How Small Businesses Can Manage Their Online Reputation

Small business owners face numerous anonymous threats in the Internet era. While keeping bullies, trolls and extortionists at bay online is similar to what you should do in real life, repairing the damage they can do to your business requires a different set of reputation management skills that make the online 'noise' they create disappear.

By Nathan Segal
Mon, November 12, 2012

CIO — Your company's reputation is one of your most important assets. As a business owner, one way to build your brand is with a strong business presence online. You can do this by posting articles, blogging, testimonials, videos and so on—all with links back to your business website.

Outside of building credibility yourself, there's another important facet of reputation management to consider. A disgruntled customer can easily file a complaint on a site such as The Rip-off Report, Scam Informer and other so-called "attack sites."

If you've built an online presence, you're lucky—such a report is likely to be far from page 1 in the search engine rankings, and it will be easy for you to mitigate the damage. But what happens if you don't have a strong online presence, someone files a complaint against your business and it winds up on the first page of search results?

First, take a deep breath. Second, be aware that this problem didn't happen overnight. It took time and it will take time to repair. Essentially, you have two options: Hire a reputation management service or repair the damage yourself. Before you begin, know that repairing your reputation is going to take a lot of work, and time, regardless of which option you choose.

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To find a legitmate reputation management firm, you need to do your due diligence. A good place to start is your circles of influence. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn connections should be able to offer good resources. Check all references carefully before engaging a firm. Beware of sock puppetry, or the practice of writing fake reviews that companies pay people to write (or simply write themselves under a fake name).

In addition, see if the firm has registered with a service such as IDhonesty, which verifies a business owner's identity and therefore increase his or her credibility as a reputable business.

You also need to know that these reports are unlikely to go away. According to The Ripoff Report, those reports never come down, even if the complaint is resolved. (That's a challenge unto itself—in many cases the people who post the report are anonymous, making it difficult to find out who they are and address the problem directly.) If that's the case, your only alternative is to bury the report(s) in the search engine rankings, as far back as page 5 or 6, making it unlikely for them to be found.

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