Brand reputation management in 2016 is about much more than just monitoring mentions of your company or your site through Google Alerts or some other monitoring tool. Customers have become more savvy, and the online landscape has grown by leaps and bounds. You need to know about how your customers interact online and how they get information, and then you need to create strategies for influencing that. Here’s what you need to do to take control of your brand reputation in the coming year:

Think beyond SEO

Most brand reputation strategies of the past looked at outranking negative reviews or commentary with more positive hits in search rankings. The idea was to bury the negative information by loading positive information in the top search results. However, customers are now finding out about brands in more ways than just googling the company name. Customers look at review sites, social media, blogs and much moreIf you want to understand your brand reputation, you’ll need to look beyond what comes up in search results. You’ll need to search for information the way a customer would. To take control of your reputation, you’ll need to publish information on and interact on these sites to ensure that customers get the impressions you want them to about your brand.

Social Media is Very Important

Social media is a force all its own. It isn’t just a fun thing that people use to spy on high school classmates anymore. It is a powerful tool for businesses to connect with each other and with customers, and vice versa. You need to have a special strategy for controlling the flow of information on social media itself. That includes maintaining a strong presence on the top sites, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. You need to have a complete profile and active presence on each, and you need to interact often with the community. Should customers encounter negative information about your brand on one of these sites, they should be able to find plenty of positive information to counteract it based on the information you are putting out on your own profiles and in your interactions with other users.

Mentions are Enough

Often, brands focus on getting full guest posts, reviews, or articles published about them in order to market themselves or manage their reputations. However, just a mention from a top site or brand can be very powerful. You don’t necessarily need the full post. Think about what a simple tweet from The New York Times or a shout out in a roundup from Forbes can do for your brand! Not only can it help you get more traffic and interest, but it can also give you an air of authority.

Ask for Reviews and Testimonials

Most customers won’t leave you a review until they’ve had a negative experience — which is exactly what you don’t want. They may need a little nudge to leave you a positive review or testimonial. So just ask. You can leave your request at the end of an appropriate blog post or article, or you can send out a request on your social media channels. Don’t try to influence the content of the reviews or you risk causing your customers to doubt what they read. However, do make a simple request like, “Hey, if you’re happy with your recent purchase, why not leave us a review on Yelp?” or “Let everyone know about our great service with a few words on Google.” Your customers will want to help if they have been happy with your service and you aren’t being pushy about the request.

Encourage User-Generated Content

Most of the information that people will use to form an opinion about your brand will be supplied by other people. It could be a blog post, an Instagram photo, a Tweet or a Tumblr post. Customers can tell the difference between user-generated content and brand content, and they trust the user-generated content more because it is objective. Encourage your customers to create user-generated content to get more positive information that can create the reputation you want. You can encourage user-generated content through requests and contests. For example, you could say, “Buy our exclusive design? Show us your pictures on Instagram!” or “Meme this picture for a chance to win!”

The more fun or creative the request, the more likely you are to get people to participate. Brand management is not only important to building your brand but also to maintaining the image you want to reach the customers you want. Good brand management can help you grow your sales and establish your success in the long term. Since your reputation can change in a moment depending on a bad review or highly publicized incident, it is important that you are consistently proactive in managing your reputation so that it doesn’t go where you don’t want it to.

Marketing Brand Reputation Management in 2016