August 29, 2016 by Jacob Stoller
“Bad news travels fast” may be an ancient proverb, but even a few decades ago nobody could have imagined that a story could go viral in a matter of minutes. The influence of online information is growing so rapidly that no sector can afford to ignore the risks.
Construction firms aren’t known as early adopters here, and most would give this a fairly low priority. It’s true contractors typically build their businesses through long-term, face-to-face relationships. However, the practices of forging new business relationships are undergoing fundamental changes, and the trend is working its way into construction.
Online reputation isn’t just about finding customers. Many firms confront their online reputation when looking for financing or building partnerships with other firms. “Online reputation matters in all kinds of unforeseen contexts that you can’t really predict,” says Matt Earle, president of online reputation management firm Reputation.ca.
Online communication is becoming the norm, and even many who have been in the workforce for decades are changing their habits. For example, the practice of “Googling” a firm as part of due diligence is automatic for everybody from homeowners to to bank managers.
Often, this happens under the radar. “Even if there is a controlled bid and selection process, ultimately those processes are administered by individuals who can be swayed by all sorts of mysterious occurrences that take place online,” says George Goodall, senior manager at Info-Tech Research Group.
Earle notes 76 per cent of buyers consult Google before making decisions, and 54 per cent believe what they read online as opposed to what sales brochures tell them. Another indicator is the explosive growth of review sites such as homestars.ca. “We’ve seen traffic on these review sites growing dramatically – 158 per cent annual growth was an average statistic I saw,” says Earle.
Sometimes, the influences can be subtle. Large construction firms are frequently rated by their employees on sites like Glassdoor and ratemyemployer. This can impact overall confidence in the firm as well as their ability to attract new employees.
Another rapid growth area is the much-publicized growth in social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Viral stories often begin here, posted by influencers who share opinions with thousands of followers.
Traditional media are also prominent online, and their stories rank high on Google. Media stories about court cases, accidents, or contested invoices tend to have long shelf lives – a Google search will often give a high ranking to a story that is a decade or more old. Furthermore, major revelations such as the release of the Charbonneau Commission Report, which singled out widespread corruption in Quebec’s construction industry can subject firms to closer scrutiny.
The bottom line is that all these sources can be accessed with a few taps on a smart phone.
As in all matters involving trust, an ounce of prevention here is worth a pound of cure. Once a negative remark or story is posted, Earle says, it can only be removed about 20 per cent of the time. Consequently, mitigation is usually about displacing negative stories with positive ones.
With that in mind, here are five suggestions for acquiring and maintaining a solid online reputation.
1. Develop an ongoing practice of asking your customers to post positive reviews on rating sites, in social media, or as testimonials for your website. This may feel unnatural, but the practice is now widely accepted.
2. Use Google and other search tools to check your online reputation weekly, and respond quickly to complaints. Goodall notes some of the most helpful reviews result from situations where a project had issues, but the contractor was very responsible and persistent in resolving them.
3. Get positive stories into the traditional media, either by reporting interesting projects or sharing expertise. A firm specializing in concrete, for example, could offer a useful article about maintaining concrete surfaces.
4. Feature up-to-date case studies and testimonials on your website. A 10-year-old rave review won’t have much influence, and one that pertains to a segment of your business that is no longer profitable for you won’t help your business.
5. Become active on social media by joining discussion groups and forums on LinkedIn and other sites, or by signing up to the rating sites that you respect.
In conclusion, online communication is a two-way street, and online reputation management can be a golden opportunity. If managed properly, it can not only keep firms out of hot water, but help them understand their markets, troubleshoot their organizational problems, and forge stronger ties with potential customers.
Jacob Stoller is principal of Toronto-based consultancy StollerStrategies. Send comments to email@example.com.