Online Reputation Management for Small Businesses

online reputation management

Most people define online reputation management (ORM) as “the act of monitoring, addressing or mitigating SERPs (search engine result pages) or mentions in online media and Web sphere content.”

ORM primarily involves tracking what is written about a client on the Internet, then utilizing sophisticated online and offline techniques in promoting positive and neutral content, while at the same time pushing down those links the sponsor may not want to show when their name is searched.

In short, ORM is keeping track of what people are saying about you online and promoting the positive while eliminating and preventing the negative.

ORM is especially prevalent today as just about every business has an online identity in one form or another.

An identity or brand can be promoted in a number of ways, but it can also be damaged in many ways; and managing both of these plays key roles in ORM.

All of these affect your online reputation and that reputation is just as important as your offline one – something you’ve probably dedicated years to building and promoting.

Unfortunately, you don’t have years to dedicate to managing and build your online reputation. More people use and do business on the Internet every day, and the majority of people spend the majority of their time online in some capacity or another.

How are you supposed to know what people are saying about you?

And if negative reviews and feedback is out there about your company, what can you do about it anyway? And of course, what’s always on top of every business owner’s mind – when are you supposed to find the time to do it?

This online reputation management guide for small businesses will explain all of these things

online reputation management guideFinding every piece of information that’s out there in cyberspace about you doesn’t have to be all that difficult; and building positive reviews and positive images of your brand can be even easier online than it is offline.

And this ORM guide will show you how.

If you don’t have the time for it all, as many business owners don’t, within this guide you’ll even find out how to tackle that problem.

So read on and start finding out everything you’ve ever needed to know about online reputation for your small business – it’s all here!

Online Reputation Management

Challenges

To say that online reputation management is not without its own challenges simply wouldn’t be true.

Whether it’s a business owner’s train of thinking or a bad online review, there are a few obstacles that can come up in ORM.

Here are some of the biggest challenges, and how you can combat them:

  • Bad press. Bad press includes a number of things, and they are the number one challenge in online reputation management. This is what it’s all about after all, trying to limit and eliminate all the bad press that’s out there. But what exactly is meant by “bad press?”

Any of these and more: squatted usernames (where someone else takes over the use of a company’s username); squatted domains; disgruntled employees or individuals impersonating the company or one of its staff; name changes; negative comments; inaccurate information; trademark infringement; competitor attacks; hate or complaint sites; personal and corporate scandals and negative industry perceptions.

All of these need to be combated in ORM; and this guide will show you how.

  • Thinking the business does so well offline that no reputation management needs to be done online.

This is something that lots of business owners think – a shocking number of them, actually. And while it’s true that some businesses have built up their reputation so strongly, and think that because they’re so successful right now, that a few hits to their online reputation will largely be ignored by their customers.

This is often true – for now.

But business might not always be so good and in those times, a good online reputation is a great thing to fall back on. Add to that the fact that those “few hits” could have a snowball effect where people start to pay attention and rest assured, it will matter at some point.

Lastly with this point, while major corporations may have a large and loyal customer base that will disregard bad reviews and the like, small businesses most likely do not.

That’s why small business owners need to pay even more attention to ORM. If you don’t take control of your online reputation, someone else will!

  • Not knowing something can be done about it!

Lots of business owners also know that negative reviews and bad online press is out there about them. They may even know who published it and where to find it; but they don’t think there’s anything that can actually be done about it.

Managing your online reputation though is very similar to managing your offline reputation.

You would never walk away from a customer if they had or walked into your office and complained.

And when you leave online questions unanswered and complaints ignored, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

The Steps to Creating a Positive Brand

steps to creating a positive brandCreating a positive brand for yourself online and getting rid of the negative publicity that’s out there can seem a bit overwhelming at first.

But when broken down into steps, business owners can simply follow them through and have a strong, positive online reputation at the end of it all.

For those business owners that simply don’t have the time for ORM, this guide will even show you how to hire a marketing consultant to take over the job for you.

Assess your online reputation

Before you can start doing anything about your online reputation, you first have to know where your reputation currently stands.

Start assessing your online reputation by performing searches on all of the major search engines:

  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • and any others that you can think of

You’re looking for anything that’s written or published about your company at all – good, bad, or indifferent.

Remember that if you’re logged in to Google or any other search engine to sign out. This will give you the most accurate results as to what the average user would see when they search for your company.

The good comments and published posts will be obvious when you find them, and so will much of the negative publicity that you find.

But if you don’t find anything at all related to your company, or the results are indifferent, those are problems as well.

Not finding anything at all means that you need to start from scratch to build your online reputation.

When search engines show indifferent results, it means that the result is neither good nor bad. These are often directory pages or listings that likely include the names and numbers of several of your competitors.

When searching for your company, do more than just search for your name.

Also make sure that you search for your products, your highest-profile employees, your own name, and any usernames or handles you use on any other site. All of these will point you towards anything online that has to do with your company, and will be your biggest indication if there are any problems.

Create a spreadsheet and along the way in your search, make sure to track and record anything and everything that you find.

Secure your name

secure your nameWhy do you have to protect your online name?

Because if you don’t, someone could easily come and take it and use it to make your company look bad.

Make sure you have a website and a blog registered under your company’s name and use that as your main site. But also register sites such as “[mycompany]sucks.com.”

Again, if you don’t register this domain name, someone else can and actually use it as a hate site.

If you register it first however, visitors will still be directed there when they search for you, and you can then use it to address any criticisms or complaints and actually win those customers back. Do this with your blog, product name domains, and with different domain extensions – .com, .net, .org, and any others that apply.

While you’re protecting your name, also make sure that you register your company’s username with all the major social networks: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Because all of these sites allow for such quick interaction between members, these are all some of the first places people will go to leave a review or comment about your company.

Be sure to create accounts, pages, and profiles on all of them so that no one else can take it over online.

Protect your name

Once you’ve registered your name and domain names, you need to protect it.

When protecting your username, there is a fine line.

If you don’t have much of a reputation yet, you definitely want to keep your pages as public as possible to encourage interaction and followers. However, you also need to protect it in order to keep it safe.

With this in mind when changing your privacy settings, look within the different social networks to find the options of what’s displayed in the search engines and what is not.

However, you still want to keep your pages and accounts open so that people can join, follow, and like you.

Join the conversation

join the conversationOnce you’ve secured all of your domain names and usernames, it’s time to join in on the conversation or get one started.

Publish a blog post and encourage comments; ask questions on Twitter; or start a poll on Facebook.

When you’re using pages that you’ve personally created or registered, controlling the information that’s on them can be relatively easy. But you need to also remember to join in on conversations that have already been started – this is where you’ll find the most bad reviews and can take the time to respond to them.

Visit industry blogs; sites such as Yelp, Amazon, StumbleUpon; BusinessWeek; and Crunchbase to see what reviews have been posted.

Respond to all of them whether they’re positive, neutral, or negative, and always thank people for the time they’ve invested in your company by trying your product or asking a question.

Respond very politely and address any concerns that come up.

Remember that you always must maintain the utmost professionalism and extend extreme courtesy when online.

When possible offer something comparable, free samples, complimentary services, or anything else that may make them feel better about using you in the future. Don’t get defensive, as easy as it is to do.

Cursing, insulting, or acting as though the customers’ opinions don’t matter won’t be the effective ORM you’re trying to achieve.

Be proactive about customer feedback

From your very first interaction with a customer, and every one afterwards, always promote feedback and ask them to provide their thoughts and opinions about your company online on your Twitter or Facebook page, or on the company blog.

Establish yourself as an authority

Just like when you’re offline, when you establish yourself as an authority in the industry to your customers, they tend to respect you more and automatically give you more credibility.

This helps with your ORM because customers will start to say good things about you, and people will seek you out online to ask questions and seek advice.

That will get people talking, will increase your page rankings in the search engines, and will better your online reputation.

Here are just a few ways you can establish yourself as an authority:

  • Create a group or organization on MeetUp or GoToMeetings.
  • Visit sites such as Yahoo! Answers and com and answer industry-related questions.
  • Make video tutorials of how to use your product.
  • Make podcasts of seminars addressing some of the biggest customer concerns that your business or product can help them with.
  • Get your blog listed in popular industry blog directories.
  • Arrange to be a speaker at industry events and/or conferences.
  • Get in the news! Have the regional, local, or national news quotes you online about your opinions regarding a hot topic in your industry.
  • Join industry associations and organizations and strive to win awards from them. Display the association’s logo on your website to show visitors that you are a trusted and integral part of the industry.
  • Distribute press releases online about new products, new staff members, and anything else newsworthy that your company has to say.

Make yourself and your company accessible

Most of the time, comments that are left on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are a result of a frustrated customer trying unsuccessfully to reach out to the company directly.

When phone calls and emails go unanswered, customers feel as though they have no other option but to make themselves be heard.

If you had answered them in the first place, they most likely would have never reached out to other mediums, and you wouldn’t have a problem that you now have to fix.

If you absolutely can’t answer them immediately, tell them that you’re sorry and that you need to look into it; but that you will get back to them within 24 hours. Then make sure you do!

Set up an online customer service center

Another reason why people often turn to the most public social networks to leave feedback is because they don’t know where else to go.

You have to make sure you tell them!

Just like your company may have a customer service desk or department that handles complaints, suggestions, and customer issues, you must also have the same kind of service online.

Do a Google search for online suggestion box to find where you can set up a box, direct people there if they have any questions or concerns, and they can easily leave you a comment or suggestion.

Once people feel as though they’ve unloaded their grievance, it’s typically much easier for them to move on and wait for your response. Again, you must make sure that you answer every response and thank every single person for their suggestion – no matter what it is.

It’s the only way to make these tools truly effective.

Gather and publish customer testimonials

testimonialsAsk every single customer for a testimonial and then make sure you use them.

Post them on your website, your blog, your Facebook page and anywhere that potential customers will see them.

Remember that positive tweets about your company also count as testimonials, as do positive comments left on other networks.

In addition to just displaying testimonials, allow customers to leave reviews and feedback on your website in regards to the different products you sell – they’re a huge help to visitors when they’re trying to decide whether or not to use a product or a company.

Know how to use SEO

ORM isn’t SEO, but the two do go hand in hand.

You need to know which keywords relate to your online reputation, because you’ll need to use these as tracking devices.

A keyword is any word or phrase that a customer may type into a search engine when they’re looking for information about your company. You’ll need to research which keywords are being used most often, and then focus in on those.

Don’t just rely on the keywords you’re currently using in your marketing campaign. ORM keywords are different.

Not only will you need to find ones that are different from those you use in marketing, but you’ll also need to change your ORM keywords regularly – every time you come out with a new product or service, or have news to share with your customers.

Fight back with links

Spammers and those who really want to focus on building a strong hate site get their site listed at the top of the search engines through link building.

The search engines love links more than just about anything; and the more you have on your pages, the higher you’ll rank.

The higher you rank of course, the more you can be the first people visitors turn to when looking for information about your company. Use domains, sub- domains, news sites, corporate blogs, industry sites, and other websites to get links up.

For those websites that you control and publish, regularly include links to your other sites, and always keep all sites updated with fresh content – this is the only thing search engines might love even more than links.

Track your online reputation

After you’ve established certain ORM systems and practices, you will no longer need to rely simply on searches to find out what people are saying.

There are a number of different tracking programs available and at your fingertips. For any of them, you’re going to need your list of keywords so that you know what exactly you’re tracking.

Here’s a list of the most popular tracking tools:

  • Feed readers. Use feed readers such as Feed Demon to enter the addresses of the websites that are most likely to post reviews about your company. You’ll have all the different review websites in one place, and the titles of the review will appear automatically every time a new one is posted.
  • Google Alerts. For Google Alerts you’ll need your list of keywords so you can enter them and be notified any time new content with those keywords is posted. With these notifications you can set up alerts for the news, blogs, videos, and groups. You can receive Google Alerts either through a feed or via email.
  • Yahoo Alerts. Just like Google Alerts, you can track certain items. In Yahoo Alerts these are stocks, local news, and feeds. Yahoo Alerts are delivered through email, Yahoo Messenger, or to your mobile phone.
  • Twitter search. The Twitter search function allows you to easily search through your keywords to find out what people are saying about them. When asking customers for feedback, set up a hashtag (#topic) so that you can find them easily.
  • Social Mention. While you shouldn’t rely on Social Mention alone, it is a great way to do a broad sweep of all the social networks and see what people are saying about your company and your keywords.
  • Other social tracking sites. In addition to the features on the individual sites and Social Mention, there are other sites you can use to track what’s being said about you in the social networking circle. These are: HootSuite, EasyTweets, Disqus, Atom Keep, and SocialStream.

Make ORM an ongoing effort

Just because you have all your social networking pages in place, and you’ve landed your company the first five spots in the search engines, your work is not done yet.

An online reputation is even more fleeting than an offline one; and if you don’t take the time necessary to constantly update, track, and improve your online reputation, you’ll soon find you have one you don’t want one at all!

Tips for ORM Success

orm tipsEven with all the strategies that you put into place, there are still some remaining tips and tricks to keep in mind when focusing on online reputation management.

Here are the most popular:

  • Incorporate your company’s name as a keyword on your website. This is the most important keyword you’ll have for any ORM strategy, and it should be used as much as possible on all of your own websites. Make sure when doing it though, that the keyword doesn’t sound forced, or that you don’t use it excessively. The former will give you an unreadable page, and the latter will be considered as keyword stuffing by the search engines and could get you banned.
  • Use anchor text. Anchor text is simply linking your keyword to another page; in the case of ORM, preferably one of your own webpages. Search engines love anchor text because it combines their two loves – links and keywords.
  • Contact all creators of all negative content directly. Whenever there’s a bad review or bad comment posted, try your hardest to get in direct contact with the author and try to make things right. Ignored criticisms and unanswered complaints just make it seem like you don’t care.
  • Update, update, update. The search engines are going to ignore your website or your blog if you only post content once and think that’s enough. Regularly update the content so you’ll show up higher in the search engine page rankings, and get the better online reputation you’re looking for.
  • Promote positive reviews. The whole goal of ORM is to increase the amount of good things being said about you online, and decrease the amount of bad things being said about you. Promote people to write positive reviews by running contests for the best or the most, or giving away free samples to those who leave a positive review for you somewhere.
  • Create a Wikipedia page for your business. Most people don’t realize it, but business pages in Wikipedia usually show up within the first ten search results. Take advantage of the opportunity to not only increase your page rank, but also tell people more about your business.
  • Buying web pages. Many people aren’t aware of this strategy either, in which you can buy a page on a website that is not yours and write an article. These pages are called “pre-sell pages.” Within that article you write, you can place your keywords and your links – all pointing back to your company. It’s one more way to build backlinks, and it’s one that really works!
  • Guest blog. Just like pre-sell pages, guest blogging has the same idea. You ask the owner of the blog if you can publish a guest blog post. Within that post include your keywords and links, and then ask them if they’d like to do the same on your site.

Not only will it work for you as new content, but reciprocating link love will always work in your favor!

Now that you know all the different strategies, techniques, and tips for better online reputation management, you should also be wary of the things you should avoid.

There are some very common mistakes business owners make in ORM, and they’re listed in the next section.

What to Avoid in ORM

Common sense will typically prevail when using most ORM practices.

Still, to keep you from losing your head after a bad review, or making any other of the most common mistakes, here’s a list of the most popular, and how to avoid them:

  • Do not lash out at bitter or unhappy customers. It really doesn’t matter how rude they are to you. If it gets to the point where they start cursing, are abusive, or are crossing the line between voicing a complaint and becoming belligerent, politely tell them that you can’t deal with them until they treat you with respect.

Make sure to mention you are available and accessible at any and all times, and that you’d be happy to help but you can’t the way things currently stand.

If the person is voicing an honest complaint in a respectful manner, answer it even more respectively. Yes, this has been mentioned before in this guide.

But it’s so important to treat concerns as concerns, not a personal attack.

  • Do not threaten legal action against any author of any publication. For this one, it doesn’t even really matter what they’ve said about you. In rare instances someone has said something so inflammatory and so completely untrue about your company that the only logical step you can think of is to take legal action and sue. However, this isn’t as logical as it seems at the time.

Many states and other areas have cyber laws protecting the voice and opinions of individuals, especially when placed on completely objective third- party websites.

In the end, suing will only make you look like the “big, bad bully,” and you could even end up losing a great deal of money in court fees.

Refer to the above, be polite as you can, and tell them you cannot deal with them if they continue to be that way. Also make sure that you clear up anything they said, as best you can, on the site where they said it.

  • Avoid “black hat SEO techniques.” These are strategies that are used simply to draw the attention of the search engines, even if they’re done in unsavory manners such as plagiarizing text in order to keep content fresh and new.

noDon’t take part in it.

If you don’t have the time to devote to honest SEO and ORM practices, hire a marketing consultant that can do it for you.

  • Avoid companies that promise you overnight results. Along the lines of hiring a marketing consultant, avoid any consultant or firm that tells you they can fix your ORM problems overnight.

Your online reputation, like your offline one, took time to build regardless if it’s good or bad. It will take at least as much time to undo it, if necessary.

  • Avoid link farming. You want to build and create links; and you want to have as many links on your site, and on the Web, as possible.

But don’t just go around letting anyone link to your website.

If you do, and your website ends up on a spammer’s page or one that’s been banned, it could have severely disastrous effects to your online reputation.

Build good links, yes; but make sure they’re quality links.

  • Stay far away from website cloaking. This is an especially creative tactic used by those who again, don’t want to take the time for honest ORM practices. When a website is cloaked, it is showing one thing to the search engines; and something else entirely to human traffic that visits the page.

People do this so they don’t have to think of ways to creatively fit their keywords in, or because they think it gives them the SEO edge.

Don’t do it.

Getting banned from the search engines will never give you an edge, and that’s exactly what will happen if you cloak your website.

  • Don’t forget your audience. With the above point being said, never forget that your actual intended audience is people – not search engine bots and spiders.

Always write content directed towards a person that’s going to read it. Make it interesting, informative, helpful, and productive.

Keywords are nice if you can get them in, and you should try to. But if a person finds your site awkward to read, the chances that they’ll be back are slim. And the chances that they’ll use your business, even slimmer.

There you have it.

Now you know everything you need to about proper online reputation management for your small business – why you need it, how to do it, tips to follow, and what to avoid.

Feeling overwhelmed by it all?

Many business owners do, or at least know that they simply don’t have the time needed to devote to ORM. If this is the biggest challenge you think you’ll find with ORM, a good marketing consultant can take over the task and get you the great online reputation you’re seeking.

Third Party ORM

There are many things that you’ll want to ask a marketing consultant; but when you’re focusing in on online reputation management practices, or if you’re hiring a consultant for this task alone, there are a few very important questions you want to ask.

The answer to these might tell you more than just about anything else you could find out about the consultant or their firm.

  • How do you monitor brand mentions? Again, you can only know what people are saying about you and your company if you have a way to track it, and that’s exactly what monitoring brand mentions means. Google Alerts, Yahoo Alerts, feed readers, any of the tools discussed previously in this report are fine.

Just make sure that your consultant is using at least three of them.

  • Will you report on your tracking results; and can I see a sample report? You want to know that after all the ORM practices are put into place and starting to work, that you’ll have a report in writing from the consultant to show the exact results. Making sure that you see a sample report ahead of time will ensure that the consultant actually does provide them; and that you like the way they’re done.
  • How often will I receive a report? You want to be kept in the loop of what’s happening with your ORM, but you’re also hiring a marketing consultant so that you don’t have to deal with it all the time. Typically, once a month is fine for a general report if the consultant is taking over responding to bad reviews and general comments. Otherwise, you’ll need to be notified of those right away.
  • What is your approach to responding to positive and negative reviews? The last thing you want to hear is that they’d do nothing. The best thing you could hear is that they’d handle it exactly the way you would.
  • How do you respond in comments to reviews? Again, you want to get a feel for the consultant’s thought process and whether or not it will properly represent you and your company. If you truly don’t feel comfortable letting a consultant handle the actual response to comments, handle this part yourself.

If however, you really are just looking to unload as many ORM responsibilities as possible, make sure that courtesy and respect is their priority. From there, it should be all about making the customer or visitor happy.

  • What is your process when handling reviews and comments? This is different than asking how the consultant will respond to comments because it deals with the order of events – and those could be important.

Will the consultant respond, and then send you both the initial concern as well as the reply? Or will the consultant send you the comment and a pending reply first, and wait for approval? Either are fine, as long as you’re comfortable with it.

  • Do you simply monitor existing reviews and comments; or will you help us build new, positive ones as well? This is an important one. Remember, ORM is all about building up the good and taking down the bad. Continuously adding new, positive reviews is an essential practice in effective ORM.
  • What services do you provide as part of an ORM campaign? Will they simply provide the initial analysis, to tell you where you currently stand? Or will they do the analysis, as well as help eliminate and reduce negative reviews? Will they write blog and website content for you, or will you have to hire someone else for that?

Simply ask this one question, and you’ll get the answers to all the rest – and know if that consultant can provide what you need.

  • What information will you need from us before we get started? This one is really just a time-saver more than anything. The consultant may need your Facebook login information, your Twitter username and password, and a number of other details so they can work on your online reputation for you. Knowing what they’ll need will help the process get started that much quicker.

Conclusion

Managing your online reputation may seem overwhelming at first, but it is important.

If you’re not already managing what people are saying about you, the chances are good that someone already is.

And not everything that’s being said might be the true reflection of the company that you’d like to see and hear. If you have to correct any issues when you first start managing your online reputation, it can seem like an even more arduous task.

However over time, you will develop a routine, and managing what people are saying about you online will become as natural and systematic as closing out the cash registers at the end of the day.

Know how important it is, and wish that you had the time it took to dedicate to a little bit of online reputation management every day – but still know that you just don’t? That’s what a good marketing consultant is for.

And when you find the one that’s right for your business, it will be just as though you’re doing it all yourself. You’ll just have more time for yourself.

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