Imagine that you’ve dedicated years of sweat and toil and shoestring budgets just to build a business. You love your business.
You take joy in serving customers. You pride yourself on your business’s customer service. Fact is, most of your customers are satisfied. Some are ecstatic.
But let’s say one customer isn’t satisfied. You and that customer had “issues” that ended with you or the customer saying goodbye. Now that ex-customer has his or her revenge – going out to Yelp.com or another site and leaving a scathing review about your company, its products or services.
Worse, when prospective customers and the public go to Google to research your company, what do they see? That bad review appears on the first page of the search results.
In effect that one dissatisfied customer has a megaphone to spread his or her feelings about your company all over the world (or at least all over the World Wide Web).
The most alarming part to business owners is that reviews can be made anonymously on most sites. So customers are free to embellish, or simply use stronger language than they’d use if they had to give their real names. You may not even know who is doing the complaining, so you may have no way of determining how to make matters right.
And the dirty little secret is, a competitor may be out spreading vitriol to damage your business. It’s no accident that when you see product reviews online, sometimes they’re accompanied by anonymous comments denouncing the product and at the same time praising a competing product. Occasionally you’ll see multiple anonymous comments each extolling the virtues of a different competitor! Interested bystanders? I doubt it.
It’s not just voting sites you have to worry about. With blogs, anyone today can be a publisher and publish a negative post about a product or service.
In the past mostly the big companies were the targets. Small business owners used to not have to worry as much. But I’m hearing more and more horror stories how this is becoming a problem for small firms.
The impact can be devastating for small businesses, especially if your business does not have a strong presence in the search engines. If you have lots of search engine results you can dilute the effect of one or two negative reviews. But when you have thin search engine results, one negative review stands out like a blemish on a teenager’s nose.
So, what can you do?
Even on a limited budget you can do a number of things.
(1) Monitor your presence online. To protect your reputation you have to know what you’re up against. Sign up for Google Alerts, which will email you when your company name or products are referred to in Google search results. There are other services designed to monitor more than Google results, including forum posts, such as Trackur.
(2) Start a blog. If for no other reason, having a blog indexed in the search engines means that your blog posts (under your control) are likely to show up more frequently in the search results to offset any negative reviews.
(3) Set up profile pages at “authority” sites. There are a number of sites where you can create a profilequickly and for free.
(4) Correct inaccuracies. If a blog post is factually incorrect, email the blogger asking for a correction/retraction. Or write your own side of the story on your own blog. Or leave a comment in the blog post briefly explaining your side.
(5) Don’t lose your cool. You’re not the only business in this situation. Many consumers and prospects are savvy enough to realize that one complaint can be a fluke or spurred by questionable motives. They’re more likely to be impressed by a calm, even-handed response than by attacking back emotionally. Try to take the matter offline — and learn from the situation. If there’s an issue to fix, fix it.
If handled deftly you can even make lemonade from the lemons of negative comments. An outspoken critic may become an evangelist — it’s happened.