This article is going more in-depth on the topic of your online reputation, a topic discussed by Tianna Woods (@SocialBYTW). To get in on the conversation, check out the replay of “How to Build, Manage and Market Your Reputation Online” of the Twitter conversation.

Often, when online reputation is discussed online, the topic is discussed in the abstract sense. Marketing experts talk about the importance of protecting your online brand and monitoring reputation. They might advise you to monitor your reputation using Google and social media alerts and to create content that is actively aligned with your business goals and values.

What does that mean, exactly? What is your online reputation and how can you manage it in a real sense?

Understanding the Brand: What Exactly is It?

Your online brand is a concept that was once based in a physical reality. In the past, brands were physical symbols that were stamped on products to verify authenticity. The brand also represented a promise that the product a customer was getting was created by and met the standards of the business that sold or produced the product.

In modern times, the brand has become more of a concept than a physical symbol. There are still physical brands but increasingly these physical symbols are being replaced or supplemented by the promise implied by the brand. The promise, the abstract version of the brand, is what most marketers mean when they are talking about your brand.

Understanding Your Brand’s Promise: The Next Step in Understanding Your Online Reputation

As we discussed above, a brand represents a promise of authenticity. Brands also represent a promise of the stated values of a business. Businesses don’t just place their logo or symbol on products (or websites), they also communicate values and goals for the business.

For example, when you see commercials or advertisements for a business like McDonald’s, the business is establishing its goal of efficiency, speed, and affordability.The business wants customers to get their food quick and pay cheaply for it. Compare this to a commercial for an Olive Garden or T.G.I. Friday’s and the promise is a bit different.

This promise created and reinforced by the business creates an “expectation gap” in their current and potential customers. That “expectation gap” is where your online reputation begins.

Expectations vs Reality: Opening the Gap That Leads to Your Business Reputation

This “expectation gap” sets the minimum standard by which a customer judges your reputation. For example, if you’re a customer at a fast food restaurant, you would get understandably angry if it took 20 minutes to get a hamburger. If you were at another restaurant, waiting 20 minutes might be appropriate.

The thing about these expectations is that humans are social creatures. Customers don’t just experience things and keep silent. We share our experiences, both good and bad, with other people. These people could be family members, friends, coworkers, or even strangers (think about social media). This transmits the “expectation gap” from one person to another.

Let’s go back to the customer at a fast food restaurant. Let’s say they had to wait 45 minutes to get one hamburger. While dealing with this experience, the customer can do a couple of things. They might yell at restaurant staff, complain loudly, mumble, tell family members when they get home, and even send out a couple of very angry Tweets.

This customer is now demonstrating the gap between what the business says is important (efficiency) versus what actually happened (inefficiency). This is the gap that most marketers aren’t focusing on when they talk about online reputation.

Ignoring the Gap: What Many Businesses are Missing About Online Businesses

You might argue that the angry customer happened to visit the restaurant at a bad time. (Things happen!) After all, it’s just one customer.

This is where many businesses make the biggest marketing mistake. They ignore the parts of their reality that don’t fit. They don’t address the angry customer.

This situation is unfortunate because businesses are paying the price for ignoring the words and actions of angry customers. Reviews play a huge factor in whether a customer will try out a new restaurant, return to a business, or encourage others to visit that business. As BrightLocal, an agency for local SEO, found 84% of customers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. In addition, the BrightLocal found that customers don’t spend time searching through reviews either. Over 90% of customers say they read less than 10 reviews before they formed an opinion about a business.

Think about it. Would you go to a 2-star restaurant? Would you be excited to visit a place where a customer claimed “I only go here when I have no other choice. They always get my order wrong.”

Yet many businesses ignore the potential that exists in this negative feedback.


Closing the Gap: The Last Step in Your Business’ First Line of Defense

What can a business do when they receive negative feedback, whether directly (like a customer complaining about your business) or on social media?

The first thing to do is to be aware of both positive and negative feedback. Engage in social listening. Check out Google and social media alerts to see what customers are saying about. Ask if it matches what you say the about brand. Capture this information to get an idea of where you need to measure up.

The second thing is to connect your feedback to specific experiences. When a customer gives feedback, connect the dots. What about the experience did the person like or not like? Is this the opinion of one person or is it something that’s been repeated before? Once you start to connect the dots, you can then begin a strategy to fix it.

The last thing you need to do is open a continuous learning loop between feedback and your actions. Once you resolve any issues in your feedback, you don’t need to stop there. Stopping there will only fix the immediate problem. It won’t fix the deeper solution. You need to keep improving your service.

You need to continue closing the gap between what your business values and your business reality. Check back on the specific changes and see if it leads to greater improvement. If customers complained about shipping delays, have they been fixed? Has the shipping process been improved?  These are questions that you should be asking of your business.

The better you are at responding to your feedback on a regular basis, the more you will close the gap between what your business is and what it could be.