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Small Business Reputation Management

Image Small Business Reputation Management
By Vanessa Salvia, 4/3/09

Small business owners: When was the last time you Googled your own name, or that of your company? It's likely that eventually, you'll turn up a result that you're not happy with.

In our age of electronic conversations, almost everything some people do is immediately posted online. Getting cold coffee at the corner caf, being served by a snappy waitress, or buying an item that they're not happy with ends up as a blog post, Twitter item, or Facebook update. It's incredibly easy these days for someone to publicly criticize you or your company. These negative results could be bad reviews of products or services, intentional mischaracterizations or exaggerations, even outright lies. It might not be possible to prevent a negative search result from ever appearing, but diligence and a proactive approach can keep disastrous results in check, and even put a greater shine on an already positive reputation.

Get a head start

Your own website is the place to start building your reputation with a compelling bio. Use the page to present yourself as a real person. Exhibit your passions, reflect your personality, and optimize the page so that when someone searches for your name, it is sure to pop up first. Extend this concept by utilizing strong search engine optimization techniques throughout your site, so that when people search for you or your business, the pages you want do come up.

Online networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn exhibit strong placements in the search results. A search for a person's name often reveals their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles as the top results. These profiles allow you to establish your credentials and get your name out there in a neutral setting. Profiles can be started in your own name and that of your company, in the case of Facebook. On these sites, you can join groups or forums and share your knowledge, which further positions you as the expert as well as helping you gain trusted business contacts.

Other social networking sites can push your name higher up the results, too, as well as comments you leave under your own name on popular blogs. Start a Twitter account using your real name, and enter some biographical information about yourself. Start a Flickr account too, and use your name in the title and description of the images you post and in tags. Popular videos on YouTube often place high, so if the video is about your or you're demo-ing a product, put your name in the title. Any online sharing sites like Digg allow you to create a public profile that uses your name. Other things you can do are create a blog, or ask to be a guest blogger on other blogs that you feel you can contribute to. The idea is to get your name out in as many neutral or positive places as possible.

The flipside of this is that since you're actively trying to get your name and the content indexed, it pays to be careful about what you are saying and how you are participating in online communities to make sure it is flattering to you. Whatever you say and do will likely get picked up an indexed.

Monitor

Google yourself

Websites such as Yelp.com and Angie's List (angieslist.com) have been created specifically to make it easy for people to post reviews of businesses. If your competitors don't have good reviews or any reviews at all, and your company happens to have a bad one, your one bad review gets pushed higher up the results. The first thing to do is go online and look at what is appearing in the search results for your name, your company name, or the names of your products. Unless you're looking for it, you might never know that someone has posted a negative comment about you.

Google Alerts

One of the easiest ways to monitor your online presence is to subscribe to free Google Alerts. Visit HYPERLINK "http://www.google.com/alerts"http://www.google.com/alerts and enter in a search term you wish to monitor and your email address. You have the option of choosing how often you will receive the notifications. When the service finds a new Google result for your search term, you receive an email alert. Your search terms can be your name, your company name, the names of your executives, and the names of your products and services. If your search term has more than one word, use quotes in the alert field so Google matches only the phrase. You can also use negative search terms, so you can exclude results from someone who has the same name as you at a different company, for instance.

You can receive six types of alerts using different search properties, such as News, which pulls results from the latest news feeds, and Blogs, which searches blog posts that appear in the top 10 results for that term. While Google Alerts doesn't catch every usage of a search term, it does reliably catch many of them, particularly if they are on popular sites.

Respond

It's impossible to please everyone, and for 99 people who are happy but may never say so there will be that one vocal customer who will post something negative online. If you find a result you wish wasn't there, don't panic.

First, do a little assessment.
Is the posting a joke? Is it posted on a site specifically designed to be hostile to an industry? If so, simply monitoring the post and subsequent posts without responding could be the best approach.
Is it factual? If not, then a direct response calmly stating the facts, along with your qualifications and authority to know the facts, could be in order.
Is it an unhappy customer? If so, contact the customer and try to rectify the situation. Apologize. Explain. Change your policies so that it won't happen again. Ask for another chance. With any luck, they will be so impressed by your willingness to ensure their complete satisfaction that they will delete or update the original post with something much more flattering.

Try to identify the customers you think may be unhappy before the transaction is complete. If you can fix the problem, or make a good-faith effort to, there may be no need for them to post a negative review. Ask your happy customers to post positive reviews. If there are enough positive reviews about you, it may be enough to dilute the negative ones. People place a high value on the real, unadulterated, unpaid-for opinions of their peers, so the positive ones will be just as influential as anything negative.

Summary

First try to build your online reputation by taking as many positive steps as possible, so that the good pages you want to come up flood out the negative ones that may appear. When that inevitable negative post or comment does appear, address it in a transparent, sincere manner, and perhaps most importantly, keep the lines of communication open for continued feedback. At that point, you can control the tone of the dialogue, and rather than the negatives taking on a life of their own and talking about you, you can begin talking with them, and turn the whole experience into one that is much more positive.

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