Protecting Your Online Reputation

With the internet being a go-to resource for customers seeking out service companies, it’s vital that you know what is being said about you online

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If you’re an HVAC contractor, online reputation management is something that you should be thinking about. Your business depends on good feedback from customers. In the old days, you would have been concerned solely with word-of-mouth advertising. Nowadays it's also important to consider the impact of online feedback.

Here are some online reputation management tips suited for HVAC contractors.

Online Reputation Management Impacts Branding

Your branding is your message. It lets others know what your company is all about. Branding online is a hot trend that is often very beneficial, as long as branding really encapsulates the value of an HVAC company. When you pay attention to online reputation management, by monitoring feedback about your company and responding to it in a polite and professional manner (whether it’s good or bad), you'll find that you also improve your overall branding message.

Online reputation management and branding are two moving parts of a successful marketing and advertising campaign. Both need careful attention and each element affects the other, for better or worse.

Before the internet became king, HVAC contractors relied on simpler forms of marketing in order to generate interest, build brand awareness and draw in customers. Ads were printed on billboards, played on radio stations, displayed on TV or printed in magazines and newspapers. Press releases may also have been used in order to spread the word about the merits of HVAC companies.

This type of marketing isn't as effective in enticing modern customers who tend to use the internet to gather information about businesses that they are interested in. They won't be looking through newspapers in their towns and cities in order to find and research companies. They may not listen to traditional radio stations, either. They shop in a different way.

To connect with those who are fond of taking care of business online, you must promote via social media, blogs and online review websites (Yelp is the most famous example). These are places where customers may put in their two cents about businesses. They may leave positive or negative reviews, or reviews which are a balance of good and bad.

When you begin to manage these virtual group environments, you'll be doing online reputation management. If someone can leave a comment, a review or like or dislike something, it's a public forum. It becomes a part of your online marketing. While you can't control what people write about your company, or say in YouTube videos, you can control how you respond to it.

First, it's important to know that it's out there.

Reputation Management Basics

Online reputation management is about protecting what you've already built. When you use reputation management correctly, you'll be influencing or controlling your company's reputation. In the past, PR firms handled these sorts of tasks for individuals and companies. Now, a lot of HVAC entrepreneurs are learning how to handle online reputation management on their own.

Online reputation management is very similar to "live" management of a firm's reputation. However, when things are online, many people see them. Thousands of people may see reviews that are posted online. This means that the impact of this kind of virtual word-of-mouth advertising is more powerful.

Also, in general, people have a tendency to believe things that are posted online. Reviews are one channel that people who surf the web use in order to make decisions about where to shop. If there are a lot of bad reviews about your company online, people may believe them, whether they are true or not.

With the assumption that most people do believe what they read, you'll need to spring into action if bad reviews pop up. You should be looking for them daily. The trick is to defuse the negative impact of these reviews by responding and offering unhappy customers apologies and/or solutions, which should be delivered in a polite, low-key and politically correct manner. It's about soothing the ruffled feathers of unhappy customers, even if they are posting their reviews under aliases.

Also, when people post good things about your company, such as how good your prices are and how capably your staff members handle repairs, installations, maintenance and upgrades, you should reward those VIP customers. They've gone out of their way to make your company look good online. Their positive feedback is worth its weight in gold. Be sure to find these great reviews and then post responses demonstrating sincere gratitude and appreciation. This is an excellent way to get even more leverage from positive feedback that shows up online.

It’s a two-step process: Know what feedback is out there, then react to it appropriately. When you get a handle on this and make it a regular part of your workday, you'll be doing superb PR for your company. You may also use any constructive criticism that you find online to move forward and make changes. If a few people complain about some aspect of your business, and you think that the reviews are legitimate — rather than coming from competitors utilizing aliases — it's a safe bet that there is something to the criticism.

Get Proactive About Your Company Reputation

Once you begin to monitor feedback online, you should also get proactive about asking your customers to share the experiences they have with your company. For example, if you have a great interaction with a customer and a smooth and seamless transaction with that person, don't hesitate to ask the person to leave a good review for you. Some may do it and some may not. Happy customers are less likely to leave feedback and this leaves more room for disgruntled people to leave feedback. You can find a balance by actively campaigning for reviews from customers who are likely very pleased with your HVAC company.

Also, add blogs and articles to your website and other online channels that don't have a lot of “hard sell” aspects to them and help people solve problems. For example, a blog post about the most energy-efficient air conditioning units may be very appealing to your customers. Show your expertise. Avoid direct promotion. Just make sure that the person reading the article or blog knows which company it's coming from (via a link or short bio at the end of the article). When you educate people who are looking for answers about HVAC services, you'll be performing content marketing which accents your online reputation management strategy.

About the Author
Ryan Holden is a former HVAC technician and director of Progressive Heating & Air, an HVAC company based in San Diego. 


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