By now, nearly everyone I know has purchased a Groupon discount coupon. I’ve started to receive daily discount offers from competitors like LivingSocial and Moolala and my family is taking advantage of discounts to places we might not otherwise consider. We try new restaurants, get our cars detailed, wedge in a massage or two; the merchants get a new customer and Groupon heads toward an enormous IPO. What could be better? Perhaps a lot.
The thought is that a deep discount coupled with a positive experience will deliver repeat customers. While this theory seems to be widely embraced, I believe that the assumptions are wrong. From my perspective, it is Groupon that owns the customer loyalty, not the merchant offering the services. The deal seekers and bargain shoppers come in with the expectation of getting an incredible deal with no less than top-notch service. And there is evidence to indicate that they are very willing to jump to online review sites and let people know how (bad) their experience was.
However, a dramatic influx of customers can slow customer service and irritate this new, Groupon-acquired customer. Service levels decrease due to volume and the next thing a business owner knows, their business has been reviewed poorly on Google.local, Yahoo.local, Citysearch or one of a dozen other consumer rating sites. Smiley faces turn to frowns and five-star reviews deteriorate into one-star ratings.
Groupon customers have very little loyalty to a merchant yet, as I mentioned before, expectations for service are high. Think about it: when a business is overwhelmed (having sold 1000 half priced dinners/haircuts/tans/car washes, etc.) the door opens for bad experiences all around. Disappointed customers are already online-savvy or they would not be participating in these discount programs. The ever-increasing numbers of review sites available provide many opportunities to express disappointment. In fact, based upon many conversations with Reputation Advocate clients, we believe that customers who have a positive experience seldom go online to offer complements. In many ways there is no way for a small business owner to win in this business model.
Adding insult to injury, statistics support a growing reality that repeat business is almost non-existent. Customer retention is low. In short, a merchant receives 25% of the retail value of the product or service. That amount is paid out over the timeline of the redemption period, not up front. The business is stressed, and may be forced to compromise service levels, disappointing new customers and triggering bad online reviews. I admit that I may be one of the few that see it this way. In fact, Groupon reported that as of Sept 2011 they had a backlog of 35,000 companies that hope to promote their products and services through this channel.
Be aware: online complaints can come from many sources. Former employees, competitors – or new (discount) customers coming with high expectations, little loyalty and a willingness to quickly let the world know of any disappointment experienced.
Steven Wyer is the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management company based near Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the author of Violated Online, a book offering practical tips about protecting your online reputation. For more information about how Reputation Advocate can help repair your online reputation, visit the company website at http://www.reputationadvocate.com
Given the damage that anonymous hacktivists and minority shareholders have done to the values of small cap stocks while standing on the Constitution’s First Amendment, companies are becoming more proactive in their online reputation defense strategies. While many small public companies are unaware of what can happen in a twenty-four hour period on the Internet, Reputation Advocate hears new horror stories every week.
Take, for instance, the following scenario. An adverse decision upsets a shareholder. Historically, that shareholder (let’s call him Bob) would attend the annual shareholder meeting and voice concerns while evaluating management’s recommendations. No longer. Investor Relations professionals are only as successful as the shareholders are willing to communicate. A question arises – what happens when Bob grows impatient and is not satisfied with a company’s response? The answer for many is found on the Internet.
It is currently estimated that there are more than 300,000,000 blogs created and maintained on the Internet. Wikipedia says that, “Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material.” Further, Wikipedia offers that, “Most blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments and even message each other via widgets on the blogs and it is this interactivity that distinguishes them from other static websites.” Interactive messages, regular entries of commentary (remember the First Amendment?) and anonymity; it sounds like a potentially explosive combination!
In another scenario, Bob is holding a small number of Founder shares of a company. He purchased his shares initially through a PPM, the company went public and since then Bob looks at the stock value weekly. He is impatient, has talked to the IR firm and a couple of senior management people and he sees no decisive movement.
Several times, and without even thinking about it, Bob decides to let the world know about his discontent. In the good old days people would work to get a stockholder list and call or mail them a letter. Investor Relations could counteract and try and get in front of them, so to speak. The First Amendment to the Constitution provides solid footing for all those desiring free speech. Governing laws, however, look much different for the Internet than for other forms of communication. Bob can broadcast any derogatory message Loud and Proud! Short of specific personal information such as a social security or tax ID, specific banking information, child pornography or a threat against the government, anonymous bloggers, forums, complaint sites and various customer-rating sites can be used against a company, its officers, directors and employees.
Bob suggests on a complaint site that the current CEO would serve the company better if he focused on the shareholders’ interests more, and golf a little less. Next, a blog is found bringing into question the compensation of management and the justification for such pay given the poor performance currently experienced by the shareholders. Finally, someone posts a picture from the annual company Christmas party; not naughty, but not nice. You can see where all of this leads. A relatively small shareholder base – fear and mild panic when Investor Relations doesn’t return a call quickly – possible shorting. And finally, as everyone knows, aggressive downward pressure on a small cap stock is always of interest to regulators.
This scenario is a competitor’s dream. Interest from a regulator, doubt about the viability of the company on a blog or two and a company that is not prepared for any of this, for after all they are busy running the company! If you are an officer or director of a public company what you are reading may sound like a doomsday scenario that could never happen. Really? Let’s add the dynamic of time; say three days.
In dealing with private and public companies, Reputation Advocate has seen many things happen that the proud and the powerful didn’t see coming and that hit with such force that the viability of the business faltered. These are often attacks that can actually be tracked back to ROI. Real cash flow constriction, real share value, real debt to income ratios impacted and real legal action. This is not a fantasy marketing pitch; it is real business in today’s climate of change.
An old saying asserts that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and so it is. All companies must keep a keen eye on digital threats. Proactive action and planning can provide a baseline of online reputation management that enables companies to defend themselves. I had a client recently refer to online reputation management services as the equivalent of digital liability insurance. There is a critical difference in this perspective, however. When damages are demonstrated, insurance provides payments that address the damage. Absent a company accepting the need and costs of online reputation defense, when damage occurs there is no compensation to offset damages. Only the damages remain.
While it is said that people are innocent until proven guilty, Steven Wyer experienced first hand that the Internet has interrupted such long held notions of justice. As managing director of Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management company, Steven Wyer now helps others who have been slandered online as he was. Adding the title of published author to his string of professional accomplishments, Steven Wyer has written Violated Online. In the book he offers more than 50 specific tips on how the reader can better prepare for an unexpected online attack. For more information about how Reputation Advocate can help you repair your online reputation, call 888-229-0746 or go online to http://reputationadvocate.com
Everyone has to make a living. Some make it while practicing integrity and others in the shadows of questionable practices. The Book my family lives by says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But nowhere does it say that money itself is evil. Money pays the bills, educates the kids and allows for a little planning in life. It’s the “root” that creates the problem.
I decided to write this article after a few recent experiences in my chosen vocation; online reputation management. I spend all day, every day, listening to people who are being hurt by content that appears on the Internet about them. Some are being attacked professionally. Maybe they own a business and an ex-employee or disgruntled customer levels their scope and takes aim through the barrel of the World Wide Web. For others it is deeply personal – marriages, illness, mistakes long past but brought squarely to the forefront of their life again. If you don’t have empathy for people then this is a poor choice for vocation.
Which brings me to my point. Most people are attacked by someone that they know. A competitor, ex-lover, neighbor, jealous friend or a former employee, these are the underlying sources of most online slander. That fact seems to shock people when I first suggest it. Most complaints are not valid. Many times the complaint is so distorted that it’s laughable if you take the time to read it. But therein lies the big problem. No one reads the complaint, they just read the headline or metatag.
Since this year has begun our company, Reputation Advocate, has been attacked more than thirty times. At the office, we discuss the source and easily rule out our neighbors, former employees (we have none to date), friends (we have many) and romance gone bad (happily married now for 18 years). That brings us down to competitors. So let me circle back around to character and integrity and consider motive. In the big picture all boats rise together as the old saying goes. For the firms that provide quality service, stand behind their words and admit errors when they are made I believe that online reputation defense and management services will be needed for years to come; we can’t put this genie back in the bottle.
Attacking competitors is perhaps the lowest form of a business development strategy. With that said, I frequently deal with business owners who know that the online attack they need help with has come from a competitor; they see it in the language and detail of the false statements.
At Reputation Advocate, we have come to recognize the oily fingerprint delivered from across the ocean. To some, it’s highly ironic that we, an online reputation company, are attacked and have to defend and suppress content ourselves. But we knew this would be the case as we began. The anonymous nature of online slander lends itself to those who have no other strategy for business development. No one is immune. Many doctors get ill and die every year al the while attempting to heal others. This is true for both Reputation Advocate and our many clients.
What I attempt to convey to those who retain us is that there is no absolute online protection for anyone. On behalf of our clients we expend a great deal of thought and energy focused on the positive aspects of who they are and what value they bring to their customers. Presenting the truth professionally will always prevail in the end. Companies that provide service, products, integrity and honesty will always have clients, job opportunities and success.
For Reputation Advocate, as for most of our clients, our “product” makes a difference. We do not execute perfectly every time. We correct mistakes as we define and admit them. We treat our clients with respect. In exchange for that we derive income. For those firms that focus only on the last element of success – income – they miss the point. Making a difference in a client’s life, adding value and creating content that reflects well on the client is what will create true success. Complaining and sniping anonymously from the shadows will ultimately undermine any success that could be achieved.
So this is a message on behalf of all of our current and future clients. It is a message from Reputation Advocate to its detractors. It is a message to all of those defamed on the Internet that have not yet chosen to fight back. Provide service, treat people fairly, admit that you are not perfect, try hard and keep going. Make a difference in the world. Now that is success.
Brand Reputation Management is an important task to maintain a level of dignity in commerce. As a brand becomes more popular and develops more customers, it will become more widely spread.
The more well known a brand image is, the greater the chance that someone will grab a hold of the image and soil it. Seeing unrelated complaints on a Better Business Bureau page, because their brand image was soiled, gives a business owner a gut wrenching feeling.
Therefore, online reputation management monitoring software will allow a company to maintain its brand image without any such worries. Some software allows its users to track certain keywords across the net. Other packages use a Natural Language algorithm to conduct searches.
The Buzzlogic and Nielsen systems work by allowing an individual to track influences in a particular industry or market sector. Yet other systems use visible metrics to allow an individual to watch over their brand image. Of course, regardless of the system chosen, one should always remember that the ultimate goal is to achieve dignity in commerce. One should be avoiding the hassle of having complaints run up with the aforementioned Better Business Bureau.
Steven C. Wyer is the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, LLC (reputationadvocate.com) The firm specializes in online reputation management services for both individuals and companies. Steven Wyer can be reached at 888-229-0746.
As far back as May of 2005, Oprah, the darling of day time television, has been ruthlessly attacked morning, noon and night. She is not even safe as she sleeps behind guarded gates and personal security. Despite her estimated billion dollar net worth, she is helpless to defend herself.
First there is oprahsucks.com. There are multiple posts, comments and even a mailing list for this series of attacks. Debbie Schlussel, a conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist, and attorney owns this website and wastes no time in letting her opinion be known.
Then there are the multiple YouTube attacks on Oprah. There are forums, blogs, posts on many different content sites and a dedicated website just so people can voice their distain for her.
Adding insult to injury, this week the stalwart publication Newsweek has come out against the global media diva. She has been attacked through virtually every form of media, but none has given voice to the masses more than the internet. What is the source of my information you may ask? Google. Simple, straight forward search results. Had these types of results been found for a small business owner or business professional, their career would most likely have been ruined. Fortunately, the big “O” has enough money to simply ignore these complaints.
Ordinary, small businesses cannot afford to ignore online attacks. Doctors, lawyers and officers of public companies are severely impacted by online complaints. Even state and national government officials cannot combat this new form of slander. Conventional approaches to reputation management issues simply do not work and ignoring such online information simply supports perceptions that such claims are true.
Fortunately, there are now reputation management service providers that represent clients against negative search engine results. These reputation advocates operate under yet another acronym; SERM. Search Engine Reputation Management professionals bring a unique set of skills and address these complaint sites and negative postings with unconventional discretion. This service business is sure to experience significant growth over the next few years as these online search attacks grow in number and veracity
While the super stars and the super rich simply brush aside attacks on their character, most cannot. As real income and real opportunity are impacted, all professionals must monitor their online presence and manage the content found. Very few of us can simply say “O” well…