By Kate Pierson
In any competitive commercial market, consumer districts are saturated with similarities. When restaurants with identical culinary cuisine are neighbours and competing coffee shops live on contiguous corners, setting your business apart from the rest is essential.
While the cult of celebrity’s prime directive seems to be ‘do something, anything, no matter how inane it might be, that grabs headlines because any publicity is good publicity’ – this is one theory definitely not applicable to your business. Because when it comes to business reputation, clean and well-respected is what should spring to mind.
In the world of bricks and mortar, New Zealand business reputation is protected in a legal capacity by statutory watchdogs and regulatory legislation. Laws like the Defamation Act 1996 work to uphold the characteristics of a democratic environment, while protecting businesses from having their reputation vandalised by smear campaigns.
The idea is freedom of speech, minus the slander and less the defamatory expletives; it’s the socialist idea of a democratic utopia and in all fairness, the system is sound. Because while it’s not bulletproof, these libel laws uphold the all-important virtue of accountability. Meaning, if your mouth runs away on you for all the wrong reasons, you’re likely to be nabbed by the defamation police.
But then along came the Internet and the name calling game didn’t just change, it got turned on its head.
With most businesses now taking up residence in the digital world, maintaining reputation is a game of two parts (online and offline), requiring personal responsibility.
And while there’s no doubt the internet can be your vehicle to success, there’s a reason the world wide web has also been referred to as ‘uninhibited’ cyberspace; it’s because people have the opportunity to speak their minds under a veil of anonymity.
The problem with the acrimonious voices in cyberspace is, that whether they are based on unfounded criticism or are opinion portrayed as fact, they tend to have an acoustical nature of their own. And, chances are, these voices will reverberate from the digital to the real world in much less time than it takes for you to realise it’s happening. That’s why the internet has been called the untamed beast.
Enter solution: googlewashing
While googlewashing has been perceived by some as a tool to manipulate and permanently expunge negative content; the reality is, the deletion of online history on the internet is simply not possible. And in the context of this article, googlewashing is, to borrow the words of journalist David Wilson from The Age, “simply about cleansing the coverage and clearly portraying your brand as you want it to be seen”.
So with the guidance of AdCard director Nic Dale, we’ve put together a list of online optimisation options you can draw on. While Dale concedes that relative negative feedback should be a heads-up for businesses to lift their standards, he says there are ways to build up your digital assets and promote a positive image.
A positive online presence is about search engine optimisation and to do this:
- Create and optimise your own website
Structure your website content according to the wants and needs of your target demographic. Use catch phrases that are definitive to your business and the corresponding market so customers can find you easily through search engines
- Register in the local google business directory
You can help your customers find you by listing your company and its services. As a trusted resource, the google business directory will let you list your business according to its location, industry and services meaning customers can find you quickly through google. Best of all, the google business directory is free
- Social networking
This is a relevant strategy for many industries and as education based marketing, it is an effective strategy and a brilliant tool for building rapport. Whether you join facebook or have a twitter account, you can have free access to local and global markets and represent your business your way
- Create your own testimonials domain on your website
It has been said time and time again that word of mouth is the strongest form of public relations. Therefore, let your satisfied customers do the talking and offer them a microphone through an online testimonials page
- Deal directly with the source
If there are instances where you find yourself as the target of a genuine customer complaint; do what you can to rectify it with the disgruntled party. The reality is, once its been your business board has been tagged with complaints, the seemingly indelible ink of the internet makes it hard to wipe clean.
While this online activity won’t wash away any existing negative graffiti on the internet wall, remaining actively conscious in cyberspace will mean you can promote your business positively and counteract negativity.
Ultimately, market participation comes with responsibilities that change with the tides of technological change. This means marketing what’s on offer in your corner of the world and keeping that marketing image in tip-top condition, both on and offline, is essential.
Otherwise, your consumer base will simply follow the scent of fellow competitors who are also vying for their patronage.