Have you Googled yourself lately? What comes up on search engine results pages (SERP’s) can make or break your online reputation. Harvard University research on Yelp shows that a 1-star difference in reviews on Yelp may result in 5% to 9% in business gained or lost. Review sites aren’t the only place customers can let you know their opinion. A study by Brandwatch found that customers of financial brands are more likely to use social media and online forums to air grievances . There is also the issue of poor reputation for the financial services industry overall. The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer found banking and financial services to be the least trusted industries globally. Add to that the challenges of balancing personality and regulatory responsibility, and having an online presence might make you ask – why bother? Use these tips to change public perception and control the conversation about your financial brand.
When someone types your brand name into a search engine, you want to make sure what comes up is as positive as possible. That means having a surplus of content on your website and blog, good reviews, and robust social media sites. It’s also a good idea to have a Google+ page, Google maps, and Google Places listings. The more content you have, the more likely you are to land on page one of SERP’s.
Social Media Listening
According to a study by JD Power and Associates, 32% of consumers do not realize brands are listening to what they say on social media. In fact, they consider it an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, consumers also expect a swift response to the concerns they post on social. The result is a balancing act on behalf of brands, not only to monitor from a respectable distance, but also to engage when appropriate. For example, from your Gremln dashboard, you can monitor your brands name – all spellings – across Facebook and Twitter. We all know it’s important to do a keyword search of our brand names. But make sure you throw in MISSPELLINGS of your brand name. If you have a Google Adwords account, check the keywords people use to get to your website, and you will probably find several versions of your brand name. Watch for questions, comments, or direct messages that require customer service and respond in real time.
What are your competitors doing on social media? Is there something you can do to improve your strategy and stand out from others in your industry? Watching what the competition is isn’t spying as much as keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry.
Nothing says reputation management like a good old-fashioned press release. Whether you are opening a new branch, or sponsoring a community event, press releases are an easy win for managing your company message. Include links back to your website and social media accounts to boost SEO.
Claim Your Name
Your company name on social media is something you want to claim immediately to prevent other companies from piggybacking off your trademark. There are several services that allow you to search all social networks for name availability, and in some cases will set up profiles for you. Some of the services are free; the more robust services require subscription or set up fees.
Respond in Public, Resolve offline
When it comes to negative feedback, the knee-jerk reaction is to want to hit delete. Aside from not responding at all, this is the worst thing you could do when trying to manage your reputation. Since you can’t control or avoid negative feedback, it’s better to adopt an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy. Respond quickly, publicly, and courteously to the feedback. However, try to move the conversation offline as quickly as possible, either with a phone call or an email.
Have a social media crisis process
Speaking of negative feedback, who is in charge of responding to it? What is the protocol for handling certain scenarios (hacked account, rogue employee, angry customer, technical difficulties, etc)? When is it time to escalate to your leadership or legal team? Having a plan in place allows you to deal with social media crises with agility.
Sign up for search engine alerts
Set up Google Alerts for your brand name so you know instantly if there is an item circulating about you in Google results. You can choose to have your alerts delivered via email or RSS Feed as it happens, once a day, or once a week. You can also specify alerts for specific keyword phrases, specific regions or countries, or even a specific language.
Pay attention to your reviews
Because consumers are paying attention. According to a survey by Dimensional Research 90% of consumers polled said that positive online reviews influenced their purchase decision. Conversely, 86% said negative reviews had also impacted their decision. Do not even consider “sockpuppeting or “astroturfing” (see sidebar).
Create a strategy for engaging on customer forums
There are online forums where disgruntled consumers can share their displeasure with a financial brand with the public. Monitor these forums and be prepared to handle negative feedback in the same manner as other social media outlets.
Watch your cyber security
Create secure passwords that include a combination of numbers, letters, and characters, and change them every 3 months to avoid hacking. Passwords should also change after someone with access to your accounts leaves the company.
Sockpuppeting and Astroturfing
Consumers are increasingly dependent on online and social media reviews when researching a product or service, so it makes sense for businesses to want those reviews to be positive. A study by Cornell University found that a one-star difference on a review could affect a hotel’s room rates by as much as 11%. To ensure glowing reviews, some businesses have resorted to “astroturfing,” the practice of paying for fake or misrepresentative reviews. “Sockpuppeting” occurs when someone creates a false identity on a social media community in order to create positive word of mouth for a brand – but does not identify themselves as affiliated with the brand. Last year, the New York Attorney General fined 19 New York companies with more than $350,000 in penalties for posting fake reviews. Google and Facebook have both made changes to their algorithms to reduce spam.
Regulatory bodies have provided guidance to cut down on misrepresentative or fraudulent reviews. The SEC states that financial advisors may invite people to see reviews on websites such as Yelp, provided ALL reviews are listed; advisors may not extract only the positive feedback. It is not permissible, however, to link to an adviser or firm’s own Facebook page and point to positive reviews, as those are able to controlled, and therefore could be seen as manipulative. For more on the SEC guidance, read our blog post “SEC Update: 6 Ways For FinServ To Safely Use Social Media.”
Additionally, the FTC has begun to crack down, stating that “paying for positive reviews without disclosing that the reviewer has been compensated equates to deceptive advertising and would be prosecuted as such.”