Michael Zammuto, President of Reputation Changer, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Small businesses and start-up companies face many obstacles, but foremost among them is the threat of an adverse online reputation. Indeed, when your company's name becomes bogged down in negative reviews and consumer complaints — or worse, defamatory accusations and reports of misconduct — it can sink your enterprise before it ever really gets going. According to the online reputation management professionals at Reputation Changer, however, there are some basic steps that small companies can follow to ensure that their online image remains clean and positive.
The following tips offer some battle-tested strategies for small business owners who are looking to insulate their brands from online attacks or simply from unflattering reviews.
Create a Profile at Completed.com
First and foremost, business owners should head to Completed.com to set up a profile for their company. The new social media site remains little-known to many individuals, but it is well on its way to becoming the next big thing in online reputation management. Reputation Changer has already made Completed.com the cornerstone of its social media endeavors, and we know that many other reputation defense firms are adopting it as well. For businesses looking to build an authoritative, positive online presence, Completed.com is an essential resource.
Completed.com allows businesses (and individuals) to showcase all of their achievements — whether it's the hire of new employees, the opening of a new office, or the close of a big business deal — and then broadcast those achievements to the world. Achievements logged in Completed.com are instantly shared via other social media channels — including Facebook and LinkedIn — and they are also compiled into a comprehensive overview of the user's accomplishments.
What makes the site a must-have reputation defense tool is that it is SEO-driven. A Completed.com profile adds immense value to Google, which means it tends to rank very high. As such, this is simply a peerless tool for companies wishing to create a positive online asset — one that will help keep any unwanted search engine listings or bad reviews at bay.
Sustain Daily Social Media Activity
After finishing a Completed.com profile small businesses should stake out their territories on as many social media outlets as they are able to maintain — including Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. The maintenance of these sites is key. Simply signing up for an account is not enough. What businesses need to do is cultivate a wealth of positive online content — which means daily activity is a must.
By sustaining this robust social media activity, companies can establish a positive online presence, something that will work to ward off negative search engine listings.
Social media robustness is not always enough to guarantee a solid online image, so companies should also start blogs. Start a blog with your company name in the domain — for example, if you company is called Ace Plumbing, register the domain aceplumbingblog.com, build it out. Blog as regularly as possible.
The benefits of having a business blog are numerous. For one thing, the blog serves as another positive digital asset — one that can be used to populate search engine results and therefore keep unwanted listings out of the public eye. Additionally, a blog focusing on industry trends and topics can help to establish your company as one of authority and expertise.
Avoid Responding to Negative Reviews
Most business owners know that they should never angrily or hastily respond to negative online reviews, but the prudent course of action is to never respond at all. Responding to defamatory and flat-out unreasonable reviews — as distinct from pieces of constructive criticism — can actually make things far worse for your company.
The reasoning? Responding to a scathing review means providing it with more visibility, more activity and more search engine traction. Additionally, since most online review sites, such as Yelp.com, refuse to delete even the most outlandish and erroneous of reviews, it is poor form to engage with malcontented consumers in this forum.
Make Quality a Top Priority
The quality of all social media and blog posts and all content made in the company's name is crucial. If your company is cutting corners, or outsourcing content creation to inferior vendors, it's not going to help you from a reputation management standpoint. The only way you are going to get high-ranking content is if you provide something that adds value to Google, and delivers real benefits to search engine users. Small businesses should strive to develop content that is informative and helpful to the end user, not content designed to manipulate the search engines.
And that, in a nutshell, is how small businesses can ward off reputational problems and online PR breakdowns: By working to establish themselves as authoritative and consumer-preferred brand. Work to develop online content that presents your brand as the brand of choice among consumers.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.