There was once a time when you could have a bad day, justifiably lose patience with a customer, or unavoidably fail to deliver as promised, and those rare transgressions would be little noted nor long remembered. And anyone making it his life’s work to badmouth your business was readily identifiable and had to back up his accusations, meaning the occasional crank was easily recognized as such by the public.
Those days are gone. Now, thanks to Internet, every alleged flaw in your products, services, or business operations can be logged with anonymity and then recalled by everyone—indefinitely besmirching your organization’s reputation. What can a conscientious business owner do? Here are six relatively easy steps to help protect your brand from online mudslinging:
- Find out what people are saying. It may turn out that the Internet barely knows your company exists (that’s a different issue) but it could also be that nearly every reference to your business comes with a negative connotation. You really won’t know unless you do occasional web searches using different engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo … etc.) to find your company’s name. Helpful Tip: As you type your business name into Google Search, see how autocomplete tries to anticipate your next few words. If words like ‘rip-off,’ ‘scam,’ or ‘rude’ show up, then you have a big problem!
- Automate searches and alerts – The Internet never sleeps, but fortunately you have some tools available to keep watch over the Web even when you do. RSS feeds and Google Alerts can be set up to let you know anytime your company gets an online mention.
- Look out for impostors – Masquerading as someone else online is ridiculously easy to do. A virtual ‘doppelganger’ can call itself by any name it chooses and, by lifting a few online pictures, can present itself as anyone. You can make sure no one is passing himself off as your business by taking a few unique images from your company’s website or social media, and running them through Imageraider.com to see if they appear anywhere they aren’t supposed to be. Also www.knowem.com has a tool to let you know if your social media name is being used without your knowledge.
- Be the first, best source of your own information – Keeping your website up-to-date and filled with lots of client-pertinent information helps ensure its prominent place in search results. Construct your site to anticipate common inquiries by including pages for careers/jobs, locations, news, headquarters/contact information and coupons/offers/discounts. Also, a company news section or blog—with new content added frequently—will help keep your site at the top of search-engine listings, well above any potentially negative content.
- Don’t let negative publicity or complaints fester – When you see something negative about your company—possibly in an online review or even an interactive forum you set up yourself—respond quickly. However, you must take extreme care to be polite (no matter how unreasonable the charge) and make it clear that first-class operation of your business is top priority. You may not always be able to smooth the ruffled feathers of the complainant, but you can still impress others with your thoughtfulness. And if your business did make a mistake, own up to it.
- Make online reputation management (ORM) someone’s responsibility – Some things just have to be done—like cleaning restrooms or emptying garbage. The easiest way to make sure the necessary ‘housekeeping’ gets done is make ORM monitoring apart of the ongoing job duties of someone within your organization.
Nobody’s perfect, and where criticisms are justified, take them to heart and make corrections. As always, the best defense of your reputation is to be as good as you can be in all aspects of business operation. As long as you’re doing that, your risk of being widely maligned is relatively minimal. As for unhappy instances that still might arise, just remember: negative information might not ever go away, but it can be overwhelmed by enough good works to make isolated bad reports very insignificant by comparison.