Online reputation management is not just the province of those businesses and public figures that have been subject to scandal. On the contrary, in this age of Google where anyone can look up anything and anyone, reputation management is vital. For small businesses, it’s not a vanity or a luxury, but a true necessity.
Think about it this way. Whether you’re a small business owner, the manager of a dental practice, professional services provider or the owner of a café, you need to bring in new customers. And you typically bring them in one at a time, not en masse. The thing is, customers you bring in are likely doing their due diligence, checking you out on Google and seeing what other customers have said about you.
If Google only brings up positive information about your brand, then you’re in fine shape. If there are any negative listings or bad reviews out there, however, then your company’s online reputation is sunk — and along with it goes your business prospects.
It doesn’t matter if those unwanted listings are true or not. Maybe they’re legitimate customer reviews, or maybe they’re defamatory posts written by business rivals or disgruntled employees. What matters is that these undesirable Google listings are going to send potential clients to your competitors — and your small business will begin to fade into oblivion.
All of that is the bad news. The good news is that reputation defense is very possible — whether you choose to enlist the services of a professional reputation management company, or simply do reputation repair strategies on your own.
Here are five cost-effective steps that any small business can use to ensure maximum brand protection.
- Know your online reputation. This is the easiest, most significant step for protecting your business’ online reputation. It’s astonishing, the number of businesses who don’t realize what people are saying about its products and services on the Web. Monitoring your reputation can be as simple as using Google and Bing, and perhaps setting up a Google alert, as well. Searching on Twitter and Facebook is also a good idea.
- Build a strong, defensive wall around your brand identity. Now that you have a good idea of where your business stands in terms of its reputation, you’re ready for the next step of building a strong, defensive wall. Start by snatching up all domain names associated with your business — that is, the name of your company, .com, .net, .org and so on. You may not actively use these domains, but owning them helps you build a hedge of protection on Google and other search engines.
- Get active on social media. A good Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest presence can be vital for your company. It shores up goodwill for your brand, and it populates search engines with positive content. Perhaps most importantly, though: if you’ve claimed your company’s name on Facebook and Twitter, then your enemies can’t seize it to use against you. Watch for company mentions — good and bad — and respond to them as you would a customer who calls to complain or compliment. If you don’t have an answer to the problem, acknowledge you heard the customer and you’re working on it.
- Create positive content about your company. Once you’re bought up some prime online real estate, and started using social networks to your advantage, then you can begin the work of amassing some strong, compelling content about your company. Remember that the battle over your company’s reputation is a battle for Google dominance. If someone writes a bad review of your company, and it shows up on page 10 of a Google search, that doesn’t matter. It’s what’s on the first page that matters. The best thing you can do to protect your brand, then, is to inundate Google with as much positive, brand-enhancing content as you can — using the very domains and social media accounts you claimed earlier!
- Bury bad reviews and listings. The final step is to remain committed to the process of publishing positive content, and trusting that positive content to do its job. While responding to feedback is important, it’s equally important to remember that the creation of positive content is what will ultimately curb the effects of bad reviews. Stay resolute in your content creation, and remember that it’s likely to be an ongoing process, one where you build your defensive wall, one brick at a time.
A small business needs a sterling reputation on the Internet. Your online reputation is more than just your business card in the virtual world — it’s the source of all your credibility as a company. By taking these simple steps, however, you are effectively taking online reputation seriously — something that will pay huge dividends in the end.
About the author
Rich Gorman is an expert practitioner of reputation management techniques and a designer of direct response marketing programs for companies large and small. He leads the team at www.reputationchanger.com.