s out there and that we need to monitor and engage in all of them, that’s just impossible, especially for small business owners. So the thing is to determine where it is your customers tend to hang out. Is it a particular Facebook page, are they on Twitter, is there a forum they like to hang out in? Then focus on engaging with that particular place.

But you should also cast a wide net of monitoring just so that you’re aware of other conversations going on. And you can do that with Google alerts and Trackur, you need to set something up so at least you’re aware of discussions that go on in a particular channel that you’re not active in so that you can look at it and say, “Ok, do we need to respond to this, do we need to reach out to them?” You at least need to be aware.

The best thing you can do is foster a community in a place where you know that your customers seem to hang out on a channel that they enjoy using, and that’s going to be beneficial to you. And if you can do that, you’ll cut down on the number of negative comments plus you’ll have a more engaged audience that perhaps will build this band of evangelists that will go out and post positive things about you and help you to lift your reputation.

Rich: It does seem like the brand ambassador is kind of the antidote to the determined detractor.

Andy: It is. And there’s an interview I did with Lenovo a few years ago, and they specifically said if they see their customers coming to their defense, they will often hang back on joining the conversation because it is much more powerful if you’re brand evangelists come to your defense and help resolve a situation than if the brand itself tries to muscle its way in and get all corporate and put a spin on it.

I’ve had situations in the past where somebody’s complained about us or said something that was not true, but people that are passionate about our brand have kind of jumped in to kind of correct them or at the very least contacted me to tell me someone’s spreading rumors and we need to jump in and fix it because they’re saying stuff that’s not true. So there’s a lot of benefits of building a solid brand that people enjoy and feel part of.

Rich: I think that’s absolutely true.That’s great advice, and the same kind of thing happened to me years ago. Somebody had started spreading rumors about something we were involved in and somebody else brought it to my attention and they were quick to jump all over this person and say it wasn’t true. Luckily if you had been around for a little while and been building up this positive brand identity, it makes it a lot easier to defend yourself. And sometimes you’ll find you don’t even need to because your brand ambassadors have jumped into the fray for you.

Andy: Exactly.

Rich: Andy, this has been great and very helpful today. I want to thank you. I know that there are going to be a lot of people here who maybe have had some problems in the past and may want to dig a little bit deeper, where can we find out more about you online?

Andy: The best place to go to is reputationrefinerary.com. There’s a couple good reasons why. One is, you can learns about the services that we offer, the reputation management services we have. But also, at the bottom of our homepage, you can put in your email address and we will email you a free .pdf version of my latest book, Repped. So you can get that, review it, and get some great information about how to build and protect and monitor and manage your online reputation. And it’s completely free. Or follow me on Twitter @AndyBeal.

Rich: That’s great. I’m actually going to go and check that out right now. Andy, thank you very much for your time today.

Andy: It was a pleasure, Rich. I enjoyed talking with you.

Interview Links:

  • Thanks for the chance to chat!

  • @andybeal:disqus , it was so worthwhile! I think everyone–even if they haven’t had a PR disaster online–can take advantage of what you shared here. Thanks!!

  • Robert Brooks

    Excellent interview, wonderful advice!