How to Build and Manage Your Online Reputation

Thanks to online maps and review sites like Google Places for Business, Yelp, and Yahoo! Local, in addition to popular social media tools like Google +, Facebook, Twitter, and FourSquare, there are many inexpensive ways to tell your prospects and customers what your business does, where you’re located, and what other customers think. Need proof behind the power of online word of mouth marketing? Recent research by advertising firm MDG indicates that 70% of customers use social media each month to hear the opinions of others. If the news they read about your business is good, you could be primed to lock in new customers, simply by leveraging the positive experiences of your already-satisfied ones. 

But what if you don’t please every customer—and they take their frustration online? That same research indicates that 45% of those who use social media to research a company discovered things online that caused them to change their mind about the business. Though you may not be able to win every customer’s referral, you can manage your brand’s image and reap the benefits of an online presence, by managing your online reputation. Here’s how.

Spread the positive news. 
Considering that 92% of those surveyed by MDG said they trust the online opinions and reviews they read, sharing customer testimonials can boost the likelihood that prospects will give your business a try. If you receive a note of thanks via email giving your business the thumbs up, ask the customer for permission to reprint their kudos on your website and other social media outlets. If you get rave reviews from customers on Twitter, publish them directly to your website by hovering over the “Tweet” with your mouse, selecting “Embed Tweet,” and copying the HTML code provided to your website. Form a template that you can send to established customers with a marketing promotion or coupon thanking them for their business, and ask them to share their experience on your Facebook, FourSquare and Yelp profiles (and include the links).  The more positive news your brand has online, the less vulnerable you are to a negative one.

Get automatic notifications when you’re mentioned. 
Set up a Google Alert using your business name as the search term and you’ll know anytime someone posts information about your business on a site that Google crawls. If you use TweetDeck or HootSuite, add your business name to the feed so you can easily spot information about your business posted on Facebook or Twitter. If can invest in online reputation management, sites like ReviewPush ($29/month) and Trackur ($27/month) monitor all activity related to your business on Google, Yelp, Foursquare, Yahoo, YellowPages, and more.

Respond quickly. 
If you do have an unhappy customer who makes his or her feelings known online, don’t let their bad feelings fester -- even if you don’t think you’re in the wrong. As soon as you notice the information, publicly respond to the person and apologize for the bad experience. If you have their contact information, contact them privately as well, and offer a solution that might remedy their bad experience. If you don’t have their information on file, follow their negative review with a request that they contact you privately for further resolution. Though many unhappy customers won’t wish to deal with you further, it shows the public that you truly make an effort to resolve issues. 

Know your rights.  
People can legally express their opinions, but they do not have the right to make false claims about your business or defame it. Keep tabs on what comes up in relation to your business name by doing periodic Google searches. If you find that something negative and false in regards to your business name, you can submit a formal complaint with Google, and potentially, work to at least hide the page results in a Google search so it doesn’t tarnish your image beyond repair.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned stay at home working mom, yoga instructor and freelance writer covering personal finance, small business,consumer issues, work-life balance and health/wellness topics for ForbesWoman, Minyanville , SheKnows, Mint , Intuit Small Business, Investopedia and several other online properties. She is also the founder of Wellness On Less and Om for Mom prenatal yoga. Stephanie wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.