A Beginner’s Guide to Online Reputation Management

Kelly Lyons

Dec 30, 202218 min read
Online Reputation Management guide

Online reputation management, or ORM, is the process of managing and maintaining the public perception of a brand, business, or person online.

ORM can include responding to negative comments, gaining positive reviews, and monitoring brand mentions.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What online reputation management is
  • Why it’s important
  • How to manage your brand’s online reputation

Let’s get started.

What Is Online Reputation Management?

Online reputation management is a way to improve how your customers see your brand. It can help you increase customer trust, build industry authority, and even generate more sales.

While ORM overlaps with public relations (PR), they aren’t the same thing.

PR leverages relationships to create a positive outlook for a brand both online and not online. Online reputation management achieves the same goal through monitoring and managing your brand’s reputation and media interactions specifically online.

In short, public relations and ORM are two different strategies for managing public perception of your brand.

There are four main ORM media channels: 

  1. Paid media
  2. Earned media
  3. Shared media
  4. Owned media
ORM media channels

Here’s how they differ:

Paid media encompasses any form of online content that requires payment to feature your brand. This includes Google Ads, social media ads, sponsored posts, and promotions by influencers.

Paid media is beneficial because you have full control over the narrative. But it can be quite expensive.

Earned Media

Earned media is coverage your brand receives from third-party platforms (without payment).

Examples include:

  • Press coverage
  • Blog posts on other websites
  • Forums
  • Industry-specific third-party listings (like Glassdoor, Capterra, or Trustpilot)
  • Review sites outside of your control (like Google or Yelp)

You can get earned coverage organically through reviews, online listings, and so on. But you sometimes need to reach out to publications and influencers to get social and press coverage, etc.

Earned media can shine a positive light on your brand and create trust with online visitors.

Shared Media

Shared media is any content about your brand posted on social media. Whether that content is from your brand’s account or someone else’s.

Unaddressed complaints, negative comments, and low ratings on shared media channels can all seriously harm your company’s reputation and turn off potential customers.

So you should pay attention to what’s happening on your social media accounts the same way you would pay attention to customer comments inside a brick-and-mortar establishment.

Monitor your brand mentions and quickly address negative feedback.

Owned Media

Owned media is any media you control, like your website or blog.

You can help control the reach of owned media platforms by improving your rankings on Google. Here are a few ways to do so:

By following SEO best practices, you’ll have a better chance of ranking higher on Google. This way, users will see valuable content from your brand when they search for keywords related to your brand.

Why Reputation Management Is Important for Your Business

Maintaining a good reputation is important because it impacts sales.

In fact, almost 60% of U.S. consumers said they would avoid buying from a brand that comes across as untrustworthy.

A negative online reputation can hurt your brand’s trustworthiness. And, ultimately, your business.

Here are a few other reasons reputation management is crucial for your business:

  • It impacts buying decisions59% of shoppers said they perform online research before making a purchase. And 97% of consumers consult product reviews before buying. So you could lose customers based on how your brand appears online.
  • It helps you deal with negative reviews. Negative reviews are inevitable—but staying on top of your online presence can help you turn those reviews around. Customers whose complaints on social media got handled in under five minutes tended to spend more on future purchases.
  • It provides valuable feedback. If you get the same complaint multiple times, there’s probably an underlying issue to fix. Start collecting useful insights on your products, services, or overall customer experience by reading reviews.

Let’s review a few real-life examples of ORM in action so you can see how much it impacts real businesses.

United Airlines

United Airlines lost over $1 billion in market value after a video of a passenger being dragged off an overbooked flight went viral.

The video amassed over 1 million online mentions in one day and over 100 million views. Many viewers criticized the CEO’s lack of action in a crisis of public perception.

This crisis happened in 2017 but is still routinely brought up in ORM conversations today.

Nestlé

Nestlé also faced a notorious reputation management failure when Greenpeace accused them of harmful environmental practices online.

Rather than addressing the issue head-on, Nestlé made things worse by asking YouTube to remove Greenpeace’s video.

The company had to temporarily shut down its public page due to negative comments that included an altered version of the KitKat logo reading “Killer.”

Nestlé reputation management failure

It only takes one negative story to turn online reputation management into an online reputation nightmare. Which is why it’s best to proactively manage your brand image and have a plan in case of a crisis.

Pro tip: Respond publicly to negative reviews whenever possible. While you can’t delete a negative comment, you can show other customers how you handled the situation.

How to Manage Your Brand’s Online Reputation

To avoid PR crises and the effects of bad reviews, you need to manage your brand’s reputation properly.

Here are eight keys of effective ORM you can implement for your business today:

1. Audit Your Online Reputation

Before putting any ORM process in place, conduct an extensive online reputation audit.

The goal is to find out how your customers view and talk about you online. Doing so will give you an idea of what’s going well and what challenges you may need to overcome to make important changes.

To start, review your site, social profiles, blog, and any third-party business profiles.

You can do that by looking at Google results:

  1. Open an incognito browser window.
  2. Google your brand name.
  3. Review your Google Business Profile (ratings, reviews, comments, images, etc.).
  4. Take note of what sites appear on page one.
  5. Divide these sites into ones you can control (like social profiles) and can’t control (like third-party sites).

You can also find more information about your brand with Semrush’s Media Monitoring app.

Just plug your brand name into the search bar and select the language that your consumers use.

Semrush’s Media Monitoring app

You’ll get a report that contains your most recent mentions. And a chart that shows you what percentage of those mentions are positive, negative, or neutral.

Semrush’s Media Monitoring report

Once you’ve gathered sufficient information, you should have an idea of what the average consumer sees when they look up your brand.

2. Establish an Online Reputation Management Strategy

Now that you know your brand’s current reputation online, it’s time to set up an ORM strategy. First, decide what you want to prioritize.

ORM Prioritization

Prioritizing which ORM tactics to implement and which mentions to respond to first will help you manage your reputation better.

You can use the Impact Matrix to decide how to prioritize your tasks:

  • Quick wins are easy to accomplish and have a high business impact
  • Big bets take more effort to accomplish but have a high business impact
  • Fill-ins are simple but have a low business impact
  • Thankless tasks take a lot of effort but have a low business impact
the impact matrix by semrush

An example of a “quick win” might be responding to a negative review. It won’t take a lot of time. But a well-crafted response can positively impact your online presence.

That being said, you should respond to critical tasks first. If you have an ORM crisis on your hands, address that first.​​

Once you have your prioritization goals in place, develop clear documentation to keep things organized.

Policy Documentation, Communication Guidelines, & Tone of Voice

Managing comments, reviews, and mentions from several channels can be overwhelming if you don’t set ground rules. Develop policy guidelines and a defined tone of voice to stay consistent in your messaging to customers.

Policy Documentation 

Writing down policy guidelines can help you prioritize tasks and streamline communication, especially when multiple people are working on reputation management.

To start, here are a few things you can include in your documentation:

  • Who’s in charge of what channel. If it’s everyone’s responsibility, it’s no one’s responsibility. Clearly define who’s in charge of which channel and try to stick to it. If multiple people work on the same channels, clearly define their responsibilities so nothing slips through the cracks.
  • Response templates. Come up with response templates for frequently asked questions. This will save time and help your brand sound more unified.
  • Who’s who in your field. Do you have any influencer partners everyone on the team should know about? Any particular trolls you no longer respond to because it would only escalate the situation? Keep this information in your policy documents.
Communication Guidelines

You’ll also want to include communication guidelines in your policy documentation. This will help you prioritize day-to-day tasks and decide what to respond to first.

Depending on the size of your following, you may get many mentions and reviews at once. So you’ll need to decide what is urgent vs. what can wait.

What you consider urgent will depend on your audience. If your customers primarily hang out on Twitter, prioritize responding to negative tweets before negative Facebook comments since your target audience is less likely to see the Facebook comment.

ORM types of responses
  • Urgent: Could this review be detrimental to your brand? Check the profile of the person who wrote the review. If they are popular in your space, the negative review may have a higher chance of going viral. In this case, the situation may be urgent.
  • Non-urgent: Could this situation be resolved easily? Is it a typical question or concern you can easily fix? It probably doesn’t warrant an urgent response. But be sure to come up with an acceptable time frame for addressing non-urgent communications. You don’t want to leave your customers hanging.
Tone of Voice

Establish a tone of voice and share the guidelines with anyone in your company who communicates with customers or creates content.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when building your brand’s tone of voice:

  • Who is your target audience, and how do they communicate with each other?
  • Is your brand formal or casual—or somewhere in between?
  • Does your brand communicate with slang and emoji?
  • Are there any words or phrases your brand should never use?
  • What’s your brand’s mission, and how does it affect communication?

You can use our tone of voice template to define how you want your brand to sound.

A good way to start is to choose adjectives that describe your brand (e.g., “cheerful,” “trustworthy,” “authoritative,” etc.). Like this:

tone of voice dimensions

3. Monitor Brand Mentions

You need to know what people say about your brand. The longer it takes for you to respond to negative comments, the bigger the problem might be.

You can monitor your brand mentions by setting up a Google Alerts for your brand name. You’ll receive an email when new results for your chosen topic show up in Google Search.

For everything else, you’ll need to manually search through social media sites, forums, and other platforms. On a regular basis. Which is a hassle and won’t really give you a clear picture.

Which is why we recommend using the Media Monitoring app. This tool collects mentions from all those platforms automatically. Which saves you time and gives you a more accurate picture of how people talk about, share, and interact with your brand on the web.

Just plug your brand name into the tool and you’ll see a list of all your online mentions.

The list includes blog posts, social media posts, news articles, and forum comments that mention your brand. You can filter out certain types of mentions and even filter by importance.

burger king media monitoring

You’ll also get an analysis of mentions over time.

This includes the number of mentions you received, where you were mentioned, and which of those sites are most influential, your presence score, and the sentiments of most of your mentions.

analysis of mentions over time

Use the data from the tool to assess the state of your online reputation. And whether some intervention needs to happen.

4. Plan Your Crisis Management Strategy

Crises happen without warning. The good news? You can prepare for them with a crisis management strategy.

Your strategy should outline an internal communication plan, which team members will handle public responses, and how to address social media mentions.

Here are a few things you can do to prepare in advance:

  1. Use media monitoring tools that will quickly alert you if there are any unexpected conversations happening about your brand.
  2. Keep an eye on industry trends. Legislation changes, cultural changes, or technological advancements may put stress on your business, depending on your industry.
  3. Know which channels your audience prefers and how to communicate most efficiently. If your audience gravitates toward Twitter, use Twitter as your primary communication channel. This way, you will reach a wider audience more efficiently.
  4. Know who’s in charge of responding to comments and reviews. You may choose to have one or two people publicly communicate during a time of crisis, depending on the severity of the situation.
  5. Draft responses to react quickly to negative comments. Just be sure that no one copies and pastes the same response without personalizing it. This can look insensitive in a time of crisis.

While it’s best to avoid a crisis, sometimes things are out of your control. The way you respond could make or break what your audience thinks about your brand overall.

5. Encourage Customer Reviews Online

One of the best ways to manage your online presence is to encourage your customers to leave truthful reviews on Google and other review sites, like Yelp and Trustpilot. This will increase your online visibility and help with your reputation.

Not only can positive reviews potentially convince someone to choose your business—they can also occupy real estate on Google. So when someone searches for your brand, they will (ideally) see those positive reviews.

How to Get Your Customers to Leave a Review

Not all customers will leave reviews, but you can do a few things to make the review process easier (meaning a review is more likely):

  • Share links to leave reviews in thank-you emails or at the end of chat interactions on your site
  • Include clear instructions on how to leave a review (with applicable links)
  • Offer incentives like discounts to customers who leave reviews
  • Respond to all your reviews (negative and positive) so customers can see that their opinion matters
  • Encourage customers to contact you directly if they have a bad experience to discourage them from leaving bad reviews

For example, Passion Planner, an ecommerce brand, asks customers for a review via email after every purchase. And incentivizes reviews with a discount code.

Passion Planner email review form

Their approach is effective because customers can review products right within that email. It’s simple and customers get a reward for doing it.

Positive reviews can be a huge advantage for your business, so encourage happy customers to leave a good review without much effort on their part.

6. Manage Negative Online Reviews

A whopping 94% of customers admit that a negative online review can prevent them from choosing a particular business.

So it’s crucial to manage the negative reviews you receive.

Before addressing negative reviews, assess the most problematic ones. Reviews that rank highly on the search engine results page (SERP) are a great starting point. Quickly run through the following platforms:

  • Google Business Profile
  • Social media platforms
  • Third-party listings like Trustpilot or Glassdoor

Find all the negative reviews (if there are any). Now it’s time to respond.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

It’s best to respond to negative reviews quickly before they spiral out of control. Here are some general guidelines for navigating negative reviews:

how to respond to negative reviews
  • Improve your response time. The earlier you resolve an issue, the less likely it is to spiral out of control.
  • Show courtesy. Thank the reviewer for their feedback and be polite as you address their concerns.
  • Acknowledge mistakes. If your business is at fault, it’s often a good idea to acknowledge the mistake. But keep in mind that apologizing could result in legal action in some cases. Use phrases like “We understand your frustration” or “How can we make this better?”
  • Try to keep things public. Keep conversations around negative reviews public when possible. This shows other customers that you’re responsive and approachable. (But respond privately if there’s sensitive customer information involved.)
  • Offer a refund or discount. This should be a last resort to appease the customer. However, this might be the right approach if your product or service is the root of the problem.
  • Reach out to third-party authors. If someone writes a negative review or blog post about you, you can ask them to make changes. So long as you have compelling proof about improvements you’ve made or inaccuracies in the review or post.
  • Make improvements to your service/product. If you see the same complaint many times, consider making changes or updates to your product. Keep customers posted on how you’re resolving the issue.

How to Push Negative Reviews Down in Search Rankings

Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to resolve all negative reviews. But there are still things you can do that will hopefully help your content rank above those bad reviews in Google.

Here are a few ways you can improve rankings for positive articles over problematic reviews:

  • Promote positive content like testimonials and reviews prominently on your site
  • Update existing authoritative content
  • Build authority by gaining backlinks to positive articles (or providing backlinks to positive reviews on external sites)
  • Partner with influencers within your niche to promote your content
  • Share positive reviews on your social profiles and shout out the reviewer
  • Share third-party endorsements from other companies and brands

There’s no quick fix for ranking better, but these tips can help you put your best foot forward using content. Not all of these tips address specific ranking factors, but they all push your positive content into more prominent places.

7. Create On-Brand Content

Branding refers to the consistency of your messaging and tone of voice across your content.

Think about it this way: 

The first thing customers see about your brand will shape their perception of it. So you should make sure your content is branded consistently for better recall.

This also applies to:

  • Your branded searches
  • How you reply to customers on reviews
  • Your social media communication

So even something as small as a reply to an Instagram comment can make a big impact.

For example, Lululemon, a well-known athletic apparel brand, always responds to customers politely—even to negative comments:

Lululemon customer response on social media

They always remind customers that DMs are welcome.

While it’s important to maintain a cohesive brand image, it’s equally crucial to dominate the SERP for brand mentions.

That way, positive content about your brand appears when people search for it.

You can achieve this by following SEO best practices to ensure that your branded content shows up on the first page of Google search results.

Your first step is to determine what your branded keywords are.

How to Define Your Branded Keywords

A branded keyword is a search query that includes your website’s brand name or a variation. To find which ones to optimize for, use Semrush’s Organic Research tool.

Input your domain and navigate to the “Positions” report. And then add two “Advanced filters”:

  • “Exclude,” “Keyword type,” and “Not branded”
  • “Exclude,” “Keyword type,” and “Branded for other domain.”

Like this:

define branded keywords

Identify which branded keywords will have the highest impact by looking at the search volume (i.e., the number of times a term is searched over a set time frame).

For example, keywords with a search volume of 1,000 have a wider reach than keywords with a search volume of 10.

organic search volume

Once you identify your most important branded keywords, check the SERP for each one. Click on the search icon to view the SERP directly from the “Positions” report:

find SERP for branded keywords

Pro tip: If you choose to manually search for your keywords on Google, open a private browser window. This can prevent the results from being personalized based on your search history or location.

Review the results and look at any negative reviews or press that appear on the SERP.

8. Choose Influencers Wisely

Influencer marketing is when a brand collaborates with online influencers to promote products and services.

And it can yield great results. 

It can also be a great substitute for paid media. But keep in mind that you won’t have the same control over your reputation as you do when you use ads or sponsored posts.

Let’s take a look at Lululemon—a lifestyle brand known for its quality and culture. No matter where you are, Lululemon feels local even if it isn’t.

And that isn’t a mistake. They don’t ask celebrities to be their influencers. Instead, they strategically choose local athletes from each community that they want to reach.

For example, they partnered with Kevin Pearce of LoveYourBrain to promote their brand and inspire their community.

LoveYourBrain partnership

But keep in mind that things can quickly go wrong if you don’t choose the right partners.

Take Disney’s Maker Studios, for example.

They partnered with the popular gaming YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie) in 2014. Which gave him co-ownership of a multichannel network that produced videos, apps, and merchandise.

But that partnership came to an end in 2017 due to controversy.

PewDiePie had posted several videos that included inappropriate and deeply offensive content.

When Maker Studio caught wind of these heinous videos, they cut all ties with the YouTuber.

While Disney took steps to end the partnership, PewDiePie was already affiliated with them at the time. Which turned the issue into a reputation crisis for the company, as well.

But as long as you’re careful when choosing who to work with, influencer marketing can be a powerful part of your ORM strategy.

For best results, work with influencers who fit your brand image. Bonus points if customers already associate them with you.

Let’s say a social media personality who shares your audience demographic is already known for wearing your clothes and has even organically posted about you before. That social media personality could be a good fit for an influencer partnership.

On the other hand, someone who’s never worn your clothes before and has promoted other brands in your space probably wouldn’t work well.

Ready to start an influencer marketing campaign? Here’s how:

How to Start an Influencer Marketing Campaign

The first step is the same as any marketing campaign: Establish your goals.

Some common goals of influencer marketing campaigns are brand awareness, engagement, influencer-generated content, and sales.

Once you set your campaign goal, set a budget. Influencers’ rates vary, so do some research before reaching out.

You can find influencer rates by reaching out manually or using the BuzzGuru Influencer Analytics tool.

BuzzGuru Influencer Analytics tool

Next, it’s time to find influencers in your niche.

Rather than blindly sending cold emails or spending hours scrolling through social media, simply click on the “Influencer Discovery” tab to get a whole list of trustworthy influencers.

find relevant influencers in your industry

With the tool, you can:

  • Find influencers by platform and keywords
  • Filter out influencers based on your criteria
  • View influencer profiles
  • Monitor your brand mentions
  • Analyze your competitors’ influencer strategy

Pro tip: Use social listening to decide which influencers to work with. Choosing an influencer who’s already a fan of your brand can be a huge asset to your campaign.

Once you’ve chosen a few influencers you’d like to work with, it’s time to reach out.

Here are a few tips on crafting your initial email:

  • Get personal. Address influencers by name to make it clear that you’re familiar with their personal brand. And let them know why you think this would be a good partnership.
  • Provide details. Give influencers as much information up front as possible so they can decide whether the partnership is a good fit.
  • Discuss next steps. Make your email actionable by prompting next steps. Let influencers know if you need access to their media kit or provide them with a link about your campaign.

Once you’ve chosen an influencer, set up reporting for your campaign. Collect data before your campaign kicks off so you can see the campaign’s overall impact.

And last but not least: Follow the rules. Your brand (and your influencers) can get in serious trouble if they don’t follow Federal Trade Commission (FTC) social media guidelines.

This includes clearly stating which posts are ads (usually with hashtags like #ad or #sponsored) and placing that label somewhere visible toward the beginning of the post.

To learn more about managing your influencer marketing campaigns, read our in-depth guide.

Keep Learning About Reputation Management

Online reputation management is an ongoing process. It’s important to keep tabs on your brand and stay engaged with your audience to create a positive impression.

Next, read some of our additional guides on improving your online reputation. And even choose some online marketing tools to keep you on track:

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Writer, editor, SEO strategist, and supporter of the Oxford comma. There‘s little I enjoy more than lounging on my couch playing video games and snuggling with my dog.
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