As a small business owner, you probably feel like you are running a marathon within your company, jumping from one project to the next with a million and one things to worry about.
You probably feel like there is no time to stop and breathe, let alone stop and “Google” yourself.
But monitoring and controlling your online reputation — what people are saying about you and your business online — isn’t a self-involved, frivolous, or wasteful way to spend your time.
It’s actually critical and essential to growing your business.
Why You Need to Monitor Your Reputation
When your business is small or just getting started, it can be hard to imagine a time when people will be talking about your brand. The first couple of times that you search for your business, you might even be disappointed that no one is talking about you.
But as you grow, you will quickly find that people are in fact discussing you and more importantly, searching for what others have said about you.
So, you need to know and control what they find.
Because of What It Says to Customers
More than ever, consumers are researching companies before they do business with them. They search to find information about products and services. They look for price comparisons and they look for reviews.
A study on BrightLocal.com found that 88% of consumers read reviews to determine the quality of a local business, and 72% of consumers will take action after reading a positive review.
Potential customers will be far more likely to do business with you if they find positive reviews from others that have already worked with or purchased from you.
Because of What It Says to Potential Business Partners
If you are starting small but want to grow, there may be a time when you will need to form a partnership or bring on an investor.
You can bet that the first thing a potential partner will do is search for your business. What they find could seal or break the deal depending on what they find.
Because of What It Says to Bloggers and Journalists
Having bloggers and journalists cover your business can give you a tremendous boost. It can send traffic to your site, build your credibility, and offer free advertising.
But as much as good PR can benefit your business, negative PR can tear it apart. You need to keep tabs on the conversations surrounding your brand so you can step in to resolve negative situations and encourage positive ones.
Because of What It Says to Prospective Employees
When you hire employees, you are now choosing them as much as they are choosing you. Sites like Glassdoor have made it possible for potential candidates to review companies before joining the team.
Negative reviews by former or current employees can limited the number of people applying for jobs at your company and scare away top talent.
Where to Monitor Your Reputation
There are a few specific places where you should target your reputation searches.
Searching for yourself and your business on major search engines will help you see what information pops up when others research you.
Action Tip: Set up a Google Alert to notify you anytime something is published with keywords related to your business. Set up alerts for your name, company name, product names, and any common misspellings of those names.
Social Media Monitoring
People frequently share their opinions about businesses using social media. Make sure you regularly check the mentions of your brand on major social sites.
Action Tip: Set up a social media dashboard on a site like Hootsuite so that you can easily follow mentions of your brand and comments on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.
If you write a post on your blog/website or a third-party blog/website, you should monitor and respond to the comments on that post. You should do the same on any post that mentions you or your brand.
Action Tip: On most blogging platforms if you write a post, you will be notified of comments on that post. This makes it easy to stay involved in the conversation. But if you are mentioned in a post that you have not created, comment on the post so that you can opt in for additional comment notifications to stay in the conversation.
As mentioned above, reviews are extremely important in turning potential customers into paying customers. So, be sure to monitor the major review sites (Google, Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List) to see what people are saying about your business, products, or services.
Action Tip: Set up a page on your website to share all of your positive reviews in one place. There are a lot of places to share reviews so make it easy on customers trying to find reviews about your business and compile them all somewhere on your site.
How to Handle a Negative Situation
If you find yourself in a situation where someone is bad-mouthing your brand or business…
1. Have a plan. Don’t wait until for the fire before you start setting up the hoses. Have a plan for how often you will research your reputation and have a plan outlined for how you will deal with negative sentiment if it comes your way.
2. Don’t delete the negative comments. This will only make people angrier. Unless the post is vulgar or particularly offensive, don’t delete it.
3. Respond quickly. Show that you care and are committed to connecting with and hearing your customers.
4. Own up to mistakes. Don’t make excuses; create solutions.
5. Make It Right: Do what you need to do to resolve the situation. It is possible to turn a negative situation into a positive one if you handle it proactively and professionally.
6. Don’t Feed the Trolls: Of course there are people out there who simply enjoy spreading negativity. If the situation is no longer productive, get out of it.
Online reputation management may sound like a short-term buzzword, but it isn’t something that can be ignored.
Use these tips to start monitoring and managing your reputation while your business is still small so that you can grow your efforts as your business and your need for reputation management grow.