Can a Negative Online Reputation Kill a Company?

How dependent is your company on online marketing or online sales? And how dependent are you on having potential customers find you through an online search?

I know of many companies that get more than half their revenue from online sales. So if their online reputation suffers, their sales can take a dive. And for a company too dependent on online sales, a negative online reputation can sometimes kill their business.

Now, I’m not trying to get you to change your business model. The reality today is that many of us do the bulk of our business online. And we all have to weather storms from time to time, including recessions, changes in the marketplace, loss of a good customer, and yes, damage to our online reputation.

This typically happens because disgruntled, dissatisfied, or unhappy people are posting negative comments on review sites — and because those review sites are suddenly ranking higher in the search engines. So your site may be number one for a keyword search, but the negative sites fill up spots two through ten.

It’s never fun to look at the first page of a Google search and see your company’s products or services mentioned on websites with words like “scam” or “rip-off” in their names. It’s like waking up one morning realizing you’ve got a bad case of the flu and will have to suffer through it.

How do you deal with it?

First, good customer service is critical. Don’t make an unhappy customer wait for a response to their complaint. Handle it quickly. The longer they have to wait, the more upset they’ll get, which makes it more likely they’ll go online to the review sites and start posting their “story” about how badly they were treated.

Second, if your online reputation is crucial to your business, then managing that reputation should be a high priority. But it’s not something you do as a reaction to a sudden drop in your rankings or the appearance of negative sites. That’s why it’s called “reputation management,” not “reputation let’s-panic-and-do-something-quickly.”

It’s an ongoing process that makes sure your customers see good things about you online and are less likely to see any negative posts or comments.

Finally, make sure you can weather the occasional dip in your online ranking or a blow to your online image — whether that means diversifying your sales and marketing model or keeping enough cash on hand to cover a temporary loss of business.

These things happen even to the best of companies, no matter how much you do to please everyone. Being prepared is the best defense.