“There’s a hair in my soup.”  

Not the kind of review that any business owner wants to hear.  Worse – to have it broadcast to other potential customers all over the web. But that’s exactly what is happening with the rise of Yelp, Citysearch, Google reviews and a million other sites out there. The impact and power of online ratings and reviews is not going away, meaning the importance of managing your online reputation is more important than ever. It’s only going to get more pervasive and more influential as we move forward.

The good news is that this is a great opportunity for agencies to step in and help business owners manage and maintain those online reputations. Daniel Lemin is my podcast guest and he has seen the evolution of online ratings and reviews. He believes there is vast potential for agencies to provide strategy and counsel to their clients, all while making it very profitable for the agency.

Daniel and I walk through the strategies that your agency can put into place to help your current and future clients tackle this issue by learning:

  • The importance of managing your online reputation
  • Why online reputation work is such a great opportunity for agencies
  • How Daniel got into online reputation work and how came to write “Manipurated”
  • What makes this kind of work more profitable for agencies than SEO work
  • Tools that are great for this kind of work
  • Why every person inside an agency needs to be good at this — and why Daniel advises against having a dedicated team that does only this kind of work
  • How agencies can price this kind of work out
  • What agencies can do to get B2B clients that aren’t as concerned about reviews as B2C businesses like restaurants to understand the importance of this kind of work
  • Why agencies need to be aware of their own reviews (typically from employees)
  • What agencies that have bad reviews can do to improve that
  • Why negative reviews on social media are more urgent and need to be acted on quickly
  • How agencies can structure this out in terms of packages to offer clients
  • The Snapchat-like video reviews that are coming soon
  • What agencies can do right now to start doing this kind of work
  • Some resources to help with this

Daniel Lemin, the founder of One Good Brand, is a digital reputation and online marketing veteran with deep agency and digital brand strategy experience. He was employee no. 400 at Google where he served on the global corporate marketing and communications team. He is the author of “Manipurated,” an Amazon bestseller, that exposes the inner workings of online review sites. Daniel also serves as the head of consulting for Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert consulting group, where he provides digital marketing and customer experience counsel to global brands and organizations including the United Nations (Food & Agriculture Organization), Best Buy, Petco, BMC Software, Telogis and Pella Windows and Doors. He’s been seen in the New York Times, USA Today and on Fox News, CBS Radio and many other news outlets.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://www.agencymanagementinstitute.com/daniel-lemin/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.  

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. The Importance of Managing Your Online Reputation in Today’s World
  2. Tools & Services for Helping to Manage Online Reputation
  3. Managing Your Online Reputation as an Agency
  4. Immediate Action Steps

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. You are gonna love the conversation today. This is something that many of you are thinking about, some of you are already doing, or want to do. And so we are gonna dive into the whole idea of helping clients manage their online reputations which opens up a whole new, I think, a whole new revenue stream for agencies. And my guest, Daniel Lemin, is a respected authority in the online reputation industry. So he was an early Google hire and was one of the first pioneers to recognize the importance, impact, and power of online ratings and reviews on businesses, and the ongoing struggle that business owners have with managing, or even in some cases, paying attention to their online reputations.  

Daniel is the Head of Consulting for Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert consulting team. And he also provides agency strategy and innovation coaching through his own consulting firm, One Good Brand. And he also has just written a great book which I’m gonna let him tell you a little bit about. Daniel, welcome to the podcast.

Daniel: Hi there. Thanks for having me.

 

The Importance of Managing Your Online Reputation in Today’s World

Drew: So this is a hot topic right now. It seems like you can’t turn around for any business and not find somebody who’s reviewing somebody.  

Daniel: Yeah. It’s a hot topic. It’s also a bit of a hot potato because no one seems to want to own the problem. We all kind of complain about it, but no one really has…functionally, in organizations where agencies said, “Hey, you know what? That’s our thing to solve.”

Drew: Which the good news about that is that means it’s a great opportunity for agencies to grab hold of that position.  

Daniel: Absolutely. There isn’t really an agency structure or category that is best suited to own this type of work, online reputation work. Traditionally, I think, search agencies, digital agencies, have been the ones that said, “We can do that.” But it’s a very myopic view. You’re kind of talking about Google search results. And that’s part of the puzzle, but it’s not the whole story. So it is, actually, I think, a major opportunity for agencies.

Drew: So talk a little bit about…first of all, tell everybody a little bit about your book, and how you came to study, learn about, experiment in this space.

Daniel: It’s interesting. This is a topic I’ve always been interested in. I sort of cut my teeth and grew up on being a PR person. I did media relations for many years, including at Google. And I actually…it was at Google I got exposed to this notion of kind of the dark people who inhabit the corners of the internet, those dark, shadowy characters, spammers and these kinds of folks. And all of the different things that engineers at Google had done over the years to try to defuse them and reduce the impact they have on search results and people’s navigation of the internet. And it came full circle to me during a conversation with a friend of mine who had a hair salon. And he was describing to me that these crazy things were happening to him on Yelp and Citysearch.  

And it sort of came back to me many years later now that I connected the dots and said, “Bobby,” my friend’s name is Bobby, “So Bobby, I think you’re being manipulated by people, not just consumers. I think the platforms are manipulating you as a business owner.” And we joked about it for a little bit and he was like, “I think you need to write a book about that. We should call it Manipurated.” And that’s what we called the book. I was like, “That sounds good to me.” As a marketing person, I like made-up words. So that’s how it came to be.

Drew: And how has it evolved? Because I’m sure back in the day, when you were looking at spammers and all of that…now, it’s not the seedy people in the dark recesses of the internet. It’s the soccer mom who’s bent because the restaurant didn’t treat her well, or the hotel was dirty, or whatever. So it’s evolved into something completely different, hasn’t it?

Daniel: It’s a situation where things have been piled on top of an already annoying problem. The shadowy characters still exist, and that problem hasn’t gone away. But now, we’ve piled onto it all of the force and fury of customers. So people can go on any number of different sites, sometimes many of them, multiple ones in one day, and complain about something that happened at a business, or an interaction they had with a business. And all of those things actually add up to a multi-faceted problem. The shadowy characters are one aspect of it, and real human being customers are another aspect of it. They all require slightly different tactics to solve and address, but they are part of the same underlying customer experience or customer online reputation issue.  

Drew: So if an agency says, “We wanna step up and own this. We wanna help clients monitor and manage their online reputation. But I have no idea how to do it. I’m not sure even how to start.” If you were helping an agency create this as a new revenue stream for themselves, what are the basics that they need to understand and be able to do to be able to even wrap their head around it?

Daniel: It’s an interesting question. And I have actually worked with some agencies to start wireframing or skeletoning out this as a practice area. I think one of the things that makes this work different than, say, SEO work, which might be something some agencies with digital capabilities would manage. I perceive that customer experience work, online reputation work, it actually has the potential to be quite profitable for an agency. Because what you’re really offering is strategy and counsel rather than boots-on-the-ground work. So for an agency that says, “What should we do to start exploring this?” My first question is, “Who do you typically sell your services to? Are you selling to a CMO, or are you selling more to the downstream, the Brand Manager, or a Corporate Communication Manager?” Because they’re gonna care about different things.

Drew: Or a business owner, right?

Daniel: Right, or a business owner. Absolutely. Because they’re different things. If you’re selling to a CMO, what they really just care about is growing the bottom line. So you’re gonna have a slightly different product set there that is very much about strategy, not as much about tactics, more about strategy. For someone who’s a business owner, or maybe Brand Manager, you are going to sort of have to tackle some of those SEO concepts, and understand how to make money on them for your agency. But also throw into the mix a deep, deep understanding of how customers perceive that business online, what they’re saying about them, what the cadence is of their comments, where they’re saying them, those kinds of things. Those are the areas where you’re gonna offer counsel back to the client and say, “Look, we can certainly answer your complaints online, if you wish us to, as an agency. But you might actually wanna think about fixing some of these issues that are causing you to have bad reviews in the first place. Those aren’t things that we can necessarily do for you, but we wanna tell you about them and help you figure out how to fix them.”

Drew: So when you say that an agency isn’t going to be sort of boots-on-the-ground, what you were talking about is that oftentimes, what’s being talked about online isn’t really a marketing issue, but it might be just, for example, a clean room at a hotel kind of issue. Which is not typically an agency’s bailiwick to show up at a hotel and clean their room. So what you’re saying is, yes, you would be boots-on-the-ground in terms of managing, and monitoring, and even potentially responding to what’s happening online. But the other opportunity is to provide business counsel to your clients around fixing the core issues that are triggering the online discussion in the first place.

Daniel: That’s it. It’s kind of a gap audit of their whole brand as it’s manifested on these different sites, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, and these places. Of the things you say about your brand, do customers actually perceive those things to be true? And if not, why? And if they don’t perceive that, we either have to stop saying them, because that’s not a way you can really build and sustain a brand.  Or we have to reinterpret or reinvent the way that you talk about that, and fix them so that people start experiencing that. If you promise fluffy towels, plush linens, and a clean room, and you deliver thin towels, thin linens, and dust in the corners of the room, it doesn’t matter how much you really talk about those fluffy towels. You’re not going to get that message to break through. So it’s a little bit of tough love for the agency-client relationship. But done well, I have seen some agencies really succeed at grasping or grabbing hold of these issues and really, really capturing the trust of the client who come to depend on them for that sort of tough love kind of counsel. It’s a very good place for an agency to offer up.

Drew: A lot of agencies are frustrated because they’ve been shoved down the food chain. And that kind of conversation is what brings you back to the C-suite.  Having business conversations as opposed to marketing tactic conversations.

Daniel: Yeah, totally. And I see a lot of agencies, when we were working on social media programs for clients, they started to say, “Hey, we’ll offer community management. So we’ll manage your Facebook page. If people make a comment, we’ll reply to them. We have a whole message tree that we use.” And I think we’re getting to a point where, first of all, it’s really hard to make money on those services. But it also is really hard to demonstrate value with that kind of approach. Clients are like, “Hmm, I could hire somebody to do this for a lot less.”

Drew: Right, “I’m gonna hire a college intern or a kid right out of school to do it.”

Daniel: Correct, yeah. And I think this is a way to reset that discussion with a client and say, “Yes, you’re actually right. You can do that, and maybe you should. The things you don’t know about your business are the following…” That’s really where agencies can offer value within this narrative.

 

Tools & Services for Helping to Manage Online Reputation

Drew: And are there certain tools for managing your online reputation, or are you tool-agnostic? Are there certain tools where you’re like, “Okay.” If you’re gonna be in this business of listening, observing, monitoring, and then helping manage that online reputation, are there tools that…and again, keeping in mind that for a lot of my listeners, these are agencies of 10, 20, 30 employees. So the Radian6s of the world probably are not in their client’s budget frame. Are there tools out there that you recommend? Or it doesn’t matter the tool, it’s really what you do with the information you get.

Daniel: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. A lot of the tools that do a really good job at this are geared to small and medium businesses. These are tools like ReviewTrackers. ReviewTrackers is a monthly subscription in the two digit range. So it’s 50 bucks, 80 bucks, depending on what you need, what you use. They’re geared to that, so it’s actually very easy to get access to the data you need without having to subscribe to a Radian6, which is great.

Drew: Yeah, it’s a great tool.

Daniel: It’s really great, yeah.

Drew: Absolutely. It’s just out of budget for a lot of…yeah.

Daniel: Completely. And there aren’t really…on that enterprise level, there isn’t really a need, unless you’re a McDonald’s, or Chipotle, or something, to have something so big for ratings and reviews. You can kind of back your way into the insights you need. There are many ways of slicing this. There’s the semantic, or text analysis of reviews. You can just look at star ratings. Different ways of doing it. But the nice thing is there is a wide diversity of tool sets that can be used. And that makes it very accessible, whether you’re a 2-person agency or a 200-person agency. It’s accessible, and that’s great.  

Drew: Is there a spot, either in the book, or on your website, or someplace where you have outlined some of your favorite tools? Because I know that my listeners are like, “Okay, well, what are those tools?”

Daniel: Sure, yeah. There’s a whole section in the book about the different sort of listening tools for ratings and reviews. ReviewTrackers is one, frankly, that I think highly of. But there are a whole bunch of them in that category. And one I actually just got turned on to, it’s not in the book, I didn’t know about it at the time, it’s one called Brand24. The nice thing about it, it’s sort of like a Radian6 in the sense that it’s a bit of rating and review listening, and also a little bit of social media listening. But it’s a global platform. So if you have clients in…they’re actually based in Poland. If you have clients in different languages, it does a really good job of tracking things in different languages. And it’s very inexpensive compared to a traditional listening sort of tool.

Drew: Cool. Okay, so I’m an agency. I’ve decided that this is something I wanna do. Is this a, “I have a set team that does this”? Is this something that lives in the account service department, do you think? How does this play itself out inside an agency?

Daniel: I always prefer for a service like this to not be a standalone group, for two reasons. One is this is something everybody in the agency should be good at. It should become a core capability for any agency that cares about their client relationship. But the other reason is if you kind of build a new group to do this, you’re, number one, going to be competing with yourself, in a sense, for business internally. And also, that group is going to become so busy that there will be declining rate of returns at some point if there’s a couple of people on that team. And that’s all the capacity you’ve got, a couple of people.  

Drew: Well, and they also aren’t gonna have the in-depth knowledge of each specific client the way somebody who’s embedded in a client relationship would. Right?

Daniel: Yeah, right, exactly.

Drew: So as you think about how this unfolds inside an agency, agencies are so used to selling stuff and things. So again, “We’ll do four blog posts for you, and we’ll monitor your Facebook page,” and whatever that is. How do you recommend agencies think about building out the pricing strategy for this kind of consultative service? That is, in some cases, preventative. You’re paying me to watch, and listen, and advise, but you’re also paying me to be at your side while we problem solve, and then helping you sort of watch that play out. So it’s sort of a multi-phase from preventative to reactive and everything in between.

Daniel: Yeah. This is probably one that has more of a peak and valley budget outcome for client budgets during the year, in the sense that you might do quarterly health checks of their business on rating and review platforms. And you’ll pull a report together to kind of show them, “This is how you benchmark this quarter versus last quarter, or last year.” Those would be sort of pulse points. And in between, what you could be doing for them are things like you could be doing monitoring of these platforms, and then sending them reviews that are of concern for some clients. In some cases, a client may say, “I want you to engage on my behalf on these platforms. Apologize for the things we’ve done wrong, and then let me know about it after the fact, so I can go back and fix it.” I don’t know that I would always advocate that’s a good thing to do. But for some client relationships, that may actually be the best method to achieving it. And then I actually think there’s a lot of coaching potential for agencies with their client team.  

So where a lot of things go south with ratings and reviews is customer service. So say I complain about a plumber on Yelp. It’s a really bad experience. The customer service aspect of that is, “Where are things gonna actually go from a bad review to a complete brand crisis?” And it is incumbent on the customer service folks at these companies to be the last line of defense there. So I’ve seen some agencies be very successful going in and sort of doing crisis modeling and training for customer service teams who haven’t traditionally done that kind of stuff. And that is a nice additional service to offer up, and it’s another way of kind of broadening the client relationship.

Drew: As agencies wade into these waters, it’s easy to see if you’re a hospitality agency, or things like that. It’s apparent where the reviews live, and how important they are. How do agencies help their, for example, B2B clients recognize that their online reputation is at risk, or needs to be monitored? How do they help educate their clients who are not in industries where we’ve now just…we’re so used to reviews, for example, for restaurants, that we don’t even think about it. Of course, a restaurant would wanna track that. But if you’re a B2B company, and you sell medical devices, I think it’d be easier to dismiss it. So how do agencies get this on the radar screen of all their clients regardless of their industry?

Daniel: That’s a good question. That’s a really good question. So the most eye opening thing an agency can do is to, for a B2B company…and believe it or not, there are as many ratings and reviews for B2B companies as there are for the Chipotles of the world. To audit that, and take that report to the client, that is often a thing…in a B2B setting, the client has, and I mean this in a literal sense, never even thought about. This never even crossed their mind that this would happen to them. They think, “We’re kind of immune to reviews, thank God,” which is not true.  

So it is a case where software, doctors, whatever it might be, particularly software, there are a whole handful of rating and review sites for software companies, in particular. So those are all things that are a ripe conversation for agencies to have with clients, and it’s very eye opening for both the agency that may have never dealt with that before, but also the client that thought they were so far away from having to think about this. It’s an immediate trust thing. It’s like, “Well, you’ve exposed me to this problem. Help me fix this, because I didn’t realize it was happening, and it’s going to hurt my buyer funnel, or buyer journey.”

 

Managing Your Online Reputation as an Agency

Drew: So I wanna turn the lens a little bit on this topic of managing your online reputation. Because not only should we be doing this for our clients, but we need to be mindful of our own online reputations. So it seems to me, as I’m listening to you talk, that agencies are not immune to this either. So how would you recommend to an agency that, A, they begin to monitor their own online reputation, and B, what are some areas where you see agencies may be fumbling the ball, or struggling with this issue for their own sake?

Daniel: That’s a good question. To the best of my knowledge, there is not yet an agency rating or review platform. I haven’t seen one. I have to imagine it is due to be launched any day now, because it’s just about the last industry that I’ve not seen evidence of it. That said, where I see agencies actually fumble again, and again, and again is with employee reviews on…  

Drew: Yeah, like Glassdoor.

Daniel: …sites like Glassdoor, absolutely. I actually just went through this with an agency of a client of mine in Los Angeles here had terrible reviews on Glassdoor, really, really damning sort of criticisms of the agency. And part of it was an acquisition of another group, and there was some bad blood in the water. And they were left scrambling, because they were beginning to lose business due to this. People, when they were about to hire this agency, they would kind of do their background check and then find these reviews and think, “Wow, there’s a lot of people who don’t like to work there.”

Drew: Right. Glassdoor shows up so high on Google that, again, you’re right, whether you’re an employee or you’re a prospective client, odds are if you Google the agency, it’s gonna show up.

Daniel: Absolutely. In particular, since there’s a lack of another better option there. There isn’t the agency review platform. So one of the things Glassdoor surfaces up is a summary or, basically, a pie chart of approval of the agency leadership, “Do you approve of them or not?” And specifically, this agency had some client losses due to that graphic. They say, “You seem to have employees who don’t feel motivated to work with you, and we’re worried that that could be difficult for us as a client.  So we’re not gonna work with you.” And it was a complete fumble on their part. They weren’t paying attention to it. They weren’t doing the right things to solicit reviews from employees. And they fixed that. They have recovered a little bit from a very dark period, but it is an area where I see agencies fumble the ball again and again. And it’s one that they really should pay attention to, because recruiting is a big part of our business, right?

Drew: Absolutely. The labor market’s getting tighter and tighter. So, yeah, it’s a challenge, I think, both from an employee point of view, but also as you say, it’s also a prospective client perception. So what are some of the best practices that you taught them, or helped them with, to sort of course correct all of this? Obviously, you can’t change bad reviews overnight, and you can’t all of a sudden turn the pie chart happy overnight. But what did you help them do in terms of addressing the issue?

Daniel: Well, here’s the good thing. They’re a mid-size agency, about 30 employees. And they only had a handful of reviews on this site, Glassdoor. So it doesn’t take much to move the needle in a case like that. Just mathematically, if you’re a one-and-a-half star and you get 10 new reviews, you can move the needle very quickly in doing that. So part of what we did, we worked on sort of activating a high potential outreach program, where we found the people that we knew to be very happy in the agency, and said, “Would you be willing to…we want you to be honest, but we want you to give us feedback on Glassdoor.” And that really helped a lot.  

The other thing that we did was we went back and left responses on those really nasty reviews. They happened to be all ex-employees at this point due to the acquisition. Went back and left comments on their reviews and said, “We’re sorry you had this experience. And you know what? You’re right. It was a very difficult acquisition, and we’re sorry that you had that experience.” We think we fixed a lot of those issues. We went back. There were seven or eight that were particularly critical. So we addressed those very candidly, and then moved forward to try to solicit some good reviews, and they’re back up. They’re not a five star agency or employer on there, but they’re somewhere between three-and-a-half to four stars, which is much better than they were. So that whole thing took about eight months to…

Drew: Yeah, it’s not a quick fix.  

Daniel: It isn’t, no.

Drew: So all the more reason to be watching it before there’s a problem.

Daniel: Exactly.

Drew: Yeah. So are there other things that, besides watching sites like Glassdoor, are there other places? Honestly, one of the places that I see most people complaining about brands are in feeds like Facebook and Twitter. So are there some specific strategies around that, either that agencies should employ for themselves or for their clients when it’s not an official review site? It’s just a watering hole for people to talk about whatever’s on their mind.

Daniel: Yeah, it is a slightly different context, right? If someone complains on Twitter about something, there’s usually an active and urgent situation right now. It’s not a passive complaint like, “Oh, I just never really liked the sandwiches there.”

Drew: It’s a customer service issue usually, right?

Daniel: Yeah, very often. And so that is a case where there needs to be an urgent escalation plan to the client to say, “This is happening, and we need to fix this right now.” And that is something to work out in advance. Obviously, you don’t wanna manage that on the fly. That can be a good part of just any crisis planning. So as agencies are going through crisis planning in 2016-2017, think about how you can integrate not just reviews, but that Facebook, Twitter phenomenon into your crisis plan, because it can help you forestall bad reviews from happening. There is some evidence to show that people don’t actually complain on a review platform first. Typically, they complain on a review platform second or third. They’ve tried calling, or emailing, or tweeting about the business first. So you want to do everything you can in those intermediate steps to kind of intercept the play, so to speak. I’m not great with those sports analogies, but…

Drew: I’m right with you. You wanna block the kick, right?

Daniel: Exactly. And I just call those sort of “intercept opportunities”. You wanna take every one of those you possibly can. And clients love when someone thinks proactively for them like that. Because to show that if we do this, we’re preventing that, is a great way to keep a good relationship.

Drew: And again, sort of circling back around to what we talked about earlier. So if you are being the proactive partner, and you are doing the monitoring, and the listening, and then the advising, or kind of the waving the flag or the heads up when there’s a problem, is that typically…I know you were talking about sort of the ebb and flow of like, “We’re gonna monitor, and we’re gonna give you a report on progress.” But are you advising agencies to have some sort of an ongoing monthly retainer for that listening and monitoring? And then, does it include a certain amount of escalating to counseling, or does that become sort of an add-on? How are you helping agencies structure that in a palatable way for clients? Because it feels nebulous to clients, I suspect. It’s like, “Well, how much listening will you do? And how many problems will we have?” You know what I’m saying? So how are you helping agencies structure that?

Daniel: A little bit depends on the client relationship. If you have an ongoing media monitoring sort of outreach retainer with clients, what you can do is add a little bit more to that on a percentage basis, 10%, 20% more, 30% more, to add online review monitoring to it. Slightly different workflow, obviously, but very similar structure. You’re looking on a probably twice daily basis for mentions. And when you see something, you act on it based on the plan that you’ve got. So you can sort of use it to expand the scope of an existing retainer. And then you have whole new retainer opportunities in terms of potentially ongoing coaching for customer service people. That may be an entirely new revenue stream. You might also find online reputation monitoring as a standalone product to offer, search. If digital is a big part of your product mix as an agency, you can offer search results monitoring, Twitter, Facebook, social media monitoring, online review monitoring as a full service package, and be able to offer up suggestions as things happen, to make changes along the way to improve search results or try to suppress certain search results you don’t want there. So there’s different ways of packaging that for an agency, whether it is incrementally growing an existing retainer or trying to find a brand new one to open up.

Drew: Well, and the great thing about it is is whether it is a tack-on, as you say, or it’s a whole new retainer, it is retainer revenue. Which agencies are struggling as clients go to more project based pricing, and everything kind ebbs and flows more than the good old days when you were the agency of record, and you had a monthly r