Managing your reputation in an increasingly digital world

More and more frequently, small businesses are finding their success influenced by online reviews, comments and interactions. This may seem frightening, like you are judged and pre-judged by a process over which you have little control. And that’s partially true.

Negative reviews in the public arena of Yelp or Angie’s List can hurt. By the same token, positive reviews and organic referrals can have a great influence on customers looking for you online.

The first thing you need to know is: what does your company “look” like online?

Is your website up-to-date and accurate? Make sure there are no typos or egregious grammatical errors. Be certain that the site gives customers the information they need, quickly.

What are people saying about you on other sites?

A simple Google search is a great way to start. Monitor your business’s Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Google Plus accounts regularly.  If negative comments are made about your business (or, for that matter, positive ones), odds are good that you’ll find it within one of these forums.

Should you engage an angry customer?

YES – but take care to use conciliatory language and quickly move the conversation offline.

Should you respond to a nasty comment or review if the majority are positive?

MAYBE—sometimes a private message and a sincere apology can result in a loyal customer. Arguing, however, is generally seen as bad form, and can add fuel to an already hot situation.  Even if you’re right, going toe-to-toe with a disgruntled customer is often a losing proposition for a business.

How quickly does your business show up on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo?

Your business should be easy to find, with accurate, up-to-date information on your website. Look at the websites that are number one in search result categories related to your business – what are they doing that you could do, too?

Many local search sites offer free business listings. You can usually control these by claiming your listing.

The best way to get good online reviews is to be great at your work. Excellent customer service, open-minded employees and genuine understanding and empathy when your customers feel wronged will go a long way towards improving your digital reputation.