Famous or Infamous? Small Business Online Reputation Management

By Rieva Lesonsky

Online reputation management is essential.It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.–Warren Buffett

It’s every business owner’s nightmare. One angry customer can mean years of damage control for your online reputation if the word gets out that your business did something wrong—even if it wasn’t your fault. Thanks to the Internet and social media, bad news spreads faster than ever before. More often than not these days, customers do their homework about a business before they ever visit in person or call, and they usually turn to online reviews. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. Internet users compare prices or read reviews before visiting a brick-and-mortar store, according to February 2012 data from AYTM Market Research. Whether or not consumers will always believe and trust the online reviews is still being debated, but nevertheless, you, as a business owner, need to be diligent about protecting your reputation.

The first step is to never give the customer something to complain about. While that’s obvious, it’s not always realistic. If something does go wrong, make sure the customer knows you care about their satisfaction. Also ensure your website, social media accounts pages and place of business have all your contact information displayed prominently so customers can easily contact you with problems or complaints.

Next, know what is being said about your business online.Google Alerts can be very helpful. Set up a Google Alert and you’ll get an email anytime your business is mentioned in a blog or article or review. You can create several alerts, such as your name, your company name or your product name. Google then scours the Web for these keywords. You should also set up an alert for your industry and your competitors.

Unfortunately, your work isn’t done. You can’t rely on Google to catch every mention of your business online. Social media apps such as Postling offer a “clipping service” that will notify you when comments about your business appear online. Search for your name and your business’s name on  48ers  to find out what is being said about you on social media sites. Check local review sites like Yelp and Local.com to read customer reviews. If you see something negative, respond publicly to make amends by posting your own comment; then contact the customer directly to see if you can win back their business.

If the damage has already been done and a bad review about your business shows up near the top when you search your business name, consider retaining a company like ReputationDefender, which works to move the bad review further down in the search results—most likely to the second or third page, where few people bother to look.

For those customers who give glowing reviews, leverage their kind words into your marketing plan. Download, “Got To Be Real: Authentic Marketing” for tips!

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