3 Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Business’s Online Reputation

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“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
-Ben Franklin

Online marketing is something of a double-edged sword for local businesses looking to promote themselves. On the one hand, it levels the playing field when it comes to connecting with customers, allowing small and medium-sized businesses to compete with the big boys. On the other hand, it has become all too easy for mistakes or mishaps to quickly snowball into public relations nightmares.

If you’re looking to build your brand and engage your customers online, here are some reputation-wrecking mistakes you should avoid:

Choosing Sides

They say you should avoid discussing religion and politics at dinner parties. This is actually pretty good advice for marketing as well. No matter how strongly you may feel about a particular issue, odds are a significant number of your customers (and potential customers) disagree adamantly.

Once you start supporting (or disparaging) one side of a hot-button topic, you’re naturally going to alienate a portion of your customer base. Even if you feel you’ve managed to express your opinion in a way that’s totally reasonable and non-offensive, you may still spark a debate that could eventually drive away some of your customers and fans. Unless you’re willing to risk losing customers over the short-term satisfaction of speaking your mind, your best bet is to avoid this kind of controversial content on your website, blog, and social media channels.

Capitalizing on Tragedy or Disaster

When disaster or tragedy strikes, publicly expressing your sympathy or concern for the victims can be a class act. However, using the horrific event to promote your business will only result in outrage and the loss of virtual followers. For example, when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, several businesses responded by inviting victims to avoid the bad weather by shopping in their online stores. Some even went so far as to host a Hurricane Sandy Sale.

In that same vein, if you’re going to make a contribution to a relief effort or related charity, you should do so unconditionally. Making your donation contingent on whether or not folks share and retweet your posts can cause even the most generous gesture to backfire.

Responding Unprofessionally to Complaints

When somebody directs a hateful or condescending message toward your business, it can be very tempting to respond in kind. However, stooping to that level won’t resolve the issue. At best, you’ll only fan the flames and generate more problems and complaints. At worst, your business will end up looking foolish and amateurish.

When dealing with negative comments, posts, or reviews about your business, it’s important to determine what’s at stake. If the person making the comments is simply trolling for a response, you can probably just ignore it. However, if there is an actual problem or issue at the root of the complaint, your best option is to take the high road and handle the problem professionally and courteously.

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Building a good online reputation is much easier than recovering from a bad one, so think carefully about how you go about presenting your brand values and engaging your customers. Make sure you have a plan in place to respond to negative feedback, and never react in the heat of the moment. With a little effort beforehand, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that might otherwise damage your business’s online reputation.

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