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REALITY CHECK

Your online reputation can make or break you

Alchemist club was forced to shut, while Zanzibar hotel got 4,000 negative reviews in 3hrs

In Summary

• More and more people are seeking reviews before considering a product or service  

• The online reputation of a business is, therefore, something to be jealously guarded

Image: PIXABAY

An increasing number of people rely on online reviews to help them decide whether to buy a product or service from your business. This calls for business owners and managers to engage in reputation management on their digital platforms.

Whether it's buying a car or land, looking for a hotel or shopping for clothes, many people these days make their purchasing decisions based on reviews posted by other customers. Lots of good reviews imply the product or service is good. Similarly, bad reviews discourage customers from doing business with the seller.

The reviews may appear in the form of a star rating or comments. Many traditional businesses, such as restaurants, hotels and taxis, now rely on online reviews to attract customers.

A 2021 international survey by research firm BrightLocal found that 77 per cent of customers always or regularly read online reviews when browsing local businesses. 67 per cent will consider leaving a review for a positive experience, while 40 per cent will consider leaving a review for a negative experience.

A similar survey carried out by the same firm in 2018 revealed that 91 per cent of 18-34-year-old consumers trust reviews online as much as recommendations from friends and family.

An incident of sexual harassment at a hotel in Zanzibar in 2021 highlights the importance of online reviews in today’s business. A young Nigerian woman, who was a guest at the hotel, described on social media how she was sexually attacked during her stay. The story went viral, with 4,000 negative reviews about the hotel being posted within 3 hours.

In this day of Twitter bigwigs and social media influencers, negative news can irreparably hurt your brand in just a matter of hours
Nathaniel Ndegwa

BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

Due to the deluge of negative comments, the hotel’s ratings on Google dropped drastically. Anyone doing an online search of the hotel is likely to encounter the story and the negative views that followed. All these happened because of a dissatisfied guest.

Most recently, the Alchemist Bar in Nairobi closed its doors shortly after an online video appeared to show racial discrimination at the bar entrance. The video, which was widely disseminated, provoked a barrage of condemnation. Not even an apology by the bar’s management could calm the public.

Lots of small businesses in Kenya have recognised the importance of social media in gaining new customers. A consumer survey published by MasterCard in 2021 reveals that 78 per cent of respondents browsed Facebook to determine where to buy the things they needed. The figure for Instagram was 56 per cent. This shows the importance of product reviews in helping potential customers make up their minds about a business.

Research carried out by Ngugi Kimani of the University of Nairobi found that one of the reasons why more consumers are shopping online is because of product reviews. Other reasons were that it's easy to compare alternative products, that online shopping saves time and that online shopping offers a wide variety of products from a global market.

Online reputation consultant Nathaniel Ndegwa
Online reputation consultant Nathaniel Ndegwa
Image: COURTESY

The online reputation of a business is, therefore, something to be jealously guarded. "Your online reputation is information that can be found about you or your brand when someone does an online search," Nathaniel Ndegwa, an online reputation consultant, says. The biggest disadvantage of being online, he says, is that the Internet never forgets.

Anything posted online about you or your business will remain on the Internet for eternity, regardless of whether it’s true or not. “In this day of Twitter bigwigs and social media influencers, negative news can irreparably hurt your brand in just a matter of hours,” Ndegwa says.

Several court cases in the recent past show that some notorious bloggers are extorting money from businesses and prominent personalities by threatening to ruin their online reputations. In March 2021, a controversial Kenyan blogger was arrested for allegedly demanding Sh10 million from a politician.

A year before, another well-known local blogger was arrested for allegedly posting defamatory stories about a bank and then demanding Sh17 million to delete the information. The bank is reported to have hired a London-based reputational management firm to repair its public image, highlighting how bad reviews can harm a business.

HOW TO RESPOND

“When you are attacked online, and especially when you feel it is malicious or unfounded, there is always a very strong temptation to respond immediately and as forcefully as possible,” Ndegwa says.

As he explains, responding forcefully can trigger more negative responses. New negative comments will result in the reviews remaining high on search engine results for much longer.

“In such an event, I would advise you to stay calm and respond strategically. Provide a well-structured, credible perspective through your official social media channels,” Ndegwa advises. Do not respond to all the negative comments. If you respond in a heated tone, you will get even hotter responses.

“Admit when mistakes are made and apologise as sincerely as possible. Where it is possible to make amends, do so. Research has shown that customers are more likely to continue patronising businesses that sincerely apologise when they break customer trust,” Ndegwa says.

One more thing: Don’t be conned into paying someone who promises to instantly wipe out the negative comments from the Internet. Just as it takes a while to build a good reputation in the real world, it also takes time and effort to build a good image online. A few social media posts cannot change the public’s perspective about a business.

“People tend to believe someone or a company which has a consistent story over a long time, and not one that suddenly wants to tell us a million good things about themselves," Ndegwa says.

This is why businesses and prominent personalities should have an online presence so that when something negative is reported about them, they will already have a critical mass of loyal followers to vouch for their credibility.

PERSONAL REPUTATION

Online reputation management is not just for companies. Individuals should practise it, too. As a starting point, enter your name into a search engine and see what information comes out. You may see positive things about yourself, you may see negative stories or you may find nothing at all.

Ndegwa's advice for personal reputational management is simple. First, avoid oversharing on your social media accounts; not everything happening in your life is meant for public consumption.

Second, make sure your social media bios talk about what you do professionally. The third point is to limit which of your content strangers can see on social media. Facebook, for example, allows users to change the settings of a post to either make it visible to everyone or only to friends.

Ultimately, your way of dealing with people in day-to-day interactions will influence your reputation. A similar principle applies to business. If your products, services and customer care are excellent, positive reviews will surely follow.

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