Is your online reputation killing your business?

It used to be so simple.

When it came to business, you said what you meant, did what you said, and as a result, people said nice things about you. Candor, honesty, and reliability resulted in a rock solid reputation.

But nowadays, your reputation is developed for you.

It’s not just about what you say and do in the business world, it’s about what others find out about you online. Those photos of you in college doing shots while attending your buddy’s 19th birthday party? Busted! And the last girls’ weekend in Las Vegas where you ended up dancing on top of the bar? Oops!

Let’s face it – the first encounter prospective customers will have with you is probably through your website or blog, as well as any other information they find online. Think Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Twitter, Angie’s List…

Professional or personal, it doesn’t matter. If it’s online, people WILL find it.

Do you know what they’re seeing? Or how you appear to them?

If not, it’s time to do some research!

Research Your Reputation

Do a Google search on your name (limit it to your industry if you have a common name) and your company’s name. What shows up is what prospects will see – and it better be good.

Do they see wonderful product reviews and customer testimonials? Reports of your community involvement and charitable contributions?

Or do they see questionable photos, rants by disgruntled former employees, and complaints by unhappy customers?

Damage Control

If the search engines turn up material that you’d rather customers not see (or even if they don’t), it’s time to clean house.

  • Visit all of your social media and networking accounts and remove anything you wouldn’t want to share with a potential customer.
  • Limit privacy settings on current accounts so only friends can access your personal content.
  • Delete any accounts that you no longer use.

If you find customer complaints online, try to respond to them in a positive and helpful way. You don’t need to delete them (your probably can’t, anyway), but you do need to respond in a thoughtful and mature manner.

  • Contact the customer directly to see how you can set things right – and then let others know what you’ve done to fix the issue.
  • Post answers or suggested solutions on the sites where the complaints are found.
  • Ask your social media followers how you can help them with any problems they may be having with your products or services.

Whatever you do, don’t get defensive or blame the customer. Believe it or not, I recently saw a company respond to a complaint on their Facebook page by saying “Clearly, you just don’t understand how this product works.”!

Build Your Reputation

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years, you already have some sort of online reputation (intentional or not!).

Be sure you understand what that reputation is, fix any issues (see Damage Control above), and then move forward in a purposeful way to build the reputation you want to have.

That doesn’t mean lie or put yourself forward as someone you aren’t – but be aware that everything you put online will impact your reputation so only say or do the things that support your business goals and desired reputation.

Social media is a good way to build your online reputation. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and other social media outlets reach a huge audience and help drive your name or business up the search engine results pages (especially Google+).

Use your name (or business name) and relevant key words in all of your online profiles, along with links back to your website. A consistent image and description across all online platforms helps drive your reputation.

Stay engaged. Conversations and great content keep your name and your reputation top of mind. Podcasts, photo albums, videos and webinars, blog posts, tweets – they all add up over time to create a picture of who you are and what you stand for. Make sure they’re painting a pretty picture!

Be professional. If you’re running a business, you can’t afford to share your personal opinions on every topic. Sure, be yourself with friends and family – just don’t put it all out there on social media, websites, videos, etc. Some people have made a business out of being controversial, but most of us can’t pull that off! Think of all the politicians and CEOs who’ve been forced to resign over a comment that got picked up on social media.

Maintain Your Reputation

Things in the online world can change in an instant. Search engine results flip-flop on a daily basis. Twitter broadcasts information to a huge audience with the click of a mouse. How do you keep up with it all?

To stay on top of what’s being said about you and your company, try Google Alerts. This free service notifies you by email whenever something meets the search criteria you specify (for example, your name, your company, your products). Social Mention is another free service that notifies you of any activity around your search criteria in the social media space (such as blogs, videos, and Tweets) and provides analytics around sentiment (how positive mentions are) and reach (your influence).

Knowledge is power. Without knowledge about how people are seeing you online, you don’t have the power to impact your online reputation.Click To Tweet

Now over to you – What are you doing to build, defend, and/or maintain your online reputation? Share in the comments below!

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