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What's In a Name Can Make or Break Your Company Online

14 Jul 2014 | Posted Under Internet
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose, 
by any other name, would smell as sweet."

That’s the way that William Shakespeare saw it.  Of course, Bill didn’t have the Internet to contend with.  Back in 1594, things were simpler.  Heck it had only been a little over a hundred years since the printing press was invented.  The age of the scandal sheet had not yet been born.

Fast forward five hundred and twenty years and the world is a very different place.  What with news organizations, bloggers, social networkers and YouTube videos spewing out intimate details concerning the lives, loves and eccentricities of celebrities, athletes and politicians it would make the Bard blush.

The trouble in today’s wired world is that neither the emperor, nor the superstars wear any clothes.  The Internet in essence has become the ultimate scandal sheet, where even the tiniest impropriety can suddenly explode onto the worldwide stage as a scandal of epic proportions, fueled by the public’s insatiable need to know.

What you don't know can harm your online reputation.

The problem is that the same tools that can be used to create a media feeding frenzy can also be used to make or break any business owner on the planet.  No longer sated by celebrity gossip, the same tools of the trade that can tell the world about Lindsay Lohan’s latest wardrobe malfunction can be used to dish dirt on any business.

Are You Running an A-List Business?

Right Time, Right Site
Right Time, Right Site (Photo credit: rekha6)
Traditionally companies strove to be on the A-List, that is the preferred list of vendors through which others would choose to do business.  When it comes to business listings today, the A-List for many means Angie’s List.  Founded by Angie Hicks in 1996 in Columbus, Ohio as a means to evaluate and find reliable contractors in suburban Columbus, Ohio. For the first year of its existence, Hicks went door-to-door, signing up members and collecting ratings on local contractors. By 1999, she took her service online becoming one of the country’s most influential business ratings portals. Angie’s List went national whenWilliam S Oesterle and Angie Hicks joined forces in 2009, and today’s its viewed as one of the Internet's premier rating portals.

Who passes and who fails?

Using a report card grading system of A through F, Angie’s List rates companies based upon third-party reviews purportedly from consumers who have used any vendor listed on the site.  Not everyone agrees with validity of their model, as reported by Consumer Report in October 2013,

"We think that the ability of A- and B-rated companies to buy their way to the top of the default search results skews the results. Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for the company, disagrees. 'We don’t believe that,' she says. But Angie’s List marketing materials intended for businesses say that companies that advertise get 'an advantage of increased exposure' that 'can propel you ahead of your competition.' They get 12 times more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads. Angie’s List encourages businesses to solicit reviews by giving customers free, postage-paid forms, stickers on thank you notes, and Web links embedded in e-mail invoices. But experts who study survey techniques say that can create a bias for positive reviews. Angie’s List misleads consumers by prominently promising that 'businesses don’t pay' and that it’s a consumer-driven service supported by membership fees. But almost 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from advertising purchased by the service providers being rated. Angie’s List tells consumers that it provides 'reviews you can trust,' and takes steps to detect and remove fraudulent positive and negative reviews.”

Relying on a pay-to-play system is always dicey when it comes to their impartiality.  Take for instance what happens when you query the Better Business Bureau, another paid service, regarding Angie’s List.  On the BBB Angie’s List, LLC is rated A+.  Yet if you scroll down the page you will find out that, there have been 290 closed complaints filed against the company within the past three years (129 in the past 12 months alone).  Of the 24 customer reviews posted on the BBB site, 23 were negative and only one was positive.  If this is an A+ rated business, what does it take to get a D?

Of course, the problems with skewed or impartial reviews are not limited to paid rating services.  Far from it.  The real elephant in the room is the fact that there are far too many places that reviews and ratings can be posted for any mere mortal to keep track of them all.  Everyone from search engines (Google Local, Yahoo Local) to Social Sites such as Facebook and Merchant Circle, to popular review sites such as Yelp, Yext and all vie for the public's attention. 

While review sites are important for consumers to check on businesses before they do business with them, there are a number of flies in the online ointment. 

1.      Many of these sites have no way for the company receiving a complaint to redress it.  This means that anyone who simply has a grudge against the owner can fire at will in order to damage the owner’s reputation.
2.      This also means that on many review sites a wily competitor can post an anonymous complaint on a company without fear of retaliation.
3.      An unscrupulous business owner can also flood the review sites with false positive reviews from their friends, family and neighbors.

Customer Marketing
Customer Marketing (Photo credit: Jen Beever)
The biggest problem for most business owners is the fact that they have no mechanism for generating positive reviews and/or testimonials.  This is unfortunate since this means that the ONLY reviews posted on most businesses are negative, since as they say, “You can’t please all the people all the time.”

In order to redress this potential disastrous problem, every business owner needs to establish a corporate policy that is dedicated to cultivating positive reviews and testimonials from satisfied customers.  This way when an occasional complaint does surface it will be buried in a mountain of positive press.  In order to accomplish this in a reputable manner, I recommend the following:

1.      Call or talk to some of your most loyal customers and ask them if they would be willing to tell of their experience with your business in front of a video camera.  Video testimonials are some of the most persuasive reviews on the planet.  They can literally turn your best customers into your best salespeople.
2.      At the conclusion of the video, you can also ask them to post a review on Google Local, Yahoo Local, or any other site you prefer. 
3.      If you have a receptionist or sales staff, encourage them to ask your clients to post positive reviews.  (I even recommend having a contest where the employee that generates the most reviews every week receives a reward.)
4.      Broadcast these videos and customer testimonials by reposting them on your newsletters, mailers, blogs and social networks.

The best part about using this strategy is that all it costs you is time.  And that is something in business that can either make or break you, since failing to bolster your online reputation can cost you dearly.  Or, as the Bard might have put it,

“Alas, Poor Yorick! I knew him well.”

When he isn’t waxing poetic, Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency.  You can also find Carl's book entitled Working the Web to Win on

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