“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of — for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.”
— Socrates (470/469 — 399 BC)
Everyone wants to be liked. Sales may be of primary importance but even better is sales-plus-being popular.
There have been plenty of news stories over the last few years about extremely profitable companies that are unpopular because of how they handle their tax affairs, how they treat their employees, what type of suppliers they use and so forth.
So it’s certainly possible to be successful and unpopular at the same time. However it’s important to take the long view. You risk losing your place in the market to competitors who pay more attention to their reputation than you do.
Should you be interested in whether or not you are popular? Reputation is important. It’s better to make your reputation one of your priorities than neglect it and at some point have to put a lot of effort and energy into repairing it.
So how do you know how popular your business is? Here are 12 suggestions.
1. Track how many followers you have on social media
You probably have more than one social media account and so you want the numbers that are following you to increase over time. It could be that some of your accounts are more popular than others — it largely depends on the nature of your business, your target audience and the regularity and relevance of your posts.
You should also keep track of the number of ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and so forth that you stimulate. In addition to a measurement of your general popularity, this can also reveal specific areas that are important to your readers and that consequently you might consider focusing on in your business.
2. Evaluate the comments people make on social media
If you have social media accounts that are open to the public you should spend some time regularly monitoring the comments that people are making. Keep a toll of positive versus negative comments and do some basic analyses to see if there is a trend in either direction.
Of course, criticism is sometimes deserved and so it can be worthwhile reading what people are saying as it could give you a vital early warning that there is some aspect of your business that you need to improve urgently.
3. Track how many email and newsletter subscribers you get
Most SMEs offer a newsletter sign-up to their customers. You should keep a tally of the numbers that register each month. Ideally you want to see a steady increase in numbers over time. Eventually you will be able to plot the numbers on a graph and compare current figures with previous ones.
You also probably provide an email subscription service or some other type of registration form so that people can be alerted about promotions, special offers, competitions, company news and so forth. You should monitor the number of registrations you receive and hopefully see an upward trend.
4. Evaluate reviews of your business
It should go without saying that the more positive reviews you have the better. You should prominently display third-party affirmations on your website, for example your Trustpilot reviews.
It is very unlikely that you will never experience a negative review. If and when you do, however, you should not panic because research shows that people will often trust a company more if they see both positive and negative reviews as this makes the company more credible than if they had only positive reviews.
5. Evaluate your customer support comments
Your customer support team will likely have a log of tickets raised and calls made by customers. Often customers will leave comments regarding the level of service they have received. You should tag these as positive or negative and look for trends. Providing great customer service is one of the keys to success in ecommerce.
6. Track how many people subscribe to your blog
If you post regularly on a blog to build your brand awareness, it’s a good idea to offer a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed for interested parties to subscribe to. Over time you want to see the numbers of subscribers increasing. As with your social media accounts, the popularity of your blog will largely depend on your business, your audience and your content.
7. Examine the reasons why people return items
You should already be examining the number of returned items you are receiving and of course you want to see this number decrease over time.
Of primary importance is the reason why goods are being returned. There’s little you can do if people have simply changed their minds, however if goods are found to be defective or damaged in transit, then you need to certainly address those issues.
Furthermore, if people are returning their purchases because they feel that they were misrepresented on your website, then this can have a major effect on your reputation. You must make sure that product descriptions are one hundred percent accurate. You also need to ensure that your size charts are accurate to minimise the chances of people returning items because they don’t fit.
8. Conduct surveys and polls
If you’re feeling brave you could directly elicit feedback on the popularity of your business by inviting a segment of your customers to participate in a survey. Or you could conduct a poll.
People are often keen to contribute when they are asked to, especially if they are either very pleased or very unhappy with the service they have received. If you get generally great feedback you’ll want to publicise the results on your site.
9. Evaluate what people write on forums
You may run a forum where you and your customers can interact, post news items and so forth. If you don’t host a forum yourself, there are plenty of other consumer forums and review sites out there for customers to make their point, to praise you or criticise you.
As with social media comments, it may be worthwhile spending a little time evaluating the things that forum members write, assessing comments as positive, negative or neutral.
10. Track the number of partners and link exchangers you have
“Nothing says more about a person than the company they keep.” The number — and ‘status’ — of companies or individuals wanting to partner with you or exchange links with your site is another potential indicator of how popular you are.
Moreover, the statements (if any) that accompany a link to your site can be more than neutral; you may find very complimentary remarks (“These guys run an awesome business!”).
11. Monitor the offline buzz about your business
Although you have an online business, not everything about you happens online. This is obviously true if you have retail stores.
You could ask people to fill in questionnaires at the tills in your store, maybe offer a prize in return for their feedback.
You may well have coverage in the press, on radio or even television. Perhaps a business journal has interviewed you. These are all good measures of your popularity and the type of questions you are asked or the things written about you can be very revealing.
And coming back to online: generally papers and journals will publish online versions of their articles and often readers can comment on the articles. Therefore you should keep an eye on what people are saying about your business in those contexts.
It may be worthwhile employing a good PR company to boost your profile and reputation; offline feeds into online and vice versa.
12. Google yourself
It’s always worth typing the name of your business into a search engine and seeing what comes up. It could be that, for example, international customers have left comments (positive or negative) about you on online forums that you are unware of.
You might come across local business forums or consumer sites where people have mentioned you either in passing or in detail.
It’s not difficult to monitor the areas described above. You should put aside some time on a regular basis to keep track of your popularity.
And if you get especially positive comments — particularly from ‘high-status’ individuals or companies — you should consider posting the comments on your site. Good places include your About Us page, your Contact Us page, or strategically positioned on the right-side navigation of your home page.
It makes good business sense to look after the reputation of your company because your image affects your sales.
There is so much competition in ecommerce these days that it is not advisable to neglect what people are saying about you.
People can easily — and very quickly — start buying someplace else.