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A Crash Course In Online Reputation Management

star-03Business owners can only turn a blind eye to their online reputation for so long. Eventually, they must step in to monitor and optimize their reputation; otherwise, they leave themselves vulnerable to phony negative reviews, domain squatting, copyright infringement, negative SEO attacks by competitors, and a slew of other problems.

Reputation is basically the collective feeling, opinion and/or disposition the general public has towards a business. A decade ago, a business’s reputation was defined nearly entirely from word of mouth. When a customer had a positive experience with a particular company, they would encourage friends and family members to visit the establishment. On the other hand, customers who were treated poorly or had a negative experience with a company would tell their friends and family to avoid it.

Don’t get me wrong, word of mouth still plays a role in creating a business’s reputation, but it doesn’t hold the same weight as it did ten years ago. The recent growth of social media networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, combined with review sites like Yelp, Angies List, TripAdvisor, Google Local and Yahoo Local have opened up a whole new medium for consumers to share their experiences and opinions about businesses.

How To Monitor Your Online Reputation

Monitoring your online reputation is actually easier than most people realize. There are dozens of tools which allow business owners to keep tabs on what people are saying about their business. Using just a couple of the following tools can prove highly useful towards managing your reputation.

  • Google Alerts is one my personal favorite reputation management tools. Simply enter your brand name in the search query box and specify the email you would like Google to send the alerts to. When a new instance of your brand new is discovered online – whether it’s on social media, a forum, news publication, etc. – you will be notified via email.
  • Topsy is a powerful Twitter search tool that can be used for reputation management. Simply search for your brand name and it will reveal any tweets made about it. Are there disgruntled customers slamming your business? What about phony negative reviews? These are just a couple of things you should look for when monitoring your reputation.
  • Yahoo Alerts works in the same manner as Google Alerts. Once you sign up for the service and specify your brand name, it will be on the lookout for new content containing instances of your brand. It’s not quite as powerful as Google Alerts, but it’s still a great way to reinforce your reputation management efforts.
  • Google Reader displays RSS feeds containing your desired keyword or phrase, which in this case would be your brand name. If a blogger talks about your business, Google Reader will show you the RSS feed containing your brand name.

Dealing With Negative Reviews

After running a business for any serious length of time, you’ll eventually be faced with a negative review. Perhaps the customer wasn’t pleased with a product, or maybe it was the lack of service given. As a business owner, you must take a proactive approach towards monitoring such reviews, checking to make sure they are authentic in the process.

It’s oftentimes difficult, if not impossible, to verify the authenticity of a phony negative review, but there are some warning signs to look, such as a missing avatar (Yelp requires actual head shots), bad grammar, and information that’s totally inaccurate. Depending on where the phony review was posted, however, you may be able to remove it.

Remember, freedom of speech allows people to share their experiences and opinions about a particular business, but they can not submit reviews that contain false information with the purpose of damaging the business’s reputation. Even if the site rejects your request to take down the phony negative review, you may be able to seek legal action. Of course, this is something you’ll want to discuss with a lawyer.

Yelp states the following in regards to phony negative reviews: “We don’t arbitrate disputes, so your best bet is to contact the reviewer or post a public response in order to clear up any misunderstandings. If it is clear on the face of the review that it violates our Content Guidelines (e.g., the reviewer admittedly describes a second-hand experience or uses a racial slur), you can flag the review to bring it to our attention.”

Create Stronger Brand Awareness

Part of reputation management involves stronger brand awareness. By making your brand easier to find and more transparent, you’ll create a positive, professional image – not the mention the fact that it will likely bury past negative reviews deep in the search engines.

So, how do you create stronger brand awareness? Start by signing up for business accounts on all of the leading social media networking sites. You can do this either by manually visiting each site (which is time-consuming), or you can use KnowEm. I’m a huge fan of KnowEm, as it allows you to set up accounts on hundreds of the top social networking sites.