A video recently went viral of a police officer pepper spraying a group of students peacefully protesting outside a Californian university.

The incident happened back in 2011. The reason it’s only just been exposed? The university paid consultants over £100k to ‘eradicate references’ to it across search results.

Now, before you go thinking this is a post about how to destroy any and all evidence of bad press, it’s not; however, if this story has taught us anything, it’s that managing and actively working to improve your online reputation – authentically – is critical, especially as the number of internet users continues to grow each year.

Below we list five simple (and ethical) steps to monitoring customer feedback, managing complaints and encouraging positive sentiment.

1) Monitor your brand mentions

If you don’t keep an eye on what your customers are saying about you, you’re in danger of allowing one damaging comment to turn into a tornado of brand bashing; a whirlwind that has significant potential to deter future customers from doing business with you.

If you feel your ears burning, it’s not surprising. From forums and threads, to social media and review sites, people will be talking about you all over the web.

Fortunately, there are a couple of simple ways you can monitor your reputation and keep on top of the gossip.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts are a great way to flag any comments made about you in forums and threads you might not be aware of – and saves you having to regularly trawl these sites.

Creating a Google Alert is easy and, once set up, Google will do the hard work for you. Set up alerts to monitor your brand name, along with multiple variations to account for spelling mistakes; then choose how often you receive the results.

You’ll begin receiving regular emails highlighting any instances across the web where your brand is mentioned, providing you with a snippet of the comment and a link to where it was mentioned. Easy!

Even if you don’t have the capacity to keep a constant Big Brother eye on these mentions, set up a rule to filter them into a folder. All you then need to do is get into the habit of checking this folder once or twice a day.

Social Listening

When it comes to social media, you can’t rely on your customers tagging you when they have a problem. Many will have no reservations about airing their bad experiences publicly, without thinking about going directly to you. This then allows others to jump on the bandwagon and, before you know it, there’s a social mob armed with pitchforks (or more likely harsh hashtags) hounding your page.

To keep on top of these comments, pick your preferred monitoring tool (I personally like Hootsuite) and create a stream to monitor mentions of your name – not just those @tagging you, but simply using brand terms within the body of a tweet.

2) Create a brand page on review sites

There are few better ways (bar listening to customer service feedback) of finding out how your customers feel about you than via reviews.

Additionally, if you can generate enough feedback, your review pages can start to rank, which is a great way to showcase to potential consumers how others feel about you (providing the sentiment is predominantly positive, that is!)

If you’re not already, get yourself set up on at least one –preferably a few – review sites. The type of business or service you provide might dictate which sites are best for you to be appearing on, but a good place to start could be Trust Pilot or Feefo.

Google Seller Ratings

Another benefit to encouraging customer reviews is they can influence your Google Seller Rating.

These are the stars that appear in a branded ad result, and are often one of the first things a potential customer will see when searching for your brand.

Google lists a selection of independent review sites that directly impact this rating so, providing you’re expecting the majority of your feedback to be glowing, it’s worth starting your review journey on one of the sites on this list.

There is a basic criterion for these ads to appear; namely, you must have at least 30 unique reviews that are less than a year old and your overall rating needs to be above 3.5. Once you meet this, work with your PPC team to ensure ads are set up correctly and your rating appears.

Brag about your feedback

If you have reviews worth shouting about, do so.

Many review sites – particularly those you pay to be a member of – will provide a selection of widgets and badges you can embed onto your website, showcasing anything from your rating alone to the full reviews.

Often, you can filter by which reviews you want to show, i.e. you can deselect any below 3*. We wouldn’t recommend only presenting 5*; consumers are becoming increasingly savvy to online feedback and this can actually cause them to question authenticity.

By presenting those between 3*- 5*, however, you can build trust, whilst still showcasing mediocre reviews. In many instances, reviews can also lead to uplift in conversion.

3) Respond to everyone

If you’re going to be appearing on social media and review sites, you need to be prepared to answer queries, deal with complaints and engage in conversation.

Much to the displeasure of businesses worldwide, Twitter is becoming a favoured platform amongst consumers to complain on (I’m also guilty of this). This means people are expecting an increasingly rapid response from those monitoring the page – we’re talking minutes.

For this reason, it’s worth employing a dedicated staff member (or better, brand reputation team) to respond to each and every comment. This team should monitor social, reviews channels, and any questions asked in forums that crop up in your Google Alerts.

When it comes to talking, be human. Sign off with an actual name (even if it’s an alias), address the customer by their name – if visible – and don’t be afraid to use colloquial language and, if the occasion calls, a well-timed smiley face won’t hurt.

Regarding negative feedback, apologise like you mean it and, if you can’t fix the issue right away, at least respond to say you’re looking into it. This should buy you a couple of hours before they chase again.

With positives, thank the commenter and, if appropriate, feel free to engage them in conversation. You never know when this advocate could jump to your defence on a future complaint!

4) Get internal teams on board

You customer service and sales team are at the forefront of your business; don’t underestimate the impact they can have on your customers’ opinions.

This highlights the importance of employing staff that are capable of dealing with queries in a timely, polite and friendly manner; it also shows the power they have to drive positive sentiment towards your brand.

Consider offering an internal incentive or prize to your customer service and sales teams in exchange for them encouraging positive reviews. Have team members graciously – and strategically – ask a customer to leave a review on your site of choice, then, every week, month or quarter (depending on what works for you) reward the person who gets name dropped the most.

This will help to build up a healthy selection of genuinely positive reviews from real customers – and build a happy workforce.

5) Fix recurring issues

Potentially the most important point of all: the only way to improve the overall feeling towards your brand is by doing everything you can to provide a seamless and enjoyable experience.

Every business has blips, so don’t feel disheartened by a negative, but if you see a recurring issue cropping up and you fail to rectify it, don’t expect reviews to disappear on their own.

If complaints centre on your customer service team, for example, think about investing in training. If it’s issues with your site, feed this back to IT.

Collating any and all negative feedback on a specific issue should be evidence enough to build a business case for investment to improve the areas you’re not excelling in.

You customers will look at reviews

When deciding how far you want to go when it comes to actively monitoring and managing your online reputation, remember one thing: the audience for online reviews is only going to grow.

As more people become tech savvy, and more brands continue to sprout, people will want to know what others think about you.

If you’re a start-up or relatively new business, generate reviews early to encourage more customers to pick you. If you’re established, but focusing on new business, again a positive rating can mean the difference between a sale for you or for a competitor.

Whether you can afford to build a dedicated team, or it’s just you armed with a social listening tool and Google Alerts, the sooner you start taking control of your online reputation, the better.

If you have any other tips, let us know by tweeting us @RocketMill.