In this 9-minute read, learn:
- What online reputation management is (and isn’t)
- Why every business, even small, local shops, has an “online presence”
- How consumers use your online reputation to decide if they’ll spend money with you
- Why every business needs to make reputation management a top priority
- 6 reputation management tips every small business owner should know
You have probably heard the term “online reputation management” and been curious how it applies to your business. Let’s start with the basics and discuss what reputation management is and what it isn’t, as far as small business is concerned.
What is online reputation management
The concept of “word of mouth” has totally changed in the digital era, even for local, brick-and-mortar shops. 97% of people read online reviews for local businesses, and 88% trust those reviews as much as a personal recommendation from friends and family.
This means that even if your marketing messaging reaches a new potential customer, chances are that person will search for your business online for “social proof” before deciding to buy from you.
Your “online presence” includes some things you can control, such as your business’s website and social media accounts, and it includes things over which you have less control, such as online reviews and star ratings (i.e. your “reputation score”) on popular review sites like Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook.
Managing and optimizing your digital reputation is about owning that online conversation and doing everything you can to make sure review sites reflect the great customer experience your business provides.
The good news is, unless you have a serious problem with no-goodniks posting horrible things about you all over the web, you can probably do a fairly good job of managing your online reputation yourself… if you can find the time.
Since what people find (or don’t find) about your business online is the primary deciding factor in the purchase decision process, smart business owners make online reputation management a top priority.
Let’s talk briefly about what online reputation is, and what it is not.
What online reputation management isn’t
Online reputation management is not advertising
While you can purchase ads on review sites like Facebook, Yelp, and Google, advertising is not reputation management. You can’t pay to get rid of bad reviews (though some unscrupulous companies may try to convince you otherwise), and you should never pay to try to get positive ones. Advertising’s purpose is to broadcast and amplify your brand, not to protect it.
Internet reputation management is not what politicians and celebrities do to clean up their personal images
Many reputation management companies specialize in helping prominent figures clean up their online reputations after a scandal or peccadillo. This is not what we mean when we describe reputation management for local businesses.
Small business reputation management is not enterprise-level “reputation repair”
There are several companies with teams of SEO experts and content producers that large, enterprise-level companies hire to try to “bury” negative search results or other online SNAFUs. But small, local businesses can’t afford to hire a big-dollar reputation repair company, so for our purposes here we will focus on 6 effective things that an owner-operator or a staff member can do to more effectively manage their small business’s online reputation.
1. Claim your business’s online profiles
This process is essential to any business. Luckily, claiming your business listings on Google, Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, and other applicable sites (such as OpenTable for restaurants), is fairly straightforward and completely free. (Click for our helpful how-to articles.)
Once you have claimed your pages, you can start responding to your reviews and flagging any inappropriate ones for removal (see #5 below.)
Not only is claiming your pages easy, it is the vital first step in engaging in and optimizing the online conversation about your business and services.
2. Reply to all reviews and take negative feedback seriously
While some bad reviews may come from disgruntled ex-employees or unscrupulous competitors (and you can ask that flagrantly false or libelous reviews be removed—see tip number 5 below), it’s a smart idea to treat bad reviews as valuable customer feedback.
Try to keep an open mind and really examine the products, products, or services that don’t measure up according to your customers. Look for ways you can improve. Potential customers are reading your responses and will be impressed if you act like an adult and show positive action.
Large companies pay millions of dollars to learn what their customers think. Online review sites give you this information for free. There may be hidden gems there. Be sure to read our full article on how to reply to negative reviews.
You might also like: how to respond to Google reviews.
3. Minimize any bad reviews by getting more good reviews
It may sound incongruous but you actually need some bad reviews. Studies show that people simply don’t trust companies that don’t have ANY negative reviews. However, you should aim to keep your online “star rating” at a 4 or above.
You can do this by remembering to ask your customers to leave you a review, but make sure you do it the right way. Click to read our full article about how to get more reviews.
The best way to reduce the damage caused by negative reviews is to get more good ones. Studies show 73% of consumers think reviews older than 3 months are not relevant.
If you get more positive reviews from your best customers, the negative reviews will fade into the background.
You might also like: How to fix your online business reputation
4. Participate on multiple online platforms, and create regular content if possible
Part of managing your online reputation is helping to create your online reputation, particularly if your online presence currently consists exclusively of profiles on review sites.
Search engines look for multiple types of content and multiple platforms, and you’ll show up better if you have a strong presence on multiple kinds of websites, social media sites, review sites. The more involved you are in creating and optimizing a diverse online presence for your business, the better.
You may notice that in addition to the standard website (which your business should also have), almost every company has a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn account. This is not simply for appearances. A lot of customer feedback is posted online in places other than official review sites. The more active you are in multiple types of online communities, the more you have a voice (and the better you will show up in online searches).
If applicable, perhaps try to get a Medium account and post something relevant to your industry. Answer questions on Quora. Write content for your local news outlets’ OpEd pages. If you have a good sense of humor, try developing a solid following there.
Remember, if you want to move the needle in the right direction online, it’s important to post regular, original content. This can’t just be a “one and done” process. Search engines like to see fresh content that others deem interesting and share via social media.
This can take a lot of time and effort, but eventually your content can attract the attention and validation of higher-ranked sites that might link to it, which will improve your rankings in search results.
5. Monitor the web, and ask search engines and review sites to remove any unauthorized, damaging content
While review sites by their very nature prioritize input from individual reviewers, rather than businesses, not everything is fair game. For example, Yelp doesn’t allow reviews that contain spam, harassment, threats, conflicts of interest, irrelevant content, false/fake reviews, ads or other promotional material, or private information. Other review sites have similar policies.
If you find potentially damaging content about your business posted elsewhere on the web, you can ask the search engine companies to remove it from their results in some cases. For example, Google will will remove content that contains national identification numbers such as U.S. Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, images of signatures, sexually explicit images uploaded or shared without your consent, and confidential medical records.
Of course, if content is defamatory or libelous, it is against the law, and you can request it be removed for legal reasons.
For full details on how to request such material be removed, read our article on how to fix your online business reputation.
However, you can’t ask for this material to be removed if you don’t know about it. There are companies that offer reputation monitoring services, but small business owners can often get very good results by setting up Google Alerts to be notified when content relating to their business is posted online. It’s kind of an “old-school” option for reputation management and it’s a bit more involved than some newer types of reputation management software, but it works pretty well, and best of all, it’s absolutely free.
Click here to set up Google alerts for your business.
6. Use online reputation management software to save time and improve results
If all of the above sounds like a lot of work, well—there’s no getting around it—it is. There’s a reason large companies have teams of people dedicated exclusively to managing their online reputations.
True, all it costs you is your time, but time is a commodity that most small business owners find in very short supply.
For busy small business owners, reputation management software that can collate all your online reviews in one place with one login, and allow you to read and respond to them directly from your dashboard, can feel like a miracle. Click to learn more or get a free demo.
Read our detailed article to help you decide whether it’s time to consider reputation monitoring services.
Whatever methods you choose, it’s important to start owning your online reputation right now. Make a plan, get started, and you’ll soon see the benefits of a healthy online reputation.
You might also like: Why online reputation management is more important than ever
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