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Q&A: Protect the online reputation of your business

By Steven Strauss
Free Enterpise
A publication of the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Q: I know how important it is to protect my reputation in the “real” world, but I recently found out just how important it is to do it in the virtual world as well. My business recently dropped off significantly and I couldn’t understand why. Then I Googled my business and found a scathing review from an upset customer. I got proactive, made her happy, and she even deleted the review, but it was an expensive lesson.  — Jordan

(Photo courtesy of freeenterprise.com.)
(Photo courtesy of freeenterprise.com.)

A: Gone are the days when you could simply not worry about your online reputation, content that a Google search will only show those cool things you have done over the years that are being shared by you and your pals.

Like my teenage daughter would say, “as if!”

Consider the franchisor that once contacted me to give a speech to its franchisees. Customer service was the topic du’jour because “we have so many online negative reviews on Yelp about our business that we have to start to turn it around somehow.”

Well, yes, doing the job you were hired to do is a good start, but it also does not come close to solving the problem when an irate customer (for their own reasons, real or imagined or, yes, made up) decides to go online and slime your business.

No indeed my friends, these days, checking and protecting your online reputation is as important as keeping your bank account and social media accounts safe and password protected. Online reputation management should be standard operating procedure for all businesses these days.

Here’s how you do it:

1. Make it a practice to regularly review online review sites: The number of places where someone can post negative comments (and yes, thankfully, positive ones, too) is amazingly vast:

  • Yelp
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Angie’s List
  • Google reviews
  • Citysearch
  • TripAdvisor
  • Blogs
  • Forums and message boards

And that is just for starters. Below I offer a way to catch most comments about you and your business in one fell swoop, but before I get there let me suggest that for many businesses, reviews (both positive and negative) tend to lump together on a couple of main sites. Usually it is based on the industry and your own social media presence and so, for instance, if you are a service provider, checking Angie’s List should probably be a priority. If you tweet a lot, you will likely find the commentary about your business on Twitter.

2. Take action: I read a survey early in the year that said that something like two-thirds of customers who write negative online reviews about a product or business would likely do business with the company again if their complaint were properly resolved. Sweet, yes, but get this:

One-third said they would go so far as to remove the negative review if their complaint were resolved satisfactorily. Do you see how powerful that last snippet is?

So it is your job to scour the Internet, find and root out those vocal, unhappy customers and make them happy. Discover what went wrong. Be willing to correct it, even if it’s not your fault. Be humble.

Fix it, and then ask nicely if they would remove the review. If they won’t, be sure to add your comment that you fixed the problem.

3. Create a Google Alert: Clearly, all of this hunting and pecking and scouring and searching can take a lot of time, and that is where Google Alerts comes in. Through Google, you can create a keyword alert for your business. Then, anytime the search giant finds the keywords that are in the alert you created, it shoots you an email.

But the system is not perfect. First of all, you need to figure out keywords that will match the potential complaints about your business and that is not always easy, especially as you don’t know ahead of time what sorts of complications cause consternation.

Additionally, personally, I find that Google Alerts don’t always work exactly right and alert me of the things I know are out there (I wonder if Google will get a Google Alert about this negative comment about Google?)

A regular search engine search using Google and Bing and your keywords is probably what is in order since not everything can be caught by this Alert system.

4. Hire a reputation management service: You don’t have to do this alone, and maybe you shouldn’t, given that your job is to grow your business, not monitor the Internet for disgruntled customers. That is why there are a host of online reputation management companies out there that can help you; Reputation.com for instance.

The thing to realize is that these days, it’s not a diamond that lives forever, but rather, a negative online review.

Today’s Tip: One other way to handle this issue is to get your happy customers to write positive reviews about your business. As these will be more recent than the old bad reviews, they may get found first in a search and that then counterbalances some of the power of any negative commentary.

This article appears courtesy of SCORE , Mentors to America’s Small Business. Get free advice from more than 12,000 volunteer business mentors in over 340 chapters across the nation at www.score.org. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer and writer and is one of the country’s leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker.

Originally published February 2013. Reprinted by permission, freeenterprise.com, February 2013. Copyright© 2013, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.