Your reputation isn’t about you anymore.

It used to be that you could be a generally nice person, who ran a generally nice company, and you’d have a good reputation. Provide a little better service than the other guy, and you’d have a great reputation.

online reputation

Now, your reputation is essentially determined by the same people who leave Yelp reviews and YouTube comments. That is to say: the worst of the worst, the people least invested in your company and your product and the most invested in building themselves up by tearing you down.

You can provide amazing service 99.999999 percent of the time, but let the post office ding one of your packages on the way to a customer and suddenly you get a review like this:

“BAD product! Arrived BROKEN! Worst company ever!”

Never mind that if the customer had simply contacted you, you would have overnight-mailed them a new version of the product for free. Along with a kitten, and a gift certificate to the nearest Olive Garden. All that matters is that someone posted a negative review about your company, and the internet latched onto it like an octopus latching onto rocks before throwing them at a squid.

Have you Google-searched yourself lately?

To understand exactly what your online reputation currently is, it’s time to do some searching. First, drop your company name into Google. Chances are, you’ll see a few results: your company website, your Facebook page, and… oh, right, there’s Yelp. With the first line of the most popular review:

“BAD product! Arrived BROKEN! Worst company ever!”

It gets worse when you search your company name plus the word “review.” Suddenly you get all of the second-string review sites, each of them with a cranky customer complaining about the one little thing they don’t like.

grumpy cat bad review meme

Now that you know that some people hate you…

The first thing to do after you read your own reviews is to take your head out from underneath the blankets. Then it’s time to get a dose of perspective – these are only one or two reviews, out of all the people who have purchased your product or used your service.

(If there are a lot of bad reviews, all of them focusing on a single aspect of your product, well… it’s not them, it’s you. And I don’t have to tell you what to do next.)

yelp sticker
photo credit: Jeff Rooks

Fixing a broken reputation

If your online reputation is all about that one product that arrived BROKEN! and not at all about the years of successful service you’ve provided, it’s time to get your reputation fixed.

To start, you need to understand how review websites work. Yelp, for example, gives new and old reviews equal weight. This means that improvement doesn’t show up on Yelp quite like it should, and a few bad reviews bring down your average even if you’ve gotten nothing but 5 stars for the past year.

What you have to do is convince your happiest customers to start leaving good reviews. Sometimes companies try to do this by sending out mass emails (“Have you created a review for Widget 3.0 in Black Chrome yet?”) but you’d have better luck writing that message on paper airplanes and aiming the airplanes out your office window.

Instead, you have to build your reputation the same way you marketed your products: one customer at a time. Pick a subset of your customers most likely to leave good reviews, and send them personalized emails. Throw in a coupon if you want, but be careful; make it seem like a transaction, and people are less likely to take the time to help you. Instead, follow entrepreneur Amanda Palmer’s advice and simply ask for help.

fixing online reputation

Call in the professionals

If your online reputation is tarnished beyond what a few good product reviews can fix, it’s time to call in the big guns.

These kind of services aren’t for the average business who has a few bad Yelp or Amazon reviews. Reputation management companies are for people who appear to have committed serious sins – an accidental unpaid tax, an employee ethics violation, anything related to the words “sex scandal.” Often these reputation errors are the result of misunderstandings or overeager reporters searching for a story. Unfortunately, even one bad article has the potential to ruin a career. If that’s you, make the call and hire the professionals.

The only person who can manage your online reputation is YOU. The only person who can ruin your online reputation is EVERYONE ELSE. Keep track of what people are saying about you, encourage as many good reviews as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.