managing your online reputationWord of mouth, is still as important to building your business as it has ever been. Word of mouth, however, has come to take on an entirely new shape with local reviews so readily available online. Although consumers do still share information about companies, they now use social media and other electronic communications to share this information and every business needs to be aware of this. When someone posts information about a company online, bad or good, it can quickly reach consumers who have never heard of the business. When it comes to building your brand, managing your online reputation at all times is essential.

Local review sites now act as the Yellow Pages of the past and influence the majority of purchasing decisions. When you are monitoring your business listings, you can quickly react to negative information and learn what it is customers are searching for when they come to your site. Although your search engine optimization efforts may be paying off and you may be moving to the top of the search engines, you want to ensure you are doing so for the right reasons and not because others are posting so much negative information about you. How do you go about monitoring local citations and keeping track of what others are saying about your company? A number of techniques may be used and here are a few to get you started.

Start by doing a simple Internet search to understand where your company currently stands. Try using a variety of search terms, incorporating your business name into each search. Doing so allows you to get a baseline reading, to see what others are saying, what you are doing right, and where changes need to be made. Take the time to try variations of the spelling of your company name as consumers don’t always worry about spelling when doing a simple search. You’ll need to log out before doing this search also, as the search engines will naturally deliver personalized results, skewing the results to be favorable, and make sure you repeat this step with a variety of search engines to get the full picture of what others are saying.

Use tools to monitor online mentions in the future. Google offers a feature that will alert you when your business is mentioned in the future in blogs, online publications, and reviews. In addition, you can set up alerts for when your business is mentioned on Twitter. Ones to consider using for this purpose include Twendz, TweetDeck and Social Mention and TweetBeep are great resources to help track online mentions and there are many others. Find alerts for each site which frequently mentions your company name and keep on top of them at all times. Doing so allows you to react quickly to negative information to minimize damage and also gives you a better idea of where customers think you are excelling.

Once you understand what is being said about your company, now you need to begin managing your online reputation. The first step to take is to claim any local search site listings, most of which are free. When you complete the profile on these sites, your site appears more readily in search engine listings. You’ll also want to spend some time reading what is being said on social network sites and in other locations, using the alerts mentioned above. Your goal here is to identify any patterns and see where changes need to be made.

Many business owners respond to online reviews and comments in the heat of the moment, which tends to be a big mistake. Read the information posted carefully and step away. See if the consumers have valid complaints. If they do, changes need to be made. This is your chance to interact with consumers and engage them, yet you don’t want to do so when angry. Respond to the concerns in a timely manner, but only when you can do so in a courteous and thoughtful way. When a customer has a legitimate complaint, acknowledge it and let consumers know of steps you plan to take to avoid similar problems in the future. Be polite and honest at all times and consumers will respond positively.

Advertise. Doing so gets your brand name out there and you control what the ad says so you can ensure the message is positive. Furthermore, when you advertise, you can see how consumers respond to different messages by tracking page views and responses to various promotions. This gives you a better idea of what consumers like and want from your company and also where you are wasting your money, both good things to know.

If you find you are still struggling in this area, don’t hesitate to take advantage of a professional service, one specializing in online reputation management. Your online reputation is of great importance. Take whatever steps are necessary to protect it, even if it means calling in outside help. You can’t afford to fail in this area.