How to protect your brand’s online reputation amid COVID-19

Jason Norris | Apr 21, 2020 Jason Norris 04/21/20

With operational guidelines and consumer behaviors changing daily, it’s never been more important for brands to monitor their online reputation. Though there has been a considerable decrease in the volume of online ratings + reviews—due in large part to Google and Yelp putting major COVID-19 restrictions on their review features—customers are still talking about their experiences online. And ignoring these comments can be very detrimental, especially in such volatile times.

To stay plugged in to online reviews and be armed with an agile response plan, it’s important to evaluate your online reputation management strategy. The most effective and efficient solution will check these 3 boxes:

     1. Provide customer feedback at the location level

Though it’s important to understand how your brand is faring overall, real actionable insight comes from location-level data. And with operational regulations around COVID-19 varying greatly from state to state (even city to city), brands that can analyze data down to the location are at a huge advantage over those that can’t. This feedback will shed light on regional differences and help you come up with DMA-specific strategies for those most vulnerable.

Location-level feedback also helps brands address specific problems at each location. Maybe you have a certain branch that isn’t doing a good job communicating modified business hours or a store that continues to get docked on cleanliness or product availability. By targeting specific actions at the location level, you will help improve your overall brand reputation.

     2. Integrate data from multiple sources into one platform

As I mentioned, Google and Yelp have implemented restrictions to their ratings platforms. In an effort to protect brands, Google disabled all new reviews, replies, and Q+A on March 20. Though Google recently enabled the reply function to previous reviews, new user reviews and Q+A are still unavailable. Yelp took a less conservative approach and restricted any mentions or variations of COVID-19. But this doesn’t mean customers are now just airing their grievances offline.

Customers are still providing feedback on brands’ social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And with so much feedback coming in from multiple places, it can be complicated for brands to stay on top of things. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones to have a designated person responsible for online reputation management, juggling multiple review and social sites at once means inevitably letting something slip through the cracks.

The right online reputation management solution has the capability to streamline data from multiple sites, incorporate it with your other CX data, and put it all in one easy-to-use dashboard. With this holistic view of the customer experience, your brand can remain responsive and agile.

     3. Build customer trust with a prompt + empathetic response

It’s important to engage with online feedback—41% of consumers say when brands reply to reviews, it shows the company really cares about their customers. In the current climate, “care” is fundamental to building long-term loyalty. Customers want to do business with companies they trust—and if you ignore them, they aren’t going to trust you.

We get it. You’re likely putting out a million fires a day right now, while your location managers and front-line teams are scrambling to readjust operations and implement new processes. Who has time to respond to every customer comment left online?

For brands with a significant number of reviews, you need the ability to rotate and publish responses using a library of templates with a single click—looking like you’ve employed an army of social media managers. This will help you respond quickly and more efficiently, while still building trust with your customers. And don’t forget to compose a message that is empathetic and sincere. A little caring will go a long way right now.

One more thing: Keep customers informed with business updates

Managing ratings + reviews isn’t just about listening and responding to consumers. It’s equally important to use your social channels to communicate vital business updates—especially now. To keep your customers in the loop, take these steps:

  • Keep your local business listings updated—including curbside pickup processes, delivery options, hours of operation, and temporary closures.   
  • Be aware that not all of Google’s business data updates will occur immediately—Google will prioritize reviews for edits critical to health-related businesses. They will also prioritize open and closed states, special hours, temporary closures, business descriptions, and business attribute edits for other verified businesses.
  • If you are open, make sure you have not been marked as temporarily closed. There are reports of businesses being marked temporarily closed that did not request it. If this has happened to you, unmark the listing as closed in your Google My Business dashboard. If it doesn’t publish right away, contact Google My Business support.

As your brand continues to navigate these unchartered waters, remember there are plenty of resources at your disposal to help you adjust your online reputation management strategy. In addition to the best practices you can find with Google and Yelp, be sure to check out SMG’s latest COVID-19 resources.

Jason Norris | General Manager, Social Solutions

Customer Experience Update