The Internet has long been compared to the Wild West — where people can say or do more or less anything they want, often without consequence. Indeed, as a consumer, you can take to the Web to mouth off about any brand, product, or company, defaming and disparaging them and facing no real ramifications — even if your comments are devoid of truth. And while this level of freedom may be a boon to consumers, it is something of a terror for businesses and brands.
Indeed, the anything-goes nature of the Web means that even the most honest and reputable of companies can have their online image sullied at any moment. Online attacks can come from consumers, from rival companies or from disgruntled employees; they need not be based in fact, and the consequences can prove dire. In fact, given how many consumers use the Internet to base their purchasing decisions, the consequences of a bad online reputation can all but sink a small business!
Below are four particular threats to watch out for — along with some tips on warding them off.
We will begin with the most obvious threat that companies face — negative reviews on sites like Yelp.com, TripAdvisor, and even Google+. These reviews are increasingly influential in consumer behavior, which means that even a lone bad review can lead to lost customers and diminished sales. And again, there is no law saying that a review has to be factual or constructive — so no company is ever totally safe from the threat of bad reviews.
The best way to deal with unreasonable reviews is actually not to respond at all. Sites like Yelp do not intervene to remove reviews that are demonstrably fallacious, so engaging with your defamer will likely amount to very little — except to draw more attention to the review in question. The better approach is for small businesses to be proactive in soliciting positive reviews from their best clients; by building a big pool of positive reviews, you can insulate your brand against the ill effects of bad publicity.
You may remember a recent incident, in which celebrity chef Guy Fieri was beset by an online reputation nightmare of his own. It seems that the chef did not own the online domain that was associated with his restaurant — so somebody else snatched it up, and used it to launch a vicious parody site, attacking Guy’s cooking and his personality.
Doppelganger domains can cause huge embarrassing. If your company is called AceWidgets, and your closest business rival snatches up AceWidgets.com in order to shame you or to post negative, nasty content, the damage done can prove severe. Ward it off by buying all of your exact-match domains — .org, .net, and so forth. Even if you do not actively use them, you can have peace of mind from knowing that they cannot be used against you!
In fact, you may not wish to stop with the domains linked to your company name. It may also prove helpful to insulate yourself against attacks on your key executives, and any branded products you offer. Buying up these domains is a powerful and inexpensive way to keep your name safe and clear!
Some of the worst threats to your online reputation can come from within — say, from an employee or team member who goes to update his personal Facebook page, mistakenly logs into the company Facebook account instead, and posts something embarrassing to the corporate account. This happens all the time — even among Fortune 500 brands — and once an unwanted comment is out there, it is impossible to reel it back in. Avoid this by making sure your corporate social media accounts are all very strongly password-protected, and also make sure that you do not leave social media responsibilities to interns or to brand new employees.
In recent years, many Better Business Bureau locales have begun posting consumer complaints online — a handy thing for fellow consumers, perhaps, but another grave danger to small businesses. There are really only two good ways to protect yourself against this danger — and the first is simply to make sure you’re offering superior customer service and delivering on all of your promises! Beyond that, create plenty of strong, high-ranking digital assets — including a business blog, positive reviews, and active social media pages, as well as a profile on Completed.com — to populate the first page of Google search results with desirable listings — hopefully keeping those BBB complaints at bay!
The work of online reputation management is never easy, and for small businesses, the threats are numerous. With that said, it is more than possible to protect your brand’s integrity. Know these common threats, and take every possible measure to avert them.