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Online reputation is a big subject that’s only getting bigger. We have already seen in the last few years that having lots of positive reviews and feedback around your business can encourage business… and that, conversely, even a single bad review can damage it (big time).

With Google placing more and more trust in review sites, and local search becoming an integral part of the online marketing process, it’s only reasonable to think that reputation management will carry even more weight going forward.

So who is setting the tone for your online reputation?

This question has special meaning for us lately, as one of our clients is working to recover from the remarks left by a tiny number of disgruntled customers from years past (and possibly unscrupulous competitors). They are having to “clear their name,” so to speak, one day and one account/complaint at a time.

The bad news in this situation is that underwhelming reviews are affecting their business. The better news, however, is that there are steps this client (and you) can take to correct the situation:

1. Set up and Maintain the Right Accounts

The first step in establishing a positive online reputation is making sure you have accounts on the major review sites like Yelp, Google+, and any other review site that your customers or prospects might comment on. Doing so will allow you to provide accurate information, give you a place where satisfied customers can leave good reviews, and make it easy for you to monitor what’s being said about you online.

2. Be Active on Social Media

In many ways, social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn are the ultimate customer service portals. They make it easy for buyers to interact with you, get to know about your company, and ask questions, with the added benefit that satisfied buyers can publicly thank you and easily refer you to others.

3. Make the Most of Social Listening

Just being active on social media isn’t enough, though. To guard your reputation, you want to make the most of social listening. This practice involves setting up a feed of automated alerts that are triggered anytime someone tweets or posts about certain topics or keywords (for example, your company’s name or product brand names). With a little bit of smart social listening, you can keep a close eye on conversations taking place around your business and give insightful answers to questions when needed.

4. Respond When You Can

No matter how well you run your company, there are likely going to be occasions where someone is dissatisfied and posts something unflattering on the Internet. When that happens, it may make sense for you to respond (politely and respectfully, of course) so customers can see your side of things. In extreme cases, you may even be able to have inaccurate or obviously falsified reviews removed if you can demonstrate that the reviewer isn’t telling the truth or wasn’t actually a customer.

5. Be Proactive Instead of Reactive

Generally speaking, the best thing you can do to grow a positive online reputation is to simply be proactive instead of reactive. That means reaching out to your very best customers and asking them to say good things about you, and publishing the kinds of updates and blog post that let your customers know you want to share the best possible information with them. When there are lots of great things being said about you and your business, it’s very difficult for a few less than perfect comments to get any attention.

Google's own Reviews Guidelines and Tips for Businesses:

Business owner responses allow you to build relationships with customers, but they’re also public. When replying to your customers, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Be nice and don’t get personal. This isn’t just a guideline--it’s also a good idea as a business owner. It's difficult to win an argument with a frustrated customer, and you want to avoid burning bridges. Keep your responses useful, readable, and courteous. In addition, responses should comply with our local content policy.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Users are looking for useful and genuine responses, but they can easily be overwhelmed by a long response.
  • Thank your reviewers. Respond to happy reviewers when you have new or relevant information to share. You don’t need to thank every reviewer publicly, since each response reaches lots of customers, not just one.
  • Be a friend, not a salesperson. Your reviewers are already customers, so there’s no need to offer incentives or advertisements. Tell reviewers something new about your business, or share something they might not know from their first visit.

Your online reputation isn’t just a matter of being popular with customers or not – it’s the way new prospects and buyers see you when they search your name (or your company’s name) on Google or their favourite social media site. It’s up to you to encourage a positive tone for that message. If you don’t, you’ll be leaving the job to a vocal minority of dissatisfied individuals, or worse, competitors who want to see your business disappear.

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