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A Guide to Reputation Management: Build an Audience of Superfans

A Guide to Reputation Management: Build an Audience of Superfans

79% of consumers trust an online review as much as they would a recommendation from a friend.

And 94% of shoppers state that just one bad review has convinced them not to buy from a company.

Reputation management is the practice of actively influencing what people think of your brand and what they see others saying about your company when they look online.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to implement a brand reputation management strategy, use personal branding to develop a good reputation, and protect your company from developing a negative one.

Start with an aggressive reputation management strategy for personal and business growth

Reputation management is often viewed from the perspective of fighting or reducing the harm of negative content.

Though this is an important element, it’s more helpful to view business reputation management through the lens of building a positive reputation

You can’t avoid negative reviews, opinions, and comments altogether. This is a part of doing online business. But you can overwhelm negative sentiment with positive content from others, creating a net positive effect.

A positive reputation also contributes to business goals (such as growth, leveraging social proof, and network development). 

Achieving this growth starts with identifying and connecting with your audience of superfans.

Find your audience of superfans

Creating a brand that is appealing to everyone is improbable and a waste of time.

Focus on finding a network of diehard fans, and cater your content to their needs. This is the basis of an effective differentiation strategy.

This network isn’t mutually exclusive with building an audience of customers. Not every person that buys from you will be a superfan.

Rather, you’re building an audience of people who don’t just buy what you do, but why you do it, to paraphrase Simon Sinek.

Consider category leaders such as Apple and Salesforce.

These brands have a well-defined messaging strategy rooted in their company’s missions and prominent individuals that people relate to.

For Apple, Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, Greg “Joz” Joswiak, connects with his audience by sharing content that reflects the brand’s Why (innovation, challenging the status quo, “Think Different”).

Salesforce holds as its guiding value “to make sure Salesforce is a platform for change,” delivering on initiatives such as renewable energy, carbon-neutral cloud computing, and green building certification.

CEO Mark Benioff’s online presence ties directly back to this vision.

These examples demonstrate that the most effective way to find and grow an audience is to build and leverage your personal brand.

Using SparkToro to discover existing audiences

SparkToro is an audience research platform that helps marketers find their prospective customers’ main sources of influence. It’s also used to discover existing captive audiences.

If we’re a B2B company selling into brick-and-mortar retail environments, and we’re looking to find an audience of retail executives, we’ll start with a simple Google search.

Screenshot of SERPs showing results for retail CEOs

We’re looking for resources and publications that are directly relevant to our target audience (not broad business publications).

Retail Dive is highly relevant and also has a promising presence on networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

We’ll use this publication as a starting point for our research in SparkToro.

SparkToro account search overview

The audience size identified is encouragingly large, and the frequently used phrases and words (brick mortar, retail, founder) align directly with our target audience.

We can scroll down further to identify other publications and sources of interest.

The results are encouraging in that there is a lot of overlap in the sources of influence (47% engage with the National Retail Federation), and the sources appear to be highly relevant.

SparkToro audience interests

Next, we’ll hit the Text Insights tab, which details what Retail Dive’s audience likes to talk about, share, use as hashtags, and say in their social bios.

SparkToro audience hashtags and topics

Drilling down on these terms can then serve as a jumping-off point for further research in SparkToro.

SparkToro search

An audience search with the parameters “Frequently uses the hashtag” and “#retailtech” pulls up many frequently listened-to podcasts.

SparkToro retail interests

This process helps you to build an audience by identifying opportunities to:

  • Leverage relevant hashtags;
  • Attend popular trade shows;
  • Make appearances on or sponsor well-liked podcasts;
  • Run social media ads against audiences who follow specific accounts;
  • Team up with large publications (press releases, guest posts).

Developing a social media following

Your strategy for communication on social networks will look different for your personal profiles than for your brand’s social pages.

Take SparkToro’s Co-founder, Rand Fishkin.

Though Rand is actively growing the SparkToro brand, the content on his personal profiles is more broadly related to marketing, branding, and entrepreneurship.

He also actively shares relevant tweets to reach a wider audience.

Rand also grows his personal brand on Twitter by making a concerted effort to engage directly with his followers.

His profile is filled with videos like this one, where he directly answers questions from his audience.

Compare that to SparkToro’s account, which is more mostly product-focused.

They also purposefully look for others who are sharing a similar message online and use this content to demonstrate the need for SparkToro’s offering.

The takeaway? Differentiate the messaging between your brand and personal profiles. 

Posting only about your product on your personal profile is unlikely to garner a large audience. Think more broadly about your audience’s interests and post content that relates.

Building a community

Another approach is to create your own captive audience by building an engaging Facebook community.

Take Semrush, a platform for SEO, PPC, and content-related research.

Their private group, Semrush All-Stars, provides users with a way to find help using the product and interpreting results.

Setting up this group has several benefits for Semrush.

  • Improving user engagement;
  • Collecting product improvement feedback;
  • Developing an audience of superfans.

Growing a community of this size is a long-term play. Consider supplementing this with activity in existing communities.

Tapping into an existing community

Reddit can be a powerful platform for identifying and engaging with existing audiences.

One approach is to identify relevant subreddits (communities), bookmark them, and set some time aside each day to engage. You can comment on others’ posts, answer questions, or even start your own threads.

Take Elon Musk, for example, who set up an AMA (Ask Me Anything) in the subreddit r/space.

Another approach would be to use a keyword monitoring tool like Hootsuite’s Reddit app to monitor mentions of specific phrases on Reddit.

When people use those specific phrases, you’ll be notified and triggered to engage.

Position yourself as an expert to grow connections 

You can build meaningful connections by positioning yourself as an expert.

Most businesses have the option of doing so via social media platforms or on their own website.

Social’s obvious drawcard is its reach, with 3.6 billion people already using social media worldwide. There are likely to be relevant communities already established that you can start engaging with right away.

Your own website has far fewer visitors, and you’ll need to put in the hard yards to build a community from scratch.

The upshot for focusing on your own site is that your audience is your audience

Facebook can shut down a group at any moment. If you build a significant presence on your website, you’ve created your own network. When you communicate with your audience via email, you own the email list.

Many brands are concerned that they won’t be able to get personal on the company website. They don’t see it as a platform to develop meaningful connections by being genuine human beings.

This isn’t true. Take SparkToro’s website.

“Lost and Founder,” a book by SparkToro’s founder, Rand Fishkin, is readily displayed on the SparkToro site.

Lost and Founder book on SparkToro website

Why?

Because Rand’s personal brand is directly associated with SparkToro’s brand.

This expertise is leveraged further by the inclusion of some social proof in the form of testimonials.

Book testimonials

Notice that the reviews are about Rand, not about SparkToro. This page cleverly supplements his personal brand efforts, positioning both him and his company as an expert and an authority.

Winning in a pull economy

You need to position yourself as an expert and use your own website because we’re living in a “pull economy.” People now prefer to find you by searching rather than you knocking on their door.

Michael Fertik, the founder of Reputation.com, said in an interview:

“People, employers, and customers find you because of the internet. Let’s say that you are a landscape architect. If you’re talking about landscape architecture and you’re identified with it in social media, you have a plausible résumé. But if someone looks you up, and finds someone else [with the same name] whose interest is kite surfing, that doesn’t do you any good. On the other hand, if all they can find is that you’re interested in cooking, that’s not necessarily good, either.”

Post authentic content that your audience connects with, learns from, and loves engaging with. 

Take Gary Vaynerchuk (aka GaryVee), CEO of VaynerMedia, a global creative and media agency.

Fans of Vaynerchuk know he’s big on:

  • Empathy;
  • Wine;
  • The New York Jets;
  • NFTs;
  • Underpriced attention.

Vaynerchuk regularly talks about the business connections he’s formed by positioning himself as an expert in these fields.

That’s exactly what you’ll see from him on LinkedIn.

Example of LinkedIn post from Gary Vaynerchuk

And on Twitter.

Gary Vee tweet example

Build your reputation through personal branding 

Successful companies with strong reputations undertake personal branding efforts.

Here’s how you can replicate their success.

Create authentic content that represents you 

Growing your personal brand does not mean simply discussing your product’s features and benefits using your personal profiles.

Instead, focus on producing content that reflects your personal values, passions, and beliefs—ideally, these overlap with your company’s mission.

Recall GaryVee’s interests discussed above.

  • Empathy;
  • Wine;
  • The New York Jets;
  • NFTs;
  • Underpriced attention.

Vaynerchuk is relentlessly consistent on these themes on every platform.

He talks about both empathy and wine in this blog post.

Gary Vee personal brand blog post

On Instagram, a clip of Vaynerchuk discussing his passion for NFTs, while wearing a Jets hat and jersey.

Gary Vee Instagram post example

And you’ll find hundreds of videos of him talking about “underpriced attention” on his YouTube channel.

GaryVee YouTube channel and video content

Personal branding efforts require consistency and authenticity.

One area where Vaynerchuk excels and where smaller businesses perhaps can’t is volume. He has an entire content production team behind him, publishing hundreds of pieces of content in various forms each day.

Small businesses would do better to compete on quality rather than quantity.

Consider Rand, who posts at most once a day on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Rand focuses on producing high-quality content. Instead of posting throwaway one-liners, he creates deeply valuable videos that are immediately actionable and often answer direct questions from his following.

Use social media as a networking tool

To effectively develop a positive online reputation, collaboration with other high-profile individuals or brands is key.

Having identified an existing audience (e.g., people who frequently use the #retailtech), we can use SparkToro’s insights to find podcasts and YouTube channels this audience already engages with.

Trying to get a spot as a guest on one of these podcasts would be a good start, but we can dig further to identify influential individuals to network with.

For example, National Retail Federation’s YouTube channel hosts several videos featuring high-profile retail executives.

NRF's YouTube video collection

We can use engagement on these videos as a starting point to determine individuals with significant influence.

The interview with Laura Alber appears to be quite popular at 58K views (compared with 10K views or less for others), so this may be a person we can connect with on social media.

A great example of how industry professionals cooperate to expand their influence is the collaboration between SparkToro and Ross Simmonds.

Amanda Natividad, Marketing Architect at SparkToro (and frequent collaborator with Rand Fishkin), has a similar following.

Amanda Natividad Twitter profile

By teaming up for this special event, both individuals can reach an audience twice the size of their own. And, they can leverage each other’s influence to further position themselves as an authority and industry expert.

Protecting your business and personal reputation 

The best way to protect your business and personal reputation is to continue growing positive sentiment.

There will be negative reviews (especially on review sites like Yelp). It’s a matter of statistics. 

By following the steps above, you should be able to effectively drown those out.

However, there may be times where individuals purposefully seek to tear down your online image or specifically hurt your brand.

There are a few ways you can manage this.

Online reputation management (ORM) software, such as Brand24 or Repuso, monitor mentions of your brand across various media. They usually include tools to help you enhance your brand reputation, such as review monitoring and collecting new customer reviews.

Screenshot of Brand24

For smaller brands (like local businesses or personal reputation management), it may suffice to set up a Google alert to receive real-time notifications when new commentary emerges.

If your brand is under serious attack, it’s worth hiring a dedicated reputation management company.

These agencies can provide advice on handling negative customer feedback, develop positive public relations, and optimize search engine results to improve your brand image when people search for you.

It’s best not to get too involved in review management. Unless they can be clearly identified as spam, illegal, or derogatory, avoid removing negative comments or reviews. 

Having a less-than-perfect rating may actually be beneficial.

A survey from Bizrate Insights identified that 52% of shoppers are more likely to trust a company with a mix of negative and positive reviews than one with a perfect record.

Conclusion 

Reputation management is an ongoing process; you’ll need to regularly monitor negative changes and work consistently to grow your audience of superfans.

Ideally, you’ll invest heavily in developing social proof, position yourself as an expert by collaborating with other influential individuals in your industry. You’ll also want to cultivate a following of devout customers who believe in your product as well as your brand.

Learn more about audience building in our online course.

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A Guide to Reputation Management: Build an Audience of Superfans

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Hi, I'm Peep Laja—founder of CXL. I'm a former champion of optimization and experimentation turned business builder.

I do a lot of thinking, reading, and writing around business, strategy, and optimization. I send a weekly newsletter with what's on my mind on this stuff.

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