Why Your Online Reputation Matters, and How to Protect it

Small business owners may not think their online reputation is important, but it is. Get a few bad reviews and it could mean lost business when potential new customers search for a company online. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and a ton of other user-generated Web sites, now more than ever small businesses have to protect their online reputation.

“A small business’ online reputation is critical,” says Anita Campbell, chief executive of Small Business Trends.  It’s very important what is being said, she says.

Today consumers and potential customers rely on the Internet to research companies and products before they make a purchase. If a consumer comes across a bad review or report, they are more likely to move on to the next company. While small business owners may be overwhelmed with the thought of having to engage in social media to protect their online reputation, experts say it doesn’t have to be a full time job -- but it has to be done.

Google Your Business

One of the most important things a small business can do to keep up on their reputation is to Google the company once a day or at a minimum once a week. By doing a Google search, the business owner will be able to see what is being said about the company. Small business owners can easily set up Google alerts to inform them when their company is mentioned. There’s also pay-for services that will monitor all the mentions of a company online.

Have an Online Presence

In addition to searching the business online, having a presence on social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter will enable the business owner to maintain a positive message about the company and react quickly to consumer complaints.

“You have to have a presence in the key sites [where] people are talking about your business,” says Campbell.

According to Michael Fertik, founder and chief executive officer of Reputation.com, the easiest way to protect an online reputation is to encourage customers that come into the store on a regular basis to like your company on Facebook or post positive testimonials on the company Website.

“A lot of small businesses are in full reactive mode and only think of the Internet when they are getting attacked,” says Fertik.

Claim Your Business Profile

Since many consumers rely on review Web sites, Fertik says be sure to claim your profile across the board. Although there are some famous review sites like Yelp, there are tons out there focused on specific industries. Search the review sites and if your company’s profile is wrong, fix it.

Keep Responses Professional

Getting negative feedback and complaints is pretty much a given when you run a business, but how you deal with it can set a precedent for future customer interactions. According to experts, if someone has something bad to say about your business online it’s not the time to get defensive. If the person is completely wrong then in a respectful way set the person straight. But if there is some truth behind what the customer is saying it’s best to apologize and fix the situation -- instead of pretending you did nothing wrong. According to Campbell, studies show that when a business messes up and apologizes for the mistake it actually saves the relationship.

While many companies will be quick to give a refund when their business is being slammed on Facebook or Twitter, Campbell says to be careful with this approach. After all you don’t want everyone online pretending they have a complaint just to get a refund or discount.

“If one or two nasty people attack you online and the rest of them like you then you are ok,” says Fertik. “You don’t want to get in a spitball contest with nasty guys because if you roil in the mud with a pig you both get dirty.”

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