You may not care about politics but politics cares about you.
" is an old saying that also applies to social media and the Web.
Even if you are a small business, social media users are increasingly likely to talk about your business online. More and more, users are conversing on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and others about products and services. Although you can ignore these conversations, there's one inherent risk with this: Your online reputation can have a significant impact on your offline business relationships. What makes this particularly troubling is that social media sites, blogs and forums can often rank well in Google -- perhaps even higher than your own website. Imagine a prospective customer searching on Google for your company or product and landing on a discussion of your business online. An important conversation that impacts your business. One that you'd likely want to at least participate in.
Why would anybody talk online about a biotech patent attorney or a niche-market enterprise software company? Most small businesses are not important enough to be referenced in social popular, mainstream social media sites. But it's not only about Digg or top-ranking blogs. There are many social media sites that are based on on User Generated Content (UGC) -- their goal is to attract discussion and debate on a specific topic or industry.
Consider popular sites like:
- Bizrate and other so called shopping search engines, the let users rate products and shops
- Tripadvisor and similar let users rate hotels, restaurants and local businesses
- Wikipedia has entries for most companies, international corporations entries always have a "criticism" part
All of these sites are featured very prominently in Google search results for related search terms. Shopping search engines rank well for product results where users review them. Tripadvisor reviews are used to determine the importance of a hotel and it's position in local search results which appear above the other Google search results. The more reviews, the better. Wikipedia ranks in the Google top 10 for almost any query so it is very likely that the Wikipedia entry will be found near or even above your company website.
This is of course only the tip of the iceberg. You can't control all the websites out there but there are little helpers and some professional solutions too.
To start out use
Technorati tracks weblogs for the terms relevant to you, Google will notify you when instances of your keywords appear on Google results but also Google News or Google Blogsearch.
If you want more check out these services as well as this larger list that includes also other tools for reputation management beyond monitoring.
Monitoring your online reputation is of course not enough, you at least need to manage it. Managing online reputation means:
- Monitoring search results and social media for mentions of your company or product
- Timely (and appropriate) reaction to criticisms and issues
- Publishing your own take on your company via different media like blogs, press releases, UGC sites
You should resist the strong temptation to automatically defend your company online when you receive criticism. If you do respond with truthful and objective information, you should make clear your affiliation with the company. Most small businesses struggle with managing their online reputation. When they notice their brand being under fire they often resort to tactics of
subduing the original messages
. These methods in most cases backfire!
Do not try to squash the conversation.
Trying to sweep things under the run is not an effective way to manage your online reputation. The issues will reappear again and again.
If you want to read more about reputation management try this free guide from 2006 .
Note: This article was written primarily by a freelance writer who is an internet marketing and social media consultant.