When it comes to the overall online reputation of your business, dealing with customer complaints and negative reviews is important, but it is not the only element that companies face in the modern, connected world. In addition to proactive customer service, there are a number of steps you can take to establish a solid, well-established online reputation.
Why SEO Doesn’t Work
Many small businesses believe that the key to establishing and maintaining a positive online reputation is through search engine results, especially Google results. However, it is often difficult for many to understand and accept that they have very little real control over those results. Using SEO techniques can help promote websites and online content, but search engines regularly update their algorithms. Also, certain websites will feature prominently in your search results, regardless of any action on your part. For instance, if your business has a Yelp profile, it will most likely feature prominently in your search results. Instead of attempting to control search results and websites that are out of your control, it is better to focus on the elements you do have control over.
Establishing Your Business Online
The first step to proactively protecting your online reputation is to claim and clearly establish your business online. You already have a website, and most likely you have already created social media accounts, yet you should consider if there are any other domains and online accounts you should also proactively claim as well. This does not mean that you should create multiple identical websites and accounts in order to post the same content – this is considered spamming and can result in your accounts being deleted, as well as significantly damage your SEO. Instead, consider whether or not you should register the names of individuals and products that are prominently associated with your company.
Creating Second Level Domains
If your owner or CEO is a public figure or active in the community, consider registering his or her name as a second-level .com domain and setting up a Facebook and Twitter profile if those do not already exist. If your business offers a signature product, consider registering the name of that product as a domain or social media page. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to build additional websites or social media profiles – domains can easily be redirected to your website and most social media services do not require that an account be actively updated.
By registering these domains and social media pages, you can prevent a third-party from registering them instead and wreaking havoc on your online reputation, either by using them to attack or parody your business or by leveraging your existing branding online reputation to spam or deceive others. Be sure that every account you register contains consistent identification and branding, even if you choose not to actively update each one with new content.
Dealing With Your Employees
Next, be sure that your employees and/or volunteers, on all levels, are not misrepresenting your business online. It is an unfortunate fact that individuals can often damage their employee’s online reputation by associating the employer with their personal views and opinions on politics and other controversial issues. As an employer, you should not restrict or try to actively monitor your employees’ actions online, especially when they are off the clock. However, you can establish a policy that, unless an employee is specifically authorized to represent the company online, employees either cannot list your company in their social media profiles or must post a disclaimer that their personal views do not represent your company. Like all HR policies, such a policy must be uniformly enforced, cannot be used punitively, and any and all consequences of violating the policy must also be clearly established and applied uniformly. For more advice on creating and establishing a social media policy that is both legal and enforceable, it is advisable to consult a qualified HR professional.
Robust Content Marketing
Finally, and most importantly, the easiest and most effective way for a small business to proactively protect their online reputation is through consistent and robust content marketing. If an unsatisfied customer, a business rival or even a random online “prankster” begins attacking your online reputation, having bare and neglected blogs and social media accounts can look like indifference to a potential customer – it is like responding with silence. When you have a solid body of positive, engaging content online that can be easily found through search engine queries, that content will speak for your business and can effectively counteract complaints, bad reviews and other negative online postings. Good content, even older content that may simply be archived on your blog or social media accounts, can still be found by search engines, making it a great investment that may help bolster your online reputation now and in the future.