THE BLOG
11/12/2014 03:53 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

6 Steps to Successfully Managing Your Online Reputation

Almost every business is going to have problems with customers at some point. If you're proactive, you should be able to resolve most issues directly with customers before they become bigger problems. But when you're not aware of an issue or it isn't resolved and the customer is upset enough to want to vent and warn others about your business, the Internet enables them to do this with a very large audience.

When it comes to consumer decisions online, credibility is everything. Approximately 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from real people. Reputation management is now a key skill for any company with an online presence.

Below are 6 important steps to guide you in managing your company's reputation online.

Step 1: Create Your Own Positive Online Presence

Managing your reputation starts by claiming your free business listings on the major online directories and social media networks. There is no cost and you can share information that presents your business in the best light. You can also be sure you're in control of the official voice of your business on different outlets.

One of the great things about the big directories is that they tend to occupy a lot of the search results for your business name, pushing any potential negative reviews off the first page results.

Step 2: Add New Content to Your Social Media Profiles

If you start online social media profiles you need to ensure you update these with new content. Remember that these profiles are a reflection on your business and thus your reputation. You want to ensure they are current and show you in a positive light. According to Boostability, pro-actively asking your customers for positive reviews is an essential part of any online reputation management strategy. Often, people won't think to post positive reviews on their own accord, but will be more than happy to when asked. Also, positive reviews on your website is also a great way to generate quality content.

Step 3: Listen to What Others Are Saying About You

No matter how you do it, you absolutely must stay on top of what is being said about your business. Get started by setting up a Google Alert on your business name. If you want to scan more sources, there is a wide selection of online reputation management tools. With prices starting at a few dollars a month, these providers will not only track mentions of your business, but can report on sentiment for your brand online.

Step 4: Be Proactive, Not Reactive When Responding

There's a lot of advice available on exactly when to respond to negative public comments. Some public relations professionals advise not to respond publicly in most cases because your response can expand the distribution of the negative comments. On the flip-side there are also strong advocates of replying and using the situation to create a positive outcome.

Definitely don't respond if you're going to be aggressive, and never accuse a reviewer of being fake. Take time to calm down before responding. By addressing the comment in a timely manner and actively trying to remedy the situation you'll show potential customers reading the comment that you care about your consumers.

Step 5: Respond Professionally and Positively

In most cases responding to negative comments in a professional and positive manner can actually result in an overall positive experience and outcome. If you do choose to respond to negative or critical comments follow use these tips for the best results:

1. Acknowledge the issue or complaint by thanking the person for sharing their concern.

2. Empathize with the person, and explain that you understand their concern.

3. Ask what you can do to fix the problem.

4. Explain the steps that your business takes to provide the best customer experience possible.

5. Share the steps you are going to take to follow up, or look into the matter.

6. Offer them some incentive for giving you a second chance.

Even if the person writing the negative comments doesn't change their view, your well-crafted response shows others that you care about your customers and that you want them to have a positive experience.

Step 6: Promote Yourself

Promoting your business through an excellent SEO strategy on your website, social media, blog and other websites can help you offset any negative comments in two ways. First, the positive and optimized content can show up higher than the negative comments on search engine results pages. Second, most people realize that no business is perfect. If you have a dominant number of positive reviews among a few negatives, your chances of losing a potential customer from the few critical comments is much less than if the negative reviews were the only reviews published.

Today, businesses are more vulnerable to online attacks on their reputation than ever before. Taking proactive actions to optimize positive reviews and manage negative ones will help you minimize this vulnerability.

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