By now, most small businesses know that whether they’ve created them or not, they have online reputations. Technology has again leveled the playing field, not only creating new opportunities to reach new markets and do business more competitively, but it has also made customers more vocal and more unified in judging how you do business,.
Paying attention to one’s reputation is nothing new for small businesses that have long relied on word-of-mouth in the community. But then it was more a matter of building one-on-one, face-to-face relationships through excellent customer service and problem resolution. Many small businesses figured out how to do this exceedingly well.
But now small businesses’ reputations are made or broken (or at the very least shaped significantly) by practically anyone with internet access. Customers can comment on your business online in any number of ways, both positively and negatively. And businesses have no choice but to pay close attention to the conversation and to have a “reputation management” strategy in place.
A story in USA Today says that “obsessive monitoring” of online reviews has become just a part of everyday business for many small business owners, a burdensome but necessary task and one that’s becoming even more complex as new social-media channels emerge. Opinionated customers are powerful and empowered. They’re posting reviews, comments and complaints on specific review sites like Yelp and Foursquare; every type of social media site, from Facebook and Twitter to Pinterest and YouTube, and even industry-specific sites like TripAdvisor.
But growing numbers of small businesses take managing their online reputations seriously and are very much in the game, too. Now there are all kinds of ways to approach it, from tools for doing it yourself to services you can outsource to, allowing business owners to save time, monitor multiple channels and respond more quickly than ever.
Outsourcing services – Netvibes.com, Reputation.com, ReviewTrackers.com and Trackur.com are just a few of them—monitor and compile all reviews and comments about your business. Some offer the most basic services or a “dashboard” free of charge. Premium services, typically offered on a monthly subscription basis, provide different types of analysis that can include advice on how to respond or proactively emailing requests for customer reviews.
The time and/or money you spend on reputation management will be well worth it. Current research can track increases in sales back to Yelp reviews, for instance, and says that 80 percent of consumers will reverse their purchase decisions based on negative online reviews!
But the benefits go even deeper. The feedback you get is essentially market research that has historically been out of reach for a lot of small businesses. And, there’s tremendous opportunity, even in negative reviews and complaints. Responding to problems not only nets you loyal customers, but doing it publicly multiplies the effect many times over. Just be careful with the message you are sending. You don’t want to have a public meltdown like the owners of Amy’s Baking Company recently had!
Whether you’re a reputation management veteran or are just getting started, Yahoo Small Business contributor Jonathon Stevens lists tips for businesses to follow for the rest of the year:
- Be proactive on social media.
- Do something good for the community.
- Be careful what you say.
- Create a blog for your business that is separate from your website.
- Monitor your key terms.
- Don’t respond to negative criticism online. (Some may disagree with this, but Stevens says this will produce the unwanted effect of pushing negative comments higher in search results. Instead, call or email the customer in question to follow up…)
Sooner or later, you may find yourself in a negative situation. But it doesn’t have to hurt the positive reputation you’ve worked so hard to build. On Trackur.com, business strategist Coretta Jackson suggests ways to minimize the damage:
- Plant good seeds. (If you’re already perceived as fair and ethical, most will give you the benefit of the doubt.)
- Respond quickly.
- Present your best self, always.
- Make sure your online and offline professionalism are aligned.
- Control your emotions.
- Continue monitoring closely throughout the situation and after.
- Share your perspective—honestly and positively—online.
- Choose every word carefully!
Stay tuned for the second part of our series, Reputation Management Wins and Fails later this week!
Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net