Think of it as online damage control.
"Don't eat there!"
"I will never go back."
"I thought it would be a lot better."
When those phrases are written on consumer-driven critique sites, such as Yelp, UrbanSpoon or TripAdvisor, their weight has a percentage, their reach, worldwide. And the damage they can do to a restaurant or business can be devastating.
That's when business owners call Remington Begg.
Begg, 29, owns Impulse Creative, an online marketing agency in Fort Myers. The agency, which was founded in 2007, focuses on promoting businesses by positive branding and search engine optimization, which means many of his clients end up high on the list in Google searches, for example.
And for the last two years, Impulse Creative has been helping businesses clean up their online reputations.
With the internet and the invention of social media sites, customer complaints that used to fizzle out now quickly spread across the Web. Combatting those negative reviews is increasingly important, and an industry of online reputation fixers is sprouting nationally to do just that.
"The first step is to make sure the client is addressing the negative comments," Begg said. "Then it's about letting people know the good things they do. The goal is to make those negative comments be farther down in search results."
Since nothing can truly be erased from the Internet, managing an online reputation is challenging, Begg said. The best way is to drive consumers who had positive experiences to those same critique sites to write positive reviews — "a call to action," in agency terms.
"That way the percentage of positive reviews outweigh negative comments," Begg said. "If there are five bad reviews, the goal is to get 10, 15, 20 positive reviews on there."
They also ensure the reviews are spread across social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
"The amount of different areas to worry about has grown," Begg said. "So you have to make sure you're listening to the opportunities to respond in a timely fashion and in the same way the person is complaining."
That means if a complaint on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter links to a negative review on TripAdvisor, the response needs to be on Facebook and through Twitter, respectively.
"That way the other people reading it see that you're addressing it," Begg said.
As the scope of responsibility grows, so does the cost and time. Many Impulse Creative clients pay $400 to $700 per month to share the responsibility of online management. Some opt for the full package deal, which can cost thousands of dollars per month, and includes a custom website, blogs, on-call support, and reputation management, among other services.
Begg said they will soon be offering webinars and classes so local businesses have a less expensive option to learn how to manage their own online reputation and branding.
Paul Beattie, co-owner of TradeWinds State Homes, a contracting company based in Cape Coral, has used Begg's services for about two years. Although the company has been in the city for about 30 years, until they hired Begg, they didn't have a brand, slogan or logo. Begg has also assisted them with blogging, so customers who Google contracting questions will easily find TradeWinds' answers.
"They put us on the map," Beattie said. "They helped us even get a reputation."
Guy Matin, co-owner of French American Bistro off Immokalee Road, hasn't hired a company to manage his restaurant's reputation. But he said he sees how it could be worth the price to lessen the impact of bad online reviews.
"I never read them, but my business partner does," Matin said. "I stopped after I saw the bad ones. They weren't fair and (ticked) me off. I don't like online reviews, but I guess you have to work with it and fix it."
Begg said he prefers clients who have a proactive mindset, rather than reactive. For example, he recommends businesses ask customers to go online and write about their experience.
"That way they don't have to worry down the road when they get a bad review, because they already have many positive ones," Begg said.
Begg said his goal for the new year is to practice what he preaches.
"We have positive reviews," he said, "but we really want to take the reputation of the entire (online marketing industry) and be captain of it."