by Mike Zammuto, President of Brand.com
The Internet has been likened to the Wild West, and it’s not difficult to understand why. On the Web, people can say or do whatever they want, without accountability of any kind; for example, a consumer or a rival company can make all kinds of defamatory remarks about your business, and there is little that you can do to see justice done. But if the Web is something like the Wild West – with abundant threats to your online reputation – there are some ways in which small business owners can proactively protect and regulate their online image.
Here are four of the most common reputational threats that small business owners face:
Online review sites are both a blessing and a curse – a blessing to consumers, perhaps, but a real headache for many small business owners! The fact is, some 90 percent of online consumers now use search engines and review sites to find information about products, services, and brands – and the reviews posted to sites like Yelp.com do not necessarily have any basis in fact or in reality. As such, a defamatory review can come at any time – posted by a rival company, a disgruntled employee, or simply a consumer who had a bad experience with your business – and they can wreak havoc on your small business’ online image.
How can you combat this? There is nothing you can do to prevent bad reviews from happening, but you can work to ensure that you have plenty of positive reviews out there, augmenting and perhaps even suppressing the negatives. Make sure your best customers have easy access to your online review profiles, and ask them to help you by providing you with some feedback.
Say that your company is called Red Barn Landscaping. It’s going to be pretty embarrassing if your company fails to own RedBarnLandscaping.com, especially if a rival company seizes that domain and redirects traffic to their own website! There is an easy way to prevent this from happening, and it is to simply ensure that you have locked down all of the domains associated with your business. Head to GoDaddy.com and buy the domains for the .com, .net, and .org identities of your brand; this should only cost somewhere around $20 per domain, and can prevent major embarrassment and confusion down the road.
Social Media Blunders
Would that we had a nickel for every time a company – or a celebrity, or a politician – made a spectacular PR blunder through a poorly-worded or ill-conceived Facebook update or tweet. This kind of thing happens all the time, and it goes to show that some of the direst reputational threats are those that come from within. Make sure your company has a set, written social media policy, and that the person updating your social media sites is someone who understands your brand identity and company goals.
Final threat to your company’s online reputation is simple anonymity. What if a consumer tries to search for your brand and finds that there’s just nothing there? Or what if your company doesn’t make the first page of search results, when someone searches for keywords related to your industry? This is the kiss of death, but you can ensure online visibility for your small business without having to resort to SEO gimmicks. Invest some time in blogging and distributing press releases, and as you inundate the search engines with substantive content, your visibility will grow!
The bottom line is that online reputation threats are plentiful, but there are some basic actions your brand can take to insulate and protect itself.
Mike Zammuto is the President of Brand.com. The company provides services for online reputation management, which in turn gives people and businesses full control over their online search results.