Has someone smeared your reputation online?

What will happen if your clients, prospective clients, vendors, partners, reporters, or peers search for you online and stumble across this kind of negative information?  What kind of impact will this have on your business?  Safeguarding your online reputation is now more important than ever with search engine features that show negative information about you to anyone who happens to be searching for you.  Do you know how to find out what is being said about you online?

Google autocomplete

Google’s autocomplete search feature gives exposure to negative information by actually suggesting negative search phrases that garner enough search traffic.  This feature is intended by Google to help people find the information they are looking for without having to type in the entire search phrase.  For example, if you start to type [texas], Google will suggest searches for [texas roadhouse], [texas lottery], [texas rangers], and [texas workforce commission].  If negative search phrases involving you or your business garner enough attention, Google will begin suggesting this search when somebody starts typing a search phrase to look for you by name.  The autocomplete feature makes it more important than ever to have a reputation management plan in place.

Reputation monitoring

A solid plan for reputation management begins with monitoring what is said about you.  The challenges here are monitoring the right places and doing it consistently.  What the right places are for you will vary based on your business and industry.  Frequently this involves monitoring the top search engines, local business properties like Yahoo Local, Social Media properties like Twitter, and perhaps certain forums as well.

Responding to negative information

Once negative information is identified, your reputation management plan provides guidance on how to proceed.  For each kind of complaint, criticism, or piece of negative information that you find online, decide on your best course of action.  For customer reviews you need to respond directly.  For liability reasons, you may need to be very careful of how you respond to negative reviews if the complaint is indeed legitimate.  However, you can and should respond to the complainer with a simple message that directs them to a way to resolve their problem offline.  Your primary customer service work should be handled directly with the customer in a private setting, not in the public eye as in an online forum.

Having an online reputation monitoring and management program in place is just good business.  To borrow, and re-phrase, a line from the old Amex commercial “Don’t do businesses without it.”

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