Reputation management for SMEs
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Reputation management for SMEs

Reputation management isn’t just for large organisations with significant resources – it’s vital for small business success. Here’s how SMEs can do it well, on a budget. 

“SMEs and small businesses – especially local ones – live and die by customer reviews, recommendations and word of mouth,” says Tali Kramer, of reputation specialist PR firm Instinctif Partners. However, it can be tough for such companies to know where to begin on reputation management.

Kramer makes some recommendations: “As an absolute minimum, they should track social media – keep an eye on all online mentions of their brand, and catch the feedback, praise and complaints,” he advises. When resources are limited, tackling the online side of reputation can make the biggest impact for the least expenditure of time and money.

Small firms should, he adds, exploit good reviews and make it easy for ‘advocates’ to post them. “Encourage this: drown out the odd negative review. Advocate support ensures you stay in business. Make customers feel like a valuable part of your brand.”

SMEs are flexible enough to recover from problems rapidly, without having to go through a convoluted approval process. But, says Kramer, they should try to fix things before unhappy customers become ‘badvocates’. If you can nip things in the bud, they may never post their complaint online.

If they do make that negative comment, he suggests three ways to turn things around:

  • respond to negative comments with sincerity and honesty;
  • apologise; and
  • ask the customer for another opportunity to provide a positive experience. This will leave a more favourable impression – it’s OK to fail, but recover quickly.
Don’t add fuel

Leslie Docherty, store director for urban streetwear clothing company, Fat Buddha, has learned the importance of making the correct response to criticism. He has his own recommendation to make.

“We look at everything we put out objectively – once it’s on the web, it stays there,” he says. “It all reflects on the company, from spelling mistakes to how you respond to an online review.

“Nine years ago, I replied to some questionable posts. I tried to get our point of view across – a terrible idea. I just dug a bigger hole, the comments got worse, and the episode dragged on for weeks.

“By contrast, we had one more incident, which we ignored. Because of our good reputation, other customers came to our defence. The matter fizzled out. The key thing is: don’t add fuel to the fire.”

Attackers abroad

Few things are more stressful in reputation management than hostile reviews – especially when posted on a US website. Imperial Car Supermarkets operations director Neil Smith knows this from bitter experience.

A US site containing negative comments ignored Smith’s request for the offending reviews to be verified. Trying to force the issue with lawyers would have been far too expensive. Even then, IP addresses might not have unmasked the culprits.

So Imperial tried tackling the negative posters online. It requested further details from the reviewers and showed willingness to resolve the issues raised.  There was no response – but eventually the negative coverage did stop. 

Imperial has also battled anonymous negative reviews in the UK. That proved simpler: the firm threatened legal action within seven days if these weren’t verified or removed; and more than 40 were taken down.

The lesson? “Pursue non-validated review sites, and keep pushing,” says Smith. “Threaten legal action if that fails. Try contacting the reviewer, and don’t respond in kind.”

Imperial now uses global monitoring company Feefo, a Google-licensed content partner whose business is to ensure that only genuine reviews are collected and highlighted from real (purchase-verified) customers. While users can post fake reviews on other sites, Feefo claims to ‘outrank’ these in search results.

“We supply trusted feedback via the closed/invitation only/verified nature of the reviews process,” says head of branding Melisa Young. And the cost? “It depends on the number of feedback requests… but from £99 a month upwards for an SME.”

Expert advice

Small businesses don’t have to spend a fortune managing their reputation, according to David Miles, a social media expert and director at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). But it needs to be done, and they should have a plan B if problems arise.

“It’s important to recognise when you might need expert advice such as freelance support or long-term consultancy,” says Miles. “But SMEs can be selective about how they use bought-in support to keep costs down.

“Occasionally, a reputational issue can become serious and a company might need legal advice. But that can get expensive. FSB members have access to a 24/7 expert advice via its legal protection scheme – a lower cost option.”

Andrew Mourant Freelance Journalist CPL
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