Reputation. It’s a concept you hear about from a young age but probably give little thought to — until negative words are spoken about you. Then, suddenly, you’re all too aware of how important your reputation can be.
With the internet serving as today’s water cooler, or the place where people gather to gossip, maintaining a good reputation is more important than ever. Comments posted online have serious staying power: Public criticism of one mistake could show up at the top of search engine results for years. What’s more, customer-review websites like Yelp and Angie’s List often greatly influence people’s buying decisions.
The message: Small businesses need to stay on top of what people are saying — and what potential customers, clients, and colleagues may be reading — about them online. Effective reputation management involves more than merely responding to negative comments about your product, service, staff, or company. It requires carefully crafting a positive image, one that you consistently update and protect.
Here are a few proactive steps you can take to spot potential problems early:
- “Google yourself” regularly. The best way to see any search engine’s results as others may see them is simply to search for your business name. Try variations of your name, too, as well as the names of key people connected to your company. Your search results will differ from those of customers who use a mobile device to find you if their results are location-based. For example, thanks to Google Places, a consumer who searches for a place to eat on a mobile phone may see Yelp reviews for nearby restaurants ranked higher in search results than any restaurant websites. Tip: Search with a smartphone occasionally to see your business as passersby are seeing it.
- Set up alerts. Set up search engine alerts to notify you when your business name appears on websites or in news stories anywhere online. Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts can cover a broad range of results.
- Monitor social media. TweetBeep can alert you when someone tweets about you. Whether it’s a complaint or a compliment, respond graciously. Work to resolve any issues quickly, and perhaps offer a coupon or discount to show that your business puts customers first. Keep an eye on your Facebook, Google+, and YouTube pages, too. Interact with your fans and followers to build a positive reputation for your business. But be careful: Responding can sometimes create drama. If comments are vulgar or grossly inappropriate, consider deleting them instead.
- Create content and update it regularly. Fill the internet with information you want existing and potential customers to see. This puts you proactively in control of your online reputation. One of the best ways to do this is to set up a blog that you update at least two or three times a week with relevant content that will appeal to your customers. If you aren’t the world’s best marketing writer, just share your honest enthusiasm for your product. Your customers will pay attention. Meanwhile, check out these great tips for improving your business writing.
- Have unwanted items removed. This isn’t always an option, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to ask website owners to remove content that portrays you in a negative light. Provide as much information as possible in your defense — and be patient. If you’re contacting a large site, a response may take a while. If you choose to respond on a third-party site, respond with empathy. Offer to solve the problem and, if possible, take the matter offline by contacting the person privately by telephone or other means.