Online Reputation Management Tips For Small BusinessIn today’s competitive environment, online reputation management is essential to every business and yet it remains one of the most overlooked areas of marketing. Whether you are aware of it or not, the reputation of your brand is likely being shaped online in the form of “Tweets”, ratings and reviews. Not taking control of the discussion can be disastrous.

In recent years, the Web has been transformed from a collection of largely static sites into what has become known as the “social Web”; a place where anyone with a computer and an opinion can have a dramatic effect on your business.

To understand how the social Web works, you must first become acquainted with its major components.

  • Although other social sites have stolen the spotlight in recent years, business and personal blogs are responsible for a large percentage of the online dialogues taking place on a daily basis
  • Ratings and review sites like Trip Advisor, Angie’s List and Yelp are popular destinations for people seeking information on businesses from virtually every business sector
  • Online communities often referred to as social networks, generate a great deal of content about businesses. They include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google +, and others
  • Many online yellow pages, or IYPs, as well as local search engine listings like Google Places also allow user generated reviews of businesses

With so many sources, monitoring what is being said about your brand (as well as where it’s being said, and by whom) can be a daunting task.

Fortunately, there are a number of applications and services that make the chore manageable. Depending on your particular situation, you may want to go with a free service like Google Alerts, SocialMention or the free version of HootSuite. These services typically work well enough for small businesses with limited financial resources.

For highly competitive businesses, there are a number of paid monitoring and engagement services including Radian6, Lithium, Attensity360, HootSuite Enterprise and others. They can get a bit pricey but may well be worth the investment, depending on your budget and unique needs.

Paid services offer a number of advantages over free services, as you would expect. In some cases, however, the amount of information they provide can cause you to lose focus on what really matters.

You typically want to focus on the overall perception of your brand. In reputation management, this is referred to as “sentiment.” Most paid services automate the process of determining the sentiment (whether positive or negative) of online comments about your brand.

In many cases, you can actually identify the individual who posted the negative comment or review and take actions to minimize the damage. If handled correctly, your response to negative comments and reviews can actually convert mudslinging critics into loyal brand evangelists.

One of the most overlooked aspects of online brand management is search engine optimization. You should make sure your business Website appears at the top of search engine results for queries about your company.

You should also have social media assets, including a Facebook fan page, YouTube and Twitter account and a business blog. These assets serve as forums where you control the conversation and can also help you dominate the search engine results, and drive any negative or erroneous content down on the page.

Tell your satisfied customers that you appreciate positive reviews, but do not engage in spamming. In other words, don’t coach your customers on what to say and don’t request that they give your business a 5-star rating. Search engines and users can spot spammed reviews a mile away and they dismiss them as worthless.

In fact most experts agree that having all 5-star ratings in Google Places can actually cause your listing to rank lower in the results than having a more natural appearing mix of 3-, 4- and 5-star ratings.

With the explosion of the social Web, online reputation management is no longer optional; it’s mandatory for just about every business, large or small.

And as with most things, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. To find out what works for your business, you can begin by using Google Alerts or another free service to get an idea of what your exact needs are and then adjust your activities and financial investment accordingly.

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