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As we’re fully emerged within the digital age, most of our needs are met through online search. We rely on Google to dictate where we’ll go for dinner, what dentist to use and what outfit to wear on Saturday night. Not to mention, it’s a valuable source of  entertainment. For a company’s success, it’s not just about ranking highly within Google’s search results, but it’s also critical to know what terms are being associated with your brand within these listings.  After all, a simple Google search may expose a host of negative reviews from unhappy and dissatisfied customers. This type of publicity could prompt potential customers to reject your services and drive that business right to your competitors. Due to the power of Google, it’s more important than ever to understand and manage your online reputation.

A company’s online reputation refers to their overall presence online. Anywhere a business’s name appears online – on social networks, in blog articles, on news sites, and even within competitor’s websites – effects a brand’s online reputation. One of the most important influences of online reputation are the keywords returned alongside search results. For example, look at Google’s suggested phrases for the search of “Brett Favre.” His sexting scandal, which came to fruition in October 2008, is still impacting his online reputation.

Ideally, following a Google search for your company name, nothing more would present itself than a list of traditional search results:  your website address, contact information, Twitter handle, Facebook profile, and depending upon your line of business, a LinkedIn profile or Yelp account. Many, however, face a completely different situation: one search unlocks a series of negative feedback, critiques and criticism. And, it’s not only businesses that need to manage their online reputation; studies have shown that 78% of employers search their applicants, and 86% said a positive online search results influenced their decision to hire. Now, more than ever it’s important for everyone to be aware of what Google says about their character.

Depending on the severity of the crisis, businesses may opt to use an online marketing agency to rebuild their reputation. These agencies focus on marketing the positive work and accomplishments of their clients in order to diminish the rankings of negative reviews in search results. In time, these negative comments are, in turn, replaced with positive reviews.

However, small business owners may not have the option of hiring a professional firm to oversee their marketing. Rather, their reputation management is left in their own hands. But, how are business owners expected to juggle both running their company and managing their online marketing efforts? Fortunately, there are a variety of resources which make tracking your online identity more feasible.

One of the most convenient systems is to establish a Google Alerts account. Once you set up an “alert,” these are the phrases/brand names you’d like to monitor, you’ll receive email notifications whenever Google indexes a website or news alert containing this terminology. From this, you’ll be able to gauge the press you are receiving. Should you encounter a negative review address these concerns first-hand within the commentary section of the site it was written, or write a response about it on your company’s blog. Ideally, you’d employ both of these tactics. This helps reach a larger audience and demonstrates your company’s willingness to discuss the issue to help identify a resolution.

Open interaction with your customers may be the most influential method of managing your online reputation. On social networking sites, fans and followers frequently post comments and critiques to companies’ profiles. If you find a damaging critique of your company posted on your Facebook wall, discuss it, and address the reviewer’s concerns fully. If your company was wrong, admit it. Take responsibility, apologize, and if possible – offer them an incentive to continue to use your services.  As this dialogue is public for all to see, being transparent is the best strategy to follow. People can sense when a company is attempting to sidestep or place blame for their issues, and often times they are quick to forgive when they don’t feel deceived.

Alternatively, if you discover that your company is being falsely accused, discuss it. Provide the facts as you know them and avoid arguing. The key is to respond to your customers who raise concerns. Not responding is the equivalent of openly ignoring.

These social networks can also serve as platforms for building brand awareness and providing value to customers, all necessary ingredients for a positive online profile. Provide your followers and fans with special offers, inform them of newsworthy events, and most importantly, communicate with them. If you are asked a question via Facebook or Twitter, respond immediately. This will encourage your customers to return to your accounts in search of deals, information and advice. By providing incentives your customers will also sing your praises and help increase your referrals.

Overall, the key to establishing and maintaining a positive online reputation is by providing great service. By interacting with your customers, providing information requested and offering unparalleled customer service, the chances of developing a negative online reputation is scarce. However, should you find yourself plagued by a negative review, take responsibility and bring the issue to light. In the end, we all make mistakes. Hopefully yours doesn’t have to follow you around on Google forever.


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