It's Time to Clean Up Your Act — How to Manage Your Reputation in the Era of AI

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The traditional method of reputation management was to create new, positive content to drown out negative news about a company, pushing it back in the search results. Either that or the company’s attorney contacted webmasters to get the damaging content removed. But those days are quickly disappearing. Enter the Search Generative Experience (SGE) — the integration of Google’s AI into search results. It was gradually rolled out in 2023, and it’s about to turn the world of reputation management upside-down.

SGE results are designed to help the user make better decisions faster. This means providing deeper context and more balanced information (good and bad) and placing it at the top of the page before organic results (non-paid or non-sponsored results based purely on relevance). With this change to the ground rules of reputational management, brands need to fundamentally shift how they manage their online presence.

Related: Why Investing in Reputation Management is Crucial for Your Business Strategy

The SGE shift: Adopting an experience-first approach

Compared to the “old” Google, SGE results rely more on third-party references than a company’s website. Since SGE seeks to highlight more diverse viewpoints and sources, it is more likely to showcase both positive and negative perspectives about a brand. So, gone are the days of being able to bury a bad news day by flooding the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) with better headlines.

In this new landscape, reputation management must center on addressing user complaints — and not just at the surface level. Responding to criticism is a start, but SGE is pushing companies to continuously listen to user needs and make an effort to grow and improve as a result. With CX now having more relevance to reputation management than ever before, meeting these expectations requires a three-pronged effort that starts and ends with the user in mind.

1. Stay accountable to your users

Google’s complex algorithm still strives to cater to the user’s needs but will now prioritize content from publishers that do the same. So, a user-centric approach will require brands to:

  • Seek a deeper understanding of user search intent before creating articles and web pages. Only then can brands address users’ specific questions comprehensively enough for Google’s LLMs to assign value to them.
  • Understand what customers are saying about brands via social listening.
  • Build confidence in readers by offering the most complete and up-to-date information across the company blog and other channels. Verify sources and clearly attribute them (especially AI-generated excerpts), as well as conduct regular audits to identify obsolete or outdated information.
  • Encourage reviews, comments and user-generated content (UGC) on and off your website. This helps user complaints rise to the surface (and, hopefully, get resolved).

Related: 5 Ways to Optimize Your Content for Better Google Rankings

2. Partner with trusted third parties

SGE prioritizes information from high-quality sources that align with Google’s EEAT model, meaning sources that exemplify experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. With third-party voices holding even greater weight, brands need to partner with credible outlets to proactively:

  • Ensure consistency in how the brand and its values are expressed across the web. This starts with demonstrating authority in your own content but extends to publishing clear initiatives and brand guidelines, so it is easier for third parties to represent your company accurately.
  • Prevent misinformation by routinely reviewing content related to the company and contacting outlets to correct errors and provide context.
  • Mitigate negative third-party information by quickly (and diplomatically) addressing critical feedback, whether from a journalist claiming greenwashing or a dissatisfied user.

Related: How to Manage (and Monitor) Your Reputation on Social Media

3. Amplify your audience’s diverse voices

As the search experience evolves, brands don’t have to wait idly to see how it changes public perception of their company. To continue maintaining and improving your reputation, focus on the user experiences that you can control by:

  • Tailoring content and outreach to specific communities, especially underserved ones. This requires a nuanced understanding of audience demographics, user preferences and pain points that a brand can use to personalize content and the entire user experience.
  • Collaborate and partner with a diverse group of voices. Avoid simply leveraging influencers and thought leaders for promotion and instead, build relationships based on shared values and mutual respect.
  • Experimenting with new tools to improve the UX, like offering interactive content and real-time personalization. Harness data analytics and machine learning to deliver content that best meets each user’s needs at the moment. As third-party cookies are phased out, personalization faces new challenges, but emerging tech also means new possibilities.

Putting SGE principles into action

While the deeper causes of customer complaints will now surface more easily, your newsroom should not be the first responder to reputation challenges. Take the hypothetical case study of an online retailer for strategies likely to have the greatest impact in the SGE landscape:

  • Empowering consumer confidence: When customers complain about inaccurate sizing and product descriptions, the brand responds by creating size guides, fit quizzes and virtual dressing rooms.
  • Responding to customer concerns: Shipping delays and high shipping costs frustrate customers. So, the brand ramps up communications about wait times and offers transparent pricing breakdowns. Plus, they integrate a third-party app to keep customers updated on order status.
  • Strengthening shared values: Journalists report on unsustainable manufacturing practices in the retail industry. In response, the company begins publishing quarterly reports on its ESG commitments and shares stats and stories on social media to improve transparency.
  • Proactively shaping customer experiences: Unresponsive customer service reps and slow order processing fuel dissatisfaction. The brand rolls out social listening and sentiment analysis tools to act on real-time data. They also empower their team to offer fast, concrete resolutions.

As SGE becomes deeply integrated into search experiences, reputation management is now a continuous conversation, not a one-time fix. Stay engaged with your audience, listen to their concerns and proactively address issues as they arise. Don’t spin or bury negative information. Instead, take responsibility and demonstrate your commitment to improvement. For brands with the right mindset, SGE is not a threat but an opportunity to create better products, services and experiences that resonate with your audience.

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