From the value of your products to the quality of your customer service, people are likely already posting, talking and tweeting about you. And businesses today can’t afford to ignore conversations related to their reputation. Like, literally: 53% of consumers Like or follow a brand page on social to learn about new products and services. Despite popular belief, your online reputation isn’t something that’s totally beyond your control. If you want more positive reviews and glowing praise from your customers, you need an actual reputation management strategy. In this guide, we’ll show you how to put together your own.

Why so much is at stake with reputation management

We get it: some businesses might be skeptical of why ratings, reviews and positive comments hold so much weight. Because if you know that you’re doing good business, who cares what other people are saying? And besides, it’s easier to put on blinders and ignore your haters than it is to face your critics head-on. However, consider the following trends that highlight the importance of reputation management:

Consumers are increasingly dependent on third-party reviews

It’s not a stretch to say that businesses live and die based on customer feedback. People overwhelmingly rely on reviews when it comes to purchasing decisions. In fact, the average consumer needs to see 10 positive reviews prior to trusting a business. There’s obviously massive demand for customer feedback and consumers aren’t shy about delivering it. Want evidence? Look no further than the 140+ million users on Yelp…   …the hundreds of review categories scattered around sites like G2… …and the millions of reviews on Trustpilot. You can sing your own praises all day long, but consumers are on the hunt for authentic, third-party reviews for peace of mind. The more of ’em you have, the better.

Digital word-of-mouth is crucial to growing your audience

Data from the Sprout Social Index™, Edition XVI: Above & Beyond notes that one-third of consumers discover new accounts to follow through word-of-mouth. Like it or not, people talk. A lot. Your own customers can do some serious legwork by marketing on your behalf, granted they’re satisfied with your service. The takeaway here? More conversations around your brand online represent additional opportunities to win customers and followers. — Štěpán Záliš (@stepanzalis) November 5, 2020

Customers hold the reins when it comes to your online reputation

This perhaps the biggest challenge of social media reputation management. Social media is authentic and unfiltered. That’s why it’s a great place to discover products and customer feedback minus any sort of marketing spin. People can pretty much say whatever they want, for better or worse. Research shows that consumers are about equally inclined to sound off about negative and positive experiences alike. As a business, this presents a distinct challenge. Just as satisfied customers are empowered to hype you up, you can’t control your worst critics. That said, you’re still responsible for what they say–responses to reviews and using feedback to improve your products and services are essential parts of your overall reputation management process.

A 5-step reputation management strategy any business can follow

Now that we acknowledge how much your reputation matters, let’s talk about the proactive steps you can take to improve your own while tackling some of the challenges above. The following five-point strategy is fair game for businesses both big and small.

1. Determine where your online reputation currently stands

First things first: you need to figure out how people feel about your brand right now. Are your customers happy and satisfied? Are you struggling with naysayers? Perhaps you’re somewhere in-between? Digging into a combination of qualitative and quantitative data can help clue you in on where your reputation stands. This includes:

Social media posts, comments and @mentions from customers and competitors Online reviews and star ratings from third-party review sites Mentions from industry blogs or trade journals Feedback gathered from actual customers (think: emails, customer surveys, contact forms on your website)

The key here is to look at the ratio of positive versus negative comments. If your customer sentiment seems to err on the positive side, that’s good! If not, you have some work to do. The health of your reputation can be difficult to quantify “by hand.” That’s where reputation management tools like Sprout Social can help. For example, our sentiment analysis tool can take mentions such as the ones above and turn them into a meaningful, quantifiable metric that you can track. You can use your sentiment analysis score as a sort of starting point which you can then monitor or strive to improve.  Our platform likewise highlights trends in your customer sentiment (think: positive versus negative comments) over time without you having to sort them out manually. Beyond comments are those ever-so-important reviews on third-party sites. Another key feature of Sprout is the ability to wrangle all of your reviews from social media and beyond in a single tool. This gives you a more comprehensive view of your online reputation and what your customers have to say about you without having to bounce between platforms.

2. Track your company’s mentions (the good, bad and ugly)

Reputation management is an active, ongoing process. After you’ve figured out where your reputation stands now, you need to set up your business to be able to respond to customers swiftly in the future. This means setting up real-time notifications and listening for the following:

Tags and @mentions of your business (ex: @SproutSocial) Hashtag uses (ex: #SproutSocial or #SproutChat) Branded keywords (ex: “Sprout Social” on Twitter, not @tagged)

Having a pulse on these mentions makes it easier to make the appropriate interventions when someone has a question, concern or reason to shout you out. This once again highlights the benefit of using a platform like Sprout. With Sprout, you can consolidate all of your social messages and mentions in a single inbox. You can likewise share your social dashboard(s) among your teammates to cover more ground and speed up your response time.

3. Be proactive and positive as you respond to your mentions

Whether it’s a concern or a compliment, mentions represent prime opportunities to make a positive impression on customers and improve your online reputation. Doing so comes down to have a strategy for social customer care. Some key tips for responding to customers include:

Personalizing each reply rather than just copy-and-pasting a generic one Always give yourself the last word by saying “thanks” Moving questions or concerns off of social media to avoid unnecessary conflict or back-and-forth

It might sound cheesy, but a positive, proactive attitude goes a long way in reputation management. This rings true when responding to shout-outs… …and answering customer questions alike. — Fitbit Support (@FitbitSupport) November 7, 2020

4. Take control of your company’s narrative (and make it positive)

As noted, the key challenge of social media reputation management is that online comments are pretty much a free-for-all. — Octopus Energy (@OctopusEnergy) November 6, 2020 Arguably the best approach to combat the negative is by encouraging your own positive praise. And yes, there are ways to do so beyond begging (which you definitely shouldn’t do). For example, you might consider publishing success stories and existing positive reviews from your satisfied customers. This can help highlight positive experiences to your social prospects who might not have checked out any third-party reviews yet. Beyond customer comments, employee advocacy and mentions from your own team can also create more positive sentiment. — Jackson Boyd (@JacksonBoydLLP) November 6, 2020 Don’t be shy about re-posting your customers’ positive responses or shout-outs, either. This includes asking for permission to republish user-generated content to use in your future marketing. — Tony (@Tonyo12_) November 8, 2020

5. Take action based on comments, criticism and analytics

Finally, consider the power of actually listening to what your customers have to say. — Old Navy Official (@OldNavy) November 3, 2020 Maybe they’re glowing over your recent customer service initiatives. Perhaps they’re unhappy about recent pricing changes. Either way, don’t just take those comments in stride. Instead, listen to such feedback and make changes to your business accordingly. And yet again, this is where Sprout can help. Digging into your listening data, you can uncover specific terms that pop up in your customer conversations to help you understand what you’re doing right and where you can improve. The same applies to your third-party ratings, reviews and mentions. Being a business today means having a thick skin, but it also means taking criticism where it’s due. Based on all of the above, you can circle back to square one to understand how your reputation management efforts are paying off and whether you’re moving the needle in a positive direction.

Is online reputation management a top priority for your business?

Listen: Your brand’s reputation matters. Rather than treat it as something beyond your control, you should take steps to secure and boost your reputation sooner rather than later. This means both listening and reacting to conversations related to your business. With reputation management tools like Sprout Social, you can roll out a more effective and efficient strategy on social media and beyond. And if you haven’t already, make sure you take a test-drive of Sprout Social‘s full suite of social listening and reputation management features today.