Protect your online reputation

Imagine this: a small business owner sits down, logs onto the computer to do a search for their business name. Up comes this nasty complaint about their company on page one of Google.

"Oh, no! What happened?" he or she wonders, their mind racing back to the very upset customer that visited the store a few weeks ago. Even though the terms were clear and they waited too long to make their request, they still wanted their money back.

On the web, bad news travels much faster than good news. A bad online reputation negatively affects sales, customer relations, a company's brand, employee retention and even ruins friendships. With over 74 percent of the U.S. population regularly on the web, a good online reputation is crucial for business.

Complaint sites like RipOffReports.com or ComplaintsBoard.com have very high rankings. This means complaints placed on these sites come up very high in Google searches for company and brand names – even for names of key executives.

Upset customers have easy access to review sites or can set up a blog for free and then vent to the world. The big problem is that these complaints stay on the Internet forever. Sometimes legal action can get these removed, but this is rare. So what else can one do?

Monitoring

Every business should set-up tracking systems that will report anytime their name is used anywhere. Google Alerts is a free tool that sends an email any time they detect something new being posted about a business or any of its employees.

Responding

Don't just jump right in to counter negative postings. Start by taking a little time to watch and gauge the reaction. Criticism of your product should not bring a strong response or an argument. Instead, be concerned, be helpful and try and resolve the issue. Try and turn the situation around, perhaps turning someone who is a foe into an advocate.

Repair

One may not be able to erase what has been said, but can still take steps to minimize the damage. The goal should be to push damaging statements down in search result web pages, replacing them with positive information. Don't begin this step until one has finished with damage control and halted the appearance of new negative postings.

Start by settling on the exact phrase to be repaired. The key is to focus on a specific phrase, such as a company name. Using this exact phrase prominently in the title and in the body of the text in a series of articles, blogs, press releases, online videos and even Wikipedia articles will help repair a company's online reputation.

Business owners and executives can also hire an online reputation repair company that specializes in these types of campaigns. Expect to pay $3,000 to $10,000 – sometimes even more – for this kind of service.  

Having to watch and manage your online reputation is sometimes thought of as the dark side of Web 2.0. Reputation monitoring and management has become a way of life, not just for celebrities and public officials, but companies of all sizes.

Doug Williams is the founder of Vancouver-based website marketing and small business consulting firm Doug Williams and Associates.

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