Consumers are becoming smarter, researching products, people, and virtually anything before making a financial decision and the direct sales industry is seeing this affect their business more than almost any other industry. For direct sales companies, it is not uncommon for the vast majority of potential shoppers to first search for reviews and gather information before joining or purchasing.
A company’s online reputation is largely tied to search engine results and reviews. Companies must protect their online image, or they run the risk of losing credibility and sales. Whether the information is true or not online, there are ways for companies to work on controlling their narrative to put them in the best light possible.
Why does online reputation matter so much?
It is entirely normal for any person to be skeptical of a direct sales company they have never heard of in the past. A standard recommendation for individuals is to do their research and make smart decisions whenever they find something that might interest them. It might be as simple as searching the company online and looking at the first page of results. According to Steven Wright of the Lindon, Utah based Reputation Management Company who handles the reputation for a half dozen of the largest Direct Sales companies says “How that company appears in that first page can make or break a sale without even realizing. Wright goes on to explain:
That first impression is as crucial online as it is in person. Just one negative review can put doubt in a shopper’s head and often times big companies need to tell their potential members “To not google us and don’t believe what you read online about us. Just join and pay us.“ While that leaves a very bad taste and is a roadblock for legitimate companies that want to differentiate themselves from those with a couple negative reviews out of thousands of clients compared to those MLM’s disguised as direct sales companies that have almost no positive reviews. Companies can’t just ignore negative search results and hope they go away. Those who are proactive will find a way to control the narrative more and have the best representation possible online says Wright. There’s an art and not a science to repairing and protecting your best asset your reputation. While it’s not cheap it’s worth every penny.
How quickly can a company’s image change? In a blink of an eye—just ask USANA.
The internet has allowed for negative information to spread like wildfire. All it takes is for one misstep to catch on, and a company can face severe problems. This is not entirely new for business owners, but the speed of change is what is so shocking now.
Direct sales companies are certainly not immune to negative stories ruining their reputation, even if they are not entirely true. Wright of the Reputation Management Company encourages everyone to learn the story of USANA Health Sciences and the allegations that followed from a short seller who used negative public relations tactics to enrich himself.
USANA Health Sciences, based down the street from The Reputation Management Company in Utah. Known as USANA for short, specializes in nutritional, dietary, and skincare products. They were hit with a lawsuit in 2007 by Barry Minkow of the Fraud Discovery Institute. He published a 500-page report that labelled USANA as an illegal pyramid scheme, and USANA fired back with a claim of defamation and stock manipulation.
This lawsuit eventually led to an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to see if USANA violated any laws. They were able to clear the business of any criminal activity, and that put Minkow under fire. There was a revelation that Minkow did indeed short USANA shares, attempting to profit off of a drop in the stock price over the news.
This is an example of USANA having their online reputation hit, even if they did absolutely nothing wrong but are guilty of building a great company and providing jobs for thousands of people but yet they were still attacked and at the time had no online crisis communications plan in place one thing Wright of The Reputation Management Company says is crucial these days. If this happened today to another large Direct Sales Association member, they would suffer a massive online reputation hit that would require a lot of work to fix if they weren’t proactive. Gone are the days of innocent until proven guilty, at least in the eyes of public opinion. Even after having their name cleared, those initial story links are still out there and cause unneeded skepticism.
Didn’t Juice Plus Hire OJ Simpson To Be their Spokesperson?
Even though the controversy surrounding Juice Plus and OJ Simpson happened before online image mattered to the average company, it is the perfect scenario of a direct sales company taking an unexpected hit to their image and having to implement a last-minute crisis plan. The dietary supplements company was having success in its infancy, but their major spokesperson became part of one of the biggest stories of the decade.
The connection between OJ Simpson, whose nickname was The Juice, and Juice Plus, certainly made a lot of sense. They were able to land the retired football player and sign him to a multi-year contract to be the official celebrity endorser. Although there are no official numbers to back it up, the company felt like they had an excellent investment on their hands.
During a sales meeting with distributors of Juice Plus, Simpson claimed that he was able to beat arthritis only by using Juice Plus. Instead of having to rely on anti-inflammatory drugs, he was now feeling younger and healthier than he had in years. These claims were convincing enough to many, but during his murder trial in 1995, he told a completely different story under oath and company spokesperson Jeff Sanford had to say the product predated it’s relationship with the Juice.
Not too many people focused on the health of a direct sales company, but Juice Plus lost a lot of credibility during Simpson’s defense. One of his explanations to why he did not commit the murders came down to his struggle with arthritis. He claimed that not only was his arthritis still extremely bothersome, but he was on a fairly strong anti-inflammatory drug in sulfasalazine.
Once word spread, Juice Plus found themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Their company took a substantial hit to their credibility, and their link to O.J. Simpson certainly did not help. They were able to weather the storm to a certain degree, but it took awhile for them to bounce back and earn back the market share they lost temporarily.
To this day, Juice Plus deals with their connection to Simpson when people do online searches. It is not nearly the new story it was over 25 years ago, but it does impact online reputation to a certain degree to this day. It is not hard to find their connection, and it even shows up on their Wikipedia page. It is just one example of the power of the internet and how it’s written in permanent ink.
Three key strategies every direct sales company should be using right now
Knowing what we know now, it is better to be proactive about online reputation than to wait and see what happens. Not all companies know exactly where to start, but these strategies below are all ones that are proven to work. With a solid foundation, it is easier to navigate problems in the future. ACN, a very well-known company in the space at one time was telling all distributors and members to not share the name of the company before meetings. Than after they hired The Reputation Management Company their former CEO and founder Greg Provenzano and Brad Clanton said that it was the first time in memory that they could have a clean 1st page of Google and embrace the companies name. Unfortunately, when they cut budgets from the six-figure a year reputation expense they also cut out their good name again and haven’t rebounded since.
Embrace social media
Like it or not, social media is here to stay. Not only are individuals more and more comfortable buying directly from links found on social media, but search results are showing that these are excellent links as well.
Every company should be focused on creating social media profiles, and keeping them active, says The Reputation Management Company. “Twitter is great as Google now indexes tweets and gives you a direct line of communication to the public and can help you shape the narrative you want to display publicly” says Wright.
This also means focusing on the big ones such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. Have them connected and in the name the same if possible. It makes everything look more professional, and it can help with ranking for relevant keywords.
Remember, the more information that goes on the social media profiles, the better chance of getting ranked in search results and answering questions that members are going to have to no longer ask publicly. A direct sales company should use social media to support their sales while also utilizing it to improve a company’s online reputation.
Embrace reviews instead of running away from them
Every single company out there is going to have reviews online if they are growing. Even the most well-respected companies in the world have negative reviews, so it is inevitable to run away from them all. Instead, embrace the good and the bad, having a review section on a company’s website instead of leaving it up to a third-party. This will allow you to promote your great reviews.
Online image is everything for the direct sales industry. It is the fastest way to find information, and everyone has access. If needed, seek out advice if there is any crisis so it doesn’t put you in the position that Juice Plus was after the world-famous Ford Bronco chase. Professional reputation managers can help craft crisis plans to protect for now and decades to come.