Online reputation management (ORM) is a “thing” these days. Never heard of it? Let me explain. As you know, your local business earns a reputation based on interactions with customers. For the longest time, that reputation spread via word of mouth and a few rating services like Zagat and the AAA. But in the digital age, reputation can spread like wildfire.

The New Age Of Opinion

Today, a host of electronic options allow customers to rave (or vent) about a business — including those that operate online and those with a local physical presence. If a customer wants to share their opinion about an establishment, they can jump on Google, Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List, Trip Advisor, etc.

These platforms have global reach. Anyone with an internet connection and a desire to find out about a business can do so. It’s commonplace for people to do research before deciding whether or not to do business with a company. That brings us to this question:

Do You Know What People are Saying About Your Business?

Bad news travels fast. Even if that news is wrong or exaggerated, negative reviews about your business can end up on page one search results. That’s why you want to be sure your local business is portrayed accurately. Just look at the data:

  • 92% of people do not look beyond the first page of any search results. – Moz Research
  • 80% of online reputation damage comes from a mismatch between the buzz and reality. – Digimind
  • 78% of US adults feel it is important to research a businesses before buying from them. – Harris Interactive

Like it or not, people are shaping your local business’ reputation online. And that reputation impacts anyone who searches for a company like yours and uses the results to decide where to go.

Improving Your Online Reputation — Five Things to Know

1. No one is immune.

Maybe you’re not online. Maybe you already have an excellent reputation. This doesn’t mean your local business is immune to damage from negative online reviews. Anyone can post anything with impunity. If you’re not proactive about boosting your reputation, the internet can turn against you in a flash. And if you don’t pay attention, the damage can continue for months before you discover it.

2. Set up alerts.

You don’t have to hire a full-time employee to take over your ORM. Instead, use automated tools to listen to what people are saying about your business. These tools are easy to configure and use and offer a range of capabilities. Once they’re up and running, you’ll receive reports every time your company is mentioned. I recommend Google Alerts, BrandMention and BuzzSumo.

3. Always respond.

Even “Best of the City” businesses get negative reviews. When that happens, overwhelm the bad with good. Make it a regular duty to respond directly every time your company is mentioned. Reply to every negative review and apologize. When you get a positive, accurate review, thank the reviewer. While you’re at it, be proactive about your reputation. Post your own content on your website and social media accounts so you show up first for prospective customers.

4. Ask for feedback.

Encourage customers to rate and review your company, both while they’re in your store and online. Ask that customers let you know if they have a problem. Most people will give a business the chance to make something right. As long as your satisfied customers are making their opinions known (and you’re responding to the dissatisfied ones), you’ll continue to attract business.

5. Know when to ask for help.

If you don’t have the time or desire to take on ORM, get professional help. Smart ORM companies can take over the burden of monitoring your reviews and help you respond to negative. You can also hire ethical feedback management companies to help you collect, moderate, and syndicate customer feedback. Just stay away from companies that promise only positive online reviews or that guarantee traffic, followers, likes, etc. Platforms like Google have algorithms that identify fakes and will deactivate accounts for propping up a reputation they was bought, not earned.

Engage The Digital Age

Even if you don’t have a website yet, your local business is online. A three-second Google search will show you what people are saying about your business — good, bad and everything in between. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on luck. You can take advantage of opportunity to boost your brand, improve your reputation and convert customers already looking for businesses like yours.