Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” Concerning business and individual reputations, no truer words have been spoken. It’s at the heart of what is known as reputation management.

Reputation management refers to the influencing and controlling of an individual’s or group’s reputation. The term was originally used in terms of public relations efforts. Ensuring that a business has an excellent reputation, and is known for the right characteristics, is fundamental to successful relationship building with key constituencies. However the growth of the internet, and social media, have made search results and the public’s feedback a core component of an individual’s or group’s reputation.

Reputation management should be an important goal of any business or organization strategy. It provides the means to perceive the way clients or customers see them, or think about their business. It’s relevant for anyone operating in the public arena.

There’s no secret to building and maintaining a solid reputation. Be authentic to your core values, tell your story in a compelling way, and understand that your reputation isn’t built by accident. It is built by interactions, experiences, reviews, comments, and conversations between customers. Therefore, you need to make sure that your organization is presented in an accurate light. If your reputation is poor, then roll up your sleeves and do the work required to change it.

How do you know what your reputation is and how do you care for it?

First, monitor your reputation. Without doing this, you really can’t do the rest. You need to know and hear what people say about your business or organization. Only then can you respond. So, begin by listening.

Next, devise a response plan. It’s good to know what’s being said, but that’s not enough. You need to be prepared to take action. Consider the following: Who will monitor comments and reviews? Who decides whether a response is required? Who knows what position should be taken regarding potential issues or questions? Who will deliver responses?

Remember to handle your responses, particularly to negative comments or articles, delicately. Studies conducted over time consistently indicate that approximately eighty percent of unhappy customers are won over with the right response. Take the right approach. Be polite. Be professional. Be friendly. Hey, we’re all human, right? If you’ve made a mistake, nothing beats a sincere apology.

Online reviews can create a huge impact on SEO. It’s because search engine algorithms know very well that customers place a lot of stress on the online reviews of a business when making decisions. Organizations that make the most effective effort to deal with their online reputation get rewarded with an increased SEO visibility.

But, online reviews are not all about pleasing the algorithm. Everyone knows that the reputation of a business is crucial for its survival. Once the trust of the customer is gained, the existing customer is likely to speak positively about the business to others. A good reputation can easily lead to trust. A good reputation means that the business is perceived as more credible than its competitors.

Building and maintaining a successful image is a very important marketing tool. To fully understand what resonates and is valued by your customers and clients, you must fully understand who they are. The better you know what is important to your target audiences, the more likely you are to connect with them, to know their sentiments. Remember, Lincoln’s insight. He was spot on.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising.  She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or LinkedIn.

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