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Managing the reputation of accounts receivable management firms include a unique set of challenges not faced in other industries. Over the past 5 years the marketing and public relations dynamic for industry firms has dramatically shifted from trying to remain “under the radar” and avoiding any marketing presence to building dynamic websites and establishing a social media presence to take control of their reputations.

This change in strategy has been prompted by more than increased regulation. Advances in technology have changed the expectations of consumers. Consumers are researching businesses online, and what they find has a direct effect on your bottom line.

What is Your Digital Reputation?

Your reputation is what others say about you when you are not in the room. It is a qualitative measurement of customer, client and competitor opinions about you when you are not there to persuade them. Clients and consumers are researching your company name online. What they see on the first page of Google search results weighs heavily on their opinion of your organization.

Go to Google.com and type in your company’s name. What do you see?

Are your search engine results filled with positive news about your business, or negative posts on sites like 800Notes.com and FicoForums. Consumers can post anything they want online and there is little that can done to stop them. So the stronger your reputation defense strategy, the easier it is to manage these types of situations when they occur.

Defending Your Reputation

Preparing a reputation defense strategy must be customized to the potential threats facing your organization. A quality plan includes strategies for managing both online and offline threats. Include a “disaster plan” giving actionable task items to help you take control of situations when they occur. In the age of social media, information moves at the speed of light, and creating a plan will help you save valuable time after an incident has occurred.

Defending Your Online Reputation

Your online reputation exists in many different places. The primary battlefield for reputation management is search engine results pages (SERP’s). SERP’s are the pages you see after typing in a search term on Google, the pages where the search results are displayed. Capturing search engine results begin with creating a powerful website that is the keystone of your online presence. Quality websites should be complimented with other online marketing tools including social media profiles, business listings and creating cross linking with your partner’s websites to maximize visibility.

If you do not have a website, you need to seriously consider building one. If you already have a website, evaluate it to determine if it is helping you to accomplish your goals, or hurting your reputation. When evaluating  or planning to build a new website, consider the following:

Design Needs to be Simple, Uncluttered and Easy to Navigate

Keep your website design simple. Do not clutter pages with unnecessary information, buttons and images. Minimalism is a powerful design feature to help you establish credibility & authority. Your website should be easy to navigate from any device (desktop, tablet or smartphone) and visitors should be able to quickly find the information they are looking for.

Communicate Your Message Clearly

Communicate your organization’s message clearly. The text and images need to communicate your core message without being “long-winded”. Keep your website content straight to the point and remember who is going to be reading it. For debt buyers and collection agencies, this is a challenge. In the same sentence you are pitching the quality and performance of your services, while being sensitive to consumers that will inevitably also see and read the text. Your website should have a blog (although you don’t need to call it that) or other way to post and frequently distribute new content about your business.

Websites Need to be Mobile Enabled

Visit your website from a smartphone or tablet. What do you see? The majority of consumers spends far more time searching the internet from smart phones than any other device. Your website needs to be easy to use (and be able to accept payments) from mobile devices. When ranking websites to show on SERPs, Google gives more authority to mobile enabled websites, and they prefer sites be responsively designed. Responsive websites automatically customize the user experience based on the visitors’ device. Desktop, tablet and mobile visitors all see a version of the website that is customized for their device. The ComplyARM.com website is a great example of a responsive website.

Leveraging Social Media Profiles

Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ have long scared ARM companies. Many executives do not use the services personally and are unfamiliar with how they work. They constantly see negative press covering social media blunders by major corporations and think if they avoid social media all together, it doesn’t pose a threat. But that is not the case. The social media discussions will happen whether you participate or not.

Social media is like electricity, it is a powerful tool, but is extremely dangerous if misused. Your social media goals need to be clear with parameters for social media management (who has access, what they can say). Social media profiles help to fill your SERP’s with positive information about your company. Having an active social media profiles can push the negative results off the first page and help you to better control your online reputation. When using social media avoid engaging in arguments or heated discussions with anyone. Instead, when faced with a social media situation, encourage the conversation be moved off-line to a more traditional business communication channel like the telephone.

Defending Your Offline Reputation

Managing your offline reputation can also be a challenging process. You may think that the media will never be focused on you or your business. But, it can happen to anyone at anytime. Defend your businesses reputation by being prepared to handle a crisis if and when it occurs. Good planning for “disaster” scenarios can be the difference of surviving a crisis if it occurs.

Do Not Hide; Face Problems Head On

When a crisis occurs, you cannot hide. You have to use the tools at your disposal to control the story and keep things factual. Anticipate the difficult questions that will be asked, prepare and rehearse your responses. Think through the follow up questions based on the responses you are going to provide. Always be ready for the worst-case scenario.

Be Transparent; Be Prepared

You need to answer questions and be transparent, but keep the discussion focused on the issue at hand and actions going forward. You can tell your story, but stay on topic, and know when to STOP talking. You can provide details about the crisis, but find opportunities to bridge a question in the message you are trying to deliver. Reports are going to talk to your competitors, partners, vendors and others, so be prepared to be thrown a curveball or two.

Ride Out the Storm; Get Back to Work

Never underestimate the value of “business as usual”. After an incident has occurred, and the story has been met head on, find the fastest route to business as usual. Getting back to normal keeps your staff focused on their job responsibilities and shows the outside world your organization’s solidarity.

Your Action Plan

Your reputation is a valuable asset to your business. How you are perceived by consumers and peers has a direct effect on your bottom-line whether you can quantify it or not. Your reputation precedes you and if your online presence or media coverage is negative, that is how your business will be perceived.

Schedule some time to sit down with your team and evaluate your business reputation with a fresh perspective. Use this article as a guide to walk the different areas of your reputation and evaluate your current position. Take what you learn through this evaluation exercise and make a list of actionable tasks that can help you to improve your reputation. Remember, reputations are not changed overnight, so be patient, execute on your plan and you will start to see positive results.

If you need help executing on your reputation management strategy, our partners at Branding Arc are the most experienced accounts receivable management marketers in the country. They offer special programs specifically for debt buyers, collection agencies and collection law firms.