Marketing, Review Management,

Protecting Your Online Reputation – For Funeral Homes

Protecting Your Online Reputation - For Funeral Homes

In today’s online world, where everything can be found with a click of a mouse, I’m surprised funeral homes aren’t more concerned about their online reputation.

Having spent the early part of my career working at ad agencies and public relation firms, one of my favorite marketing axioms is “the surest way to kill a bad product is with good advertising.” In other words, why use marketing to invite a consumer to try your product or service when you don’t have every- thing perfect and in order?

It amazes me that funeral homes spend hundreds of dollars on digital marketing to advertise their firm to families without even looking twice at their online reputation. If your funeral home is plagued by nasty comments and bad reviews online, then you might as well be throwing all that money away. After all, if your digital marketing efforts do convince a family to visit your firm’s website and Facebook page, most likely their next stop will be Google and Yelp to check the online reviews for your funeral home. Without an effective strategy to guide you through maintaining a positive online presence and monitoring conversations about your firm, you could be turning away potential families every day with poor online reviews and comments.

Online reputation management is all about cleaning up, protecting and improving what families find online about your funeral home. That process is by no means simple: negative reviews, unflattering news and incorrect or incomplete business listings are all par for the course. No one can fully control those hurdles, but funeral homes on the path toward a clean digital presence can sometimes make self-destructive mistakes.

Here are six of the most common online reputation mistakes funeral homes are making today.

Leaving Funeral Home Online Business Listings Unclaimed and Profiles Unreserved

One surefire way to take control of your funeral home’s first impression is to claim and update your company information on platforms like Google and Yelp. Those business listings are usually one of the first things to pop up in a Google search, and families know they can go there to confirm simple information like hours of operation and company addresses.

Incredibly, most funeral home owners are still leaving this oppor- tunity on the table. A study from 2017 found that more than half of local companies like funeral homes still haven’t claimed their Google Business listing and two-thirds haven’t claimed their Yelp listing.

Unfortunately, Yelp and Google’s automatically-generated local listings can often prove even more disastrous than a missing one. There’s no telling what information is correct and what isn’t. Families and friends who take the listing as gospel may be surprised and frustrated to find incorrect infor- mation about your firm on these sites.

While Instagram and Twitter don’t automatically create accounts for businesses, an unreserved social media profile can be just as devastating. Funeral homes that fail to reserve their preferred handles across top platforms like Instagram and Twitter early on may find them no longer available the next time they check.

Overlooking Social Media Notifications

When families have a question or a complaint, how do they let the funeral home know? Over the phone? Via email? In person? Not anymore. More than half of millen- nials prefer to use social media to voice concerns and complaints. Others are also likely to vent their frustrations online: almost half of all consumers address customer service issues using social media, second only to in-person complaints.

Taking care of families online is important for the firm’s perception, but it can also impact a funeral home’s bottom line. Customer service in funeral service has always been an opportunity to form a relationship, not just solve an issue. On the other hand, funeral homes that ignore family complaints on social media risk losing them forever. When families post a comment or question and get no response at all, more than one-third will never contact that funeral home again.

Scheduling social media posts using an automation tool like Hootsuite can be helpful – but remember that social media is not a one-way street. Make sure to take the time to regularly check back in to see how people are responding and audit notifications for questions and concerns.

Ignoring Negative Online Reviews

Picture the scene: Your funeral home begins to invest heavily in a digital marketing program. You have dozens of blogs posted and create engaging videos to increase awareness for your firm. You share all that content on social media channels, launch various pay-per-click campaigns to drive leads, and start to build an engaged audience. The only problem? As soon as those potential families decide to look deeper and research the company, they find your funeral home’s negative online reviews.

A few negative reviews here and there are completely normal (and expected), but the real damage comes when there are no positive reviews from happy families to balance the score. All families are left with at that point is an unrepresentative sampling of negativity.

That’s a concern worth taking seriously: 86 percent of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business. It might be impossible to prevent unhappy people from posting negative reviews, but it’s critical to respond to those reviews to mitigate their impact. Nearly 90 percent of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews, so an unanswered review is a missed opportunity to balance the scales. Staying on top of all these review sites is a challenge.

Not Taking the Necessary Steps to Ensuring No Further Negative Reviews

So, what happens after you’ve responded to the negative review with a cool, level head? Well, don’t just sit there – fix your flaws. Remember, many times the family has just lost a loved one and is responding emotionally, not rationally. And remember you’re not perfect, and neither is your business. Listen to your families and see what they have to say. Sometimes, your biggest grievers are actually giving you great constructive criticism. Take positive steps to better your funeral home in the areas where you’re weakest. Remember not to look at it as a complaint or criticism, but rather as an opportunity to improve.

Not Requesting Online Reviews

It’s worth putting a process in place to generate positive reviews. Angry customers aren’t the only ones with a voice; happy customers are willing to write about their experiences, too – as long as it’s easy to do so. There’s nothing wrong with asking the families you serve to provide an online review as well as posting comments from families’ thank you notes as testimonials on your website (once you’ve asked for their permission).

Handing Responsibility to the Underqualified

What happens when funeral homes realize they need help with their digital marketing? Usually, they either look to hire the right marketing professional to handle this task, or they partner with an outside firm that specializes in digital marketing and social media. But sometimes they make the decision to start delegating responsibilities internally – often to people who lack the necessary experience.

It is not uncommon, for instance, for funeral home owners to delegate social media responsibilities to interns or executive assistants. When your families decide to use social media as an outlet to complain or ask questions, will your intern know enough to handle those problems? Will they know when to answer those queries directly and when to direct them to you? Or will your families get ignored and, as a result, turn to your competitors?

There are enough challenges along the road to a clean and positive online reputation without suffering embarrassing mistakes along the way. There’s nothing wrong with involving interns in your social media posting activity, but do yourself a favor and make sure whoever is in charge of your online reputation management clearly understands how to handle negative feedback.

The funny thing is that most funeral homes that embrace online reputation management only do so whenever there is damage already done. Online reputation management is not just about damage control after the fact; it is about establishing a plan and building an online foundation to prevent or minimize a future online crisis. So before you go “all in” with digital marketing and social media to invite families to learn more about your firm, it pays dividends to make sure your online reputation is in order.

Article written by Joseph Weigel (Rannko Strategic Partner) for the March 2019 issue of American Funeral Director –