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How to use surveys for reputation management

Maintaining a positive brand reputation is more important than ever before. Find out how to measure and improve your reputation, quickly.

A positive reputation can help you to attract new customers and retain existing ones, drive sales, and overall, make a valuable contribution to your bottom line. But if your reputation is hit by a negative event, your ability to remain competitive can be hugely undermined. It's key, then, to continuously monitor, measure, and track your reputation by engaging with the people who matter most: your customers and stakeholders. Read on to learn more about the importance of reputation management, and how you can use surveys to monitor your reputation among your target audience, and quickly identify if your reputation is getting off track.

What do we mean when we talk about reputation management?  Your reputation is all about how you’re viewed in the minds of the public. It measures the degree of credibility and trust you convey to your customers and to the public more generally. Essentially, your brand reputation is your company's character, and building and maintaining it is quite a job. Not only will you need to cultivate and articulate a certain brand identity, but you’ll need to fulfill your value propositions and brand promise, and keep an eye on any unexpected events that can undermine your reputational goals. You’ll also need to take swift, corrective action if your reputation has taken a hit. That’s why it's important to continually gather reputational data from your target audience—and we recommend surveys to do that.  Let’s dig a little deeper into why your reputation matters.

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Make no mistake: reputation matters. Time after time, history has shown that businesses with positive, strong reputations outperform those with negative or dodgy reputations when it comes to all the metrics that matter—sales, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, market share, and brand perceptions. Especially in the digital age, customers have more choice than ever before, making it very easy to switch to a competing business if yours has a less than stellar reputation. For instance, one study found that 95% of consumers under the age of 34 read reviews about businesses before making purchasing decisions, and customers typically read around 10 online reviews before they feel that they can trust a company. Customers are more likely to relate negative experiences than they're to relate positive experiences. And, negative word of mouth spreads much faster and to more people than positive word of mouth. The average dissatisfied customer tells between 9 and 15 other people about their experience, and people are more easily swayed by negative information than they are by positive evaluations. Put all this together, and you’ll see that a positive reputation can be a vital weapon in your competitive strategy, but a negative one can massively harm your business. 

Reputation management is all about monitoring your reputation for changes, identifying threats and risks to a positive reputation, and taking anticipatory action, or taking corrective action when your reputation falters. If you actively manage your reputation in this way, you can expect to realize a number of advantages.

If you ask customers about the main factor that leads them to prefer one brand over another, 9 times out of 10, they’re likely to mention trust. Buying new products and services is laden with risk, especially in today’s highly competitive marketplaces. Customers are looking for some kind of guarantee that products will work as expected, that brands will fulfill their promises and that problems will be rectified quickly, if they do occur. A business that actively manages its reputation essentially conveys to customers that it is trustful and transparent about its practices, and that is currency that will take you very far when it comes to acquiring and retaining customers.

All businesses run into service problems at some point or another. Some are outside of your control, such as a supply chain failure that means that customer orders cannot be fulfilled as expected. Others may be your fault and responsibility. Regardless of whether the reputational incident is outside of your control, reputation management gives you better lines of defense in the event of a problem. In other words, when you engage in effective reputation management, you can anticipate problems before they arise or take swift action immediately afterward, which gives you more control should things go south or a mistake be made.

Reputation management is inherently linked to brand perceptions. Brand perception describes the image of your brand in the minds of current, past, and future customers based on the products and services you offer, which can be partially managed through carefully designed reputational management.  For example, customers have perceptions about the quality, value, and variety of the goods that you sell, and you can help to shape these perceptions by ensuring that your reputation is a positive one. In this way, reputation management improves perceptions of your brand, which in turn can boost customer acquisition.

Reputation management can also strengthen existing relationships by cultivating loyalty and customer satisfaction. You might have the best products and services in the world, but customers are more likely to defect to a competitor if they can’t trust you, or they find your activities distasteful.

You don’t need to look very far for examples of poor and good reputation management. For example, in 2021, Volkswagen, which was already reeling from the poor reputational effects of its Dieselgate scandal, suffered another setback when an April Fool’s Day prank, claiming it had changed its name to Voltswagen because of concern for the environment, backfired. Customers found the joke distasteful, given that the company had already been caught out for producing vehicles that were more pollutive than marketing materials claimed. The result is that a marketing activity that was supposed to drive sales of a new, innovative product turned customers away.

In contrast, Adidas recovered quickly when they owned up to a mistake in a mailout sent to customers following the Boston Marathon in 2017. The email, which had the subject line “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” was widely derided as insensitive because of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. Adidas swiftly took action against negative sentiment on Twitter by issuing a sincere public apology that acknowledged and took responsibility for the error. The apology was well-received, showing that while social media users are often quick to judge when companies make a public blunder, they'll also respond positively to an authentic and thoughtful apology.

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Much reputational damage occurs online these days, so let’s take a look at some of the ways you can track and monitor your online reputation.

We now live in an age where social media dominates, and it's almost impossible to do business without having a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the likes. From a marketing perspective, social media has much to commend. As well as offering valuable advertising platforms that have the potential to reach vast, yet highly targeted audiences, social media provide ways for you to engage directly with your customers and to obtain real-time feedback on performance. At the same time, the ubiquity and reach of social media means that any negative information shared there about you has the potential to be ruinous. That’s why it's crucial to have a comprehensive social media reputation monitoring strategy in place. And many of the tools available for social media monitoring, like Google Alerts and Social Mention are free, enabling you to obtain real-time insight into what people are saying on social media platforms about your brand. 

Online forums like Reddit are a special kind of social media platform in that they're designed for users to discuss specific topics. That’s great news for you, since it means there is a dedicated place you can monitor for discussions about your brand and those of your rivals. Sell coffee? Keep an eye on the r/coffee subreddit. Or track discussions on fan forums dedicated to your brand or the products that you sell. 

Online reviews are customer opinions and recommendations shared on dedicated platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, or on platforms where sales take place, like eBay and Amazon. Many businesses describe online reviews as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a positive review is a free source of positive advertising for your brand. But what about negative reviews? These have the power to destroy your reputation. Never forget: customers trust the recommendations of others. While undoubtedly, advertisements have the power to shape customers’ purchasing decisions, customers tend to trust the views of other customers more than they do the word of a business. This includes recommendations from friends and family, but also the reviews provided by strangers encountered on the internet. Moreover, the online environment makes it easier than ever before for customers to seek out those all-important viewpoints. A negative review, which exists permanently online can therefore dissuade not just one, but potentially hundreds of customers from buying your product or using your services.

FK once said, “the best time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. Likewise, waiting for a crisis to occur to start social media reputational repair is too late in the day. Instead, make it a habit to regularly engage with your target audience to learn more about awareness and perceptions of your brand, your products, and your competitors. You can do this through reputation management surveys which capture data on what your customers think about you and why. 

  • Gather honest feedback. Sometimes it's easier to gather honest and authentic insight about, or reactions to your brand through a survey. Sure, you can ask customers for feedback at the point of sale, but how honest will they be, especially if their views on you are negative? The anonymous nature of online surveys can improve the potential for you to gain useful, valid feedback on your reputation.
  • Track reputational changes over time. Once designed you can administer them repeatedly, which helps you to track customer feedback over time. For instance, you might consider sending a survey to customers after every purchase, or on a regular cycle, like annually. If you monitor the results from reputation management surveys regularly (and also engage in follow-up communication for negative feedback), then you’ll be able to effectively solve problems before they escalate, ensuring your brand reputation remains intact.

To get the most out of your reputation management survey, we recommend asking a variety of closed and open questions. Closed questions should ask respondents direct questions about what they think about your brand. For instance, you might use an attribution scale question like this:

Is your perception of [brand name]:

Very negative/mostly negative/somewhat negative/somewhat positive/mostly positive/Very positive/unsure

Open-ended questions should help you learn more about why respondents think the way they do. For instance, sharing an experience customers recently had with your business. Or, use the piping feature in SurveyMonkey to generate a follow-up question that asks respondents to expand on an earlier answer:

For example: Above, you said that your perception of [brand name] is [mostly negative]. Can you explain why you think that?

Now, let’s take a look at some steps you can take to manage your online reputation.

First, you need to understand what people are saying. A good tool to do this is sentiment analysis, which involves analyzing snippets of text, like online reviews, tweets, comments, and customer feedback, for their tone in order to understand what people who are talking about your brand really think. Sentiment analysis classifies the subjective undertones of text in three ways:

  • Positive sentiments evoke a positive view of the brand. For example, imagine you run a roadside cafe. A positive sentiment might be a comment on your Yelp profile like “the food there is really good!”, or “such a convenient location!”. 
  • Negative sentiments express some level of dissatisfaction or disdain with the brand and its offerings. If an online review expresses something like “My food was disgusting and they wouldn’t refund me”, you’ve got a problem.
  • Neutral sentiments express neither positive nor negative feelings. For example, a comment that says “I haven’t tried this place yet, maybe I should” would be classed as neutral.

Obviously, the more positive the sentiments towards your brand, the better your brand reputation is likely to be. So, your goal should be to try to boost positive sentiments, and to reduce the relative proportion of negative (and neutral) sentiments. But,  first, you’ll need to think about how to respond to sentiments—especially the harmful, negative ones.

If your reputation has taken a hit, it doesn’t mean that this is the end for your business. Research actually shows that brands that respond effectively to negative reputational events can drive more sales and build a more loyal customer following, turning the negative hit to the reputation into a major win. In 1992, Professors Sundar Bharadwaj and Michael McCullough coined the term the service recovery paradox, or SRP to describe how customers who have a bad experience with a company can often become the most fiercely loyal customers. That’s because when companies take steps to put things right—by providing a sincere apology and rectifying a complaint and perhaps offering customers a free service or replacement product, or by following up statements of apology with clear action—they demonstrate that they really care about customers. These benefits are only realizable if you’re able to react to customer feedback quickly and decisively. That’s why it's important to monitor your brand health and reputation in real-time.

Another important point is to continue to raise awareness of your brand among your target audience. A positive reputation can be highly beneficial, but you won’t be able to realize its impact unless people are actually aware of your brand. So, if you’ve achieved something great, shout about it, and build positive stories into your brand awareness building strategies

So, as you can see, continually and carefully monitoring your reputation and responding to changes appropriately represents a crucial part of your overall brand health strategy. Using surveys can help you to identify weaknesses in your reputation, which in turn can improve your value offerings and improve the health of your business. Ready to get started? SurveyMonkey can help put together an audience for completing your reputation management survey. Get started today with SurveyMonkey Audience.