Just like individuals, small businesses have reputations to keep. Reputation, after all, can mean the difference between attracting and retaining customers and losing them in droves. And given the freedom of the Web, it's especially difficult to navigate the realm of reputation. A single negative review on Yelp, for instance, can quickly damage a restaurant's reputation. The other side of that scenario, fortunately, is also true: A few positive comments about a hotel's comfortable mattresses or good service on Travelocity can lead to tons of bookings.
The trick lies in knowing how to manage your business's reputation, given the time and resource constraints you face. It can be a full-time job managing one's reputation, and most small businesses simply can't afford that kind of commitment. In fact, you can hire a reputation management company to keep your online presence up-to-snuff. But with a few tricks and tips, however, DIY business reputation management on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp can be easily integrated into your daily routine.
Monitor the situation. Do you really need to follow everything customers and clients are saying about you everywhere on the Web, including their own personal blogs? In a word, yes. But this doesn't have to be as daunting as it sounds. To start, set up daily alerts through Google Alerts so that any time your business's name is mentioned, you'll get an e-mail with the link. You can customize your alerts for various keywords and frequency. And make sure to check your listing on Yelp periodically, as well as Facebook and Twitter. When you sit down with your morning coffee, make the Internet rounds. It only takes a few minutes, and it can yield amazing dividends.
Don't ignore the negative. You might want to brush off negative comments as ignorant or mean-spirited. But more often than not, they're a helpful window into the minds, needs, desires and opinions of customers. Think of these comments as free market research, and as an opportunity to fix problems, change product offerings, tweak your business model or otherwise improve your business.
Read negative comments and reviews and keep track of them. You might even consider putting together a spreadsheet or log, so that you can measure negative comments against things going on in your business or even in the economy at large.
Depending on the comments and the situation, you might want to respond in some way as well. You can start a dialogue, offering a coupon or otherwise engaging disgruntled customers. However, in the case of a truly mean-spirited or false comment, it's best not to engage. Sometimes you just need to let go of those kinds of statements and the people who make them. Fair-minded people will read them and see them for what they are, and perhaps even come to your company's defense. And if it's a truly libelous statement, don't forget that you can always take official—or even legal—action. Sometimes a simple cease-and-desist letter to the site's owner or webmaster can do wonders.
Look for the positive. The other, happier side of this coin is the positive comment, review or mention. If you're doing your monitoring effectively, you'll find these, too. If they're made on public sites, feel free to quote them in your marketing materials. It never hurts to toot your own horn, and small businesses need all the help they can get.
You might also engage with these customers, bloggers or reviewers, creating a list of their names and contact information so that you have a ready-made database of people who might be interested in testing new products, providing testimonials or otherwise helping your business in an informal capacity. Also, don't be afraid to encourage customers already in your social media universe, such as Facebook fans, to post their reviews on other sites, like Yelp. Cross-promoting your listings and profiles will let people who like your business know how and where they can spread the good news.
It can feel impossible to keep track of your reputation on the web, given the sheer vastness of its content. That wild and free electronic space, however, is here to stay, and with careful reputation management, it will bring you much more business than it ever costs you.
Vivian Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio. Vivian blogs via Contently.com.
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