One of the biggest mistakes any small business owner can make is to believe they don’t need to engage in online reputation management, just because they run a small business. Nothing could be further from the truth. The very fact that you run a small business makes it all the more imperative to manage your online brand image for two reasons:
1. Customer referrals are the lifeblood of all small businesses
2. You don’t have the luxury of a large marketing budget to control negative reviews or restore a damaged reputation like a large business can.
Here are a few reasons why online reputation management is essential for businesses of all sizes.
ONLINE SEARCH: The massive growth in online media and the rapid decline in offline media has made it necessary for small and large businesses alike to change direction and focus on their online image. More and more people the world over look for information on just about everything from the web and this applies to data about your local business. Your target market is more apt to look for your business online through a Google, Yahoo, or Bing Search rather than leafing through a Yellow Pages Directory book.
SPEED: The speed at which online media operates can make or break your business in a matter of minutes or hours. A viral tweet, video, blog post, or status update can be viewed by thousands if not millions of people in a day, creating a much more powerful effect in a shorter time than any traditional offline media. Even a small local news story can be broadcast across the nation with a YouTube video. If the news story was positive, a small business can get a lot of positive PR and increased sales, but if it was negative, it could destroy the company. Plus, we all know that bad news spreads faster than good news.
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: Online media is mostly a fair playing ground for both small and large businesses, so any business, no matter its size, can get exposure, criticism, and accolades on the internet. This means that even small companies cannot afford to ignore online reputation management because the internet has made the world so much of a smaller place. The emphasis placed on local search by dominant web players such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, and others, has given more power and opportunity for small businesses to grow their presence online. Yet this increased awareness has also made it critical for any small business to know how to handle the enormous public exposure and scrutiny that is part of the package.
E-COMMERCE: Ecommerce has made it so much easier for small businesses to grow beyond their town or city locale to nationwide or even international markets. Online shopping carts and payment processors have made this all possible, meaning that as a small business engaged in e-commerce, managing your online reputation is crucial to protect your online sales. Negative reviews about your products, services, and customer service can damage your online purchases, which can certainly be detrimental if your small business makes more money from e-commerce than in-store sales. Also, when you consider how certain towns, cities, and states have had weak growth in the current economic recession, e-commerce can be the lifeblood of a small business trying to survive.
SOCIAL PROOF: One of the biggest social phenomenons of e-commerce is social proof. Do you know that an overwhelming majority of surfers do not trust advertisements but instead trust endorsements and reviews from people in their social networks or ordinary people like themselves? This is what makes consumer review sites so accessible and how it is so easy to convince a new client to do business with you once they have read positive reviews about your company. Therefore to protect your online reputation, it is essential to know what people are saying about your business because this is the single most important influencing force behind potential clients purchasing decisions.
ONLINE SEO: What many business owners fail to understand is how permanent a footprint bad publicity leaves on the web. Once the content has been published on a website, indexed by the search engines, and shows up in the search results, it is tough to have that content removed. It is not as easy as telling Google to remove the offending page because they have no power to do that. It often involves contacting the webmaster of the blog or site where the content was posted and trying to convince them to delete the content, make the page invisible to search engines, or remove the page. This is often quite difficult as they have ownership rights over the site. Even if you resort to legal measures and they eventually remove the content, it is still tricky for that content to get totally off the internet radar, mainly if the content was widely circulated or went viral. Online content is very sticky and something that happened many years ago can haunt your business reputation for many years to come