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Protecting your small business's reputation online: 5 tips for getting ahead of any problem

·4 min read

Down the street from me is a little breakfast place that my wife and I used to frequent, but after a while we stopped going there, for two reasons. First, the food seemed to be getting increasingly mediocre and, worse, we saw a local news report that the city’s health inspector had given the place a failing grade.

Yuck.

Local websites were filled with negative comments, and so we weren’t surprised when the place closed down soon thereafter.

The good news (or so we thought) was that about four months later the place reopened with a spiffy new coat of new paint and a new name.

We decided to try it out. Imagine our surprise when the same owner greeted us at the door. It turned out that the business's online reputation had gotten so damaged that it had no choice but to hit control-alt-delete and reboot.

It was a radical solution to a problem that all businesses have to some degree: namely, how to protect their name, brand and online identity.

It all boils down to this: When you get bad press or bad reviews, you essentially have two options – ignore it or deal with it.

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Case study: What Tylenol can teach us

When someone tampered with Tylenol bottles in 1982 and laced them with cyanide, the company voluntarily and immediately took the product off the shelf and thereafter, invented safety caps and packaging/
When someone tampered with Tylenol bottles in 1982 and laced them with cyanide, the company voluntarily and immediately took the product off the shelf and thereafter, invented safety caps and packaging/

Here’s a famous example of how one company got it right: Back in the 1980s, several people died when someone had gone into some supermarkets and laced bottles of Tylenol with cyanide.

The onslaught of negative publicity would have crippled many companies, but the makers of Tylenol got proactive. They voluntarily and immediately took the product off the shelf, then invented safety caps and packaging. They turned what could have been a disaster into a lesson in brand management as Tylenol became known as a business committed to its customers and product safety.

Brand management is especially critical for the small business because if the name of our business gets sullied, we don’t have the resources that big businesses do to counteract the bad publicity. So the first lesson in protecting your brand is that these days, with social media being what it is, brand management requires a commitment and constant vigilance.

Not sure where to start? Here are the steps to take:

1. Know where to look

The number of places where someone can post negative comments is vast: Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Angie’s List, Google reviews, Next Door, blogs, local news sites.

2. Create a Google Alert (and more)

Through Google, you can create a keyword alert for your name or business. Then, anytime the search engine finds the keywords that are in the alert you created, it shoots you an email.

The key is to figure out the keywords that might match the potential complaints about your business. That isn’t always easy, especially because you don’t know ahead of time what sorts of complications cause consternation.

Additionally, sometimes Google Alerts don’t always work exactly right and alert you of all of the things that may actually be out there. So a regular search of the sites listed above is still in order.

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3. Take action

It is your job to find and root out those vocal customers who are so unhappy that they want to tell the world about it.

Be proactive and when you find an unhappy customer, discover what went wrong and be willing to correct it – even if it’s not your fault. Be humble. Fix it and then ask nicely if they would remove any negative review. Often, they will, but even if not, be sure to add your comment that you fixed the problem.

4. Hire a reputation management service

You don’t have to do this alone, and maybe you shouldn’t. That is why there are a host of reputation management companies out there that can help you.

5. Get some positive reviews and publicity

Let folks know the good things you do. Post them on your site and social. Publicize your community involvement, and perhaps most critically, ask for help. Get your happy customers to write positive online comments about your business. As these will be more recent than the old bad reviews, they may get found first in a search.

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Steve Strauss is an in-demand speaker, attorney, and the best-selling author of 18 books, including his latest,"Your Small Business Boom.” Named by SCORE as the top small business champion in the country, you can learn more about Steve and The Strauss Group at MrAllBiz.com, get more tips at Planet Small Business, and connect with him on Twitter at @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at PlanetSmallBusiness

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Online reputation protection: 5 tips for small businesses