The coronavirus pandemic has made online reputation more important than ever, with locked-down customers relying on online reviews, and increasingly interested in the behaviour of companies they buy from.
A survey by Trustpilot found that a third (33.6pc) of customers were checking reviews of online products and services more than they did before lockdown. The online reputation built by companies during the pandemic will have a lasting impact, says Giles Robertson, lecturer in digital marketing at the University of Bedfordshire.
Mr Robertson says: “People will remember the good actions, as they did for brands who advertised through the wars, like Watermans, Bovril and Sunlight Soap. Even if your activities make a loss and you don’t have products to sell, supporting and entertaining your customers can ensure the brand comes out of the crisis stronger and more loved.”
Two-thirds of British people said that the behaviour of brands during the pandemic would influence whether they bought from them afterwards, according to Edelman’s Covid-19 brand trust report.
“Homebase understood that just being there for its customers was important, switching all of its sales online and maintaining frequent and helpful engagement with its consumers via email and social media,” says Mr Roberts.
“Pizza Express is another example. It shifted its content strategy during Covid-19, promoting its family-oriented brand with ideas of activities and games to keep children and adults entertained, alongside messages about its range of products in supermarkets.”
New communication channels
Managing online relationships with customers has become more important than ever during lockdown, says Emma Kane, chief executive of corporate reputation specialist Newgate Communications.
“During the pandemic, online presence has been more critical than ever as people have had to have a virtual relationship with brands,” she says. “Unlike newspapers becoming tomorrow’s chip wrapping, digital damage is far harder to repair.”
Listening and responding to customers is key to managing online reputation, Ms Kane believes. “When companies get it wrong, they shouldn’t ignore online criticism. You wouldn’t leave someone standing in your reception for five days screaming at the top of their voice. Whether it is critical articles, reviews, posts on social media or negative consumer review sites, businesses should engage, apologise and put things right. ‘Sorry’ goes a very long way.”
Most customers (84pc) now trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, according to research by BrightLocal.
This means that managing reviews is more important than ever, says customer feedback specialist Nicolas Hammer, chief executive of feedback management app Critizr. “The most important task is to find an efficient way to listen to customers and understand what they’re saying about a business online,” he says. “Positive comments should be shared with others to build trust and to influence future customer choices.
“A mix of spontaneous ‘pull feedback’ from a wide range of channels, and solicited ‘push feedback’ – where people are prompted to give their opinions via text, email or on social media – will give a strong 360-degree view of what’s going on for a business online.”
Companies need to react quickly and with respect, even with negative feedback, says Mr Hammer: “Ultimately it’s about how effectively a company reacts. Reply to customer comments, take positive action and do it quickly. This is all about showing to the customer that a company is present, listening and taking comments on board, all in the communication channels that the customer chooses to use.”
Companies need to ensure that their online presence gives a clear, consistent message across all channels, says Chris Attewell, chief executive of digital marketing agency Search Laboratory.
“Customers have almost certainly gone through difficult times over the past few weeks and months,” Mr Attewell says. “It is important for brands to also adapt messaging to be sensitive and provide real-life value, and not just commercial value.
“Brands should turn to analytics to identify their best-performing content – which is resonating the most with their audience – and look to re-create this.
“This keeps engagement high while also giving users what they want, something consumers will remember when they are ready to purchase.
“Valuable content, such as blogs and downloadable content, can also be used to create ‘soft’ conversions and capture user information at a time when hard conversions may be down: a plus for any brand.”
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