Social media has forever changed the way information is shared. Blogs and forums enable virtually anyone to publish content online anonymously. For small business owners, this type of user-generated content can be a double-edged sword. While positive customer feedback on high profile social media platforms can boost sales in a matter of days, a single negative review from a disgruntled customer (or even employee) can spread just as quickly, causing sales to plummet and leaving many business owners scratching their heads.
So how can you protect your online reputation?
Online Reputation Management Tips
No one wants to be caught off guard when it comes to their online reputation. Here are some tips to help monitor and neutralize negative online content.
Tip #1 – Google Yourself
Few small business owners have the capital to employ a public relations firm, so they are often out of the loop when it comes to their online reputation. It may not be until a customer, employee, or family member searches online for the business or product name that negative feedback or reviews come to light.
That’s why it is so important for businesses to be vigilant when it comes to monitoring the presence of negative content online. This means keeping a close watch on any mentions of the business name, products, or key employees in standard search results, blogs, news searches, and forums. The easiest way to accomplish this is to designate an employee to set up and monitor email alerts from Google and Yahoo using the company name and product name as search terms. Websites like keotag.com can also search across multiple engines for blog posts tagged with your business name or product.
Tip #2 – Engage Your Critics
There are two basic responses to negative online content: ignore it and hope it goes away or be proactive and address the issue head on. The problem with ignoring negative content is that it may end up spreading like a virus across multiple search engines, blogs, and news outlets.
Business owners should always be proactive when it comes to protecting their reputation. The best way to deal with negative content online is look into the claim, determine if there is any merit or action required, and then respond to the post directly or via the company’s website or blog. This kind of transparency can produce surprising results; after all, most people post negative reviews and content online because they feel like no one is listening to them. By simply addressing the claims, business owners may be able to convince (or inspire) unhappy customers to modify or remove the negative content.
Tip #3 – Displace Negative Content
Some people post negative content online purely in the hopes of destroying the reputation of an individual or business. Engaging and reasoning with this kind of web user is difficult if not impossible. In cases where online content becomes blatantly malicious or false, the best way to address the issue is to make the content difficult to find.
This is where search engine optimization, or SEO, comes in. Most companies offering online reputation management services focus heavily on SEO strategies to displace (or bury) negative search results. The theory is simple; if there is negative user-generated content coming up on page one of Google for a search of your business name or product, keep moving that content down in search results by replacing it with new (and positive) content. You can achieve this by doing any of the following:
- Create a new (or additional) optimized website for your business
- Create a company blog (and try to blog every day)
- Create a myspace.com page
- Create a linkedin.com profile
- Issue press releases
- Add video to websites like youtube.com
- Blog on websites that cater to your profession (make sure to mention your company name)
- Create free business listings online
- Appeal to satisfied customers and employees to post reviews online
Studies show that most web users don’t search past page one of Google, so if you can successfully move the negative content off of page one results, there is a good chance it will be found less often, or won’t be found at all.
Tip #4 – Protect and Optimize Your Brand
Displacing negative search results may be useful as a one-time reactive measure, but when it comes to long-term online reputation management, prevention is key. Rather than scrambling to cover up negative content as it surfaces on the web, the best long-term course of action for business owners is to take complete control of their brand, making it difficult for petty grievances to dominate search engine results pages. This involves using search engine optimization strategies in every aspect of online communications, from press releases to website optimization and online reviews. As more and more optimized (and controlled) content is released online, there will be fewer opportunities for negative content to creep into search results.