The internet is an incredibly powerful tool for your business. Before everyone had a personal computer if you wanted to reach a new customer you either had to entice them into your store or pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to catch their attention on TV, radio or in print. Billboards are proven less and less effective each year, and traditional advertising has now fallen well below the personal recommendation when it comes to informing consumer purchasing decisions. It’s great for the small business, which can swim in the same waters as the big boys and find their customers through creativity and personal attention instead of boatloads of money. But that access cuts two ways. You can make your voice heard, but so can anyone looking to pester, annoy or downright slander you. Here are five tips to help you safeguard your business’ reputation online.

First off, make sure you have control of the comments section of your blog and website. If you leave these areas open and give people the ability to post in real-time you will expend a huge amount of time and effort removing garbage from your site. Spammers work quite hard to take over websites that don’t know any better, and a blog packed with spam comments loses major authority in the eyes of the reader and the search engines. Your best bet is to allow comments under moderation, and make sure your server provides a hearty spam filter.

Next, regularly monitor the websites that post business reviews. Everyone has heard stories of how a few negative reviews posted on Yelp can destroy a small business. It sounds dramatic, but it’s absolutely true. Checking the comments that appear on Yelp and the other major review sites should be a regular, weekly chore. You won’t always be able to have these reviews removed, and just because someone had something bad to say doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t warranted. But once you know about them, you can respond.

The way you respond will also go quite a long ways towards protecting your reputation or further damaging it. First of all, always acknowledge these negative comments as quickly as you can. Don’t brush them off; instead, try to get to the heart of the matter. Take responsibility for that customer’s negative experience, and look for ways to remedy it. And always do this work in public, right on the very same message thread. Other customers will see your logical and attentive response, and your reputation will be safe.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all this work and want a short cut, head over to Google. Set up alerts for your company name, and any public products you have launched. That way, any time those keywords come up anywhere online you will be notified. You will still have to check out the review sites, as these folks may not always note your company name. But this method will help you to suss out less common websites where people comment on your brand.

Finally, keep a close eye on the social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the others are basically country-sized platforms for sharing opinions. And people will do so, loudly and heartily without regard for the impact. Monitor your networks as you do with the review sites, and periodically check in with a site like to make sure you aren’t missing anything. Remember, your company name is the most valuable commodity you have next to your staff. Protect it, and it will serve you well.

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