With the recent federal ruling against Apple in their e-books price fixing case, our attention turned this week to a company’s reputation – specifically that of the small business. Apple was expected to lose the case, which had failed to grab the attention of the average consumer, and has done relatively little damage to their brand and standing with customers. However, Apple has vowed to clear their name, which may have the unintended effect of keeping the case (and their illegal activity) in the public eye, and thereby staining their reputation. As James McQuivey of Forrester Research said recently to NPR’s Robert Siegel, “Apple’s name is fine and consumers aren’t mad about this. In fact, they barely noticed. So it’s time for Apple to move on.”
While Apple can get away with the occasional price-fix and P.R. faux pas, a small business owner does not have the same luxury. The smallest public relations misstep or negative review can set them back in a big way. Those kinds of issues are increasingly appearing online for small businesses through the various rating and review sites that are out there. As Pierre Zarokian, President of Submit Express said in a recent interview, “These days, anyone can go online and anonymously leave negative feedback or reviews about individuals or businesses. Sites such as Yelp, RipoffReport.com, Scam.com, Scambook.com, PissedConsumer.com, and ComplaintsBoard.com allow postings by anyone.” Once these reviews are on the web, and on such high-profile sites in search rankings, it can take an extraordinary amount of time and money to repair the damage done to a business’s reputation. The key is to protect your company reputation at all costs.
One way to protect your company reputation is to control as many sources as you can. As Reputation.com’s CEO Michael Fertik told Entrepreneur’s Gwen Moran, “…grab as much of (your) “Google real estate” as possible. That means reserving the .com, .net and .org versions of URLs and claiming identities on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and local review sites including Yelp, Google Places, Citysearch and Yahoo Local. You might also want to reserve URLs that pair the name of your business with pejoratives like ‘sucks.’” This simple step can help protect your online image from disgruntled employees or customers looking to damage your company’s credibility.
Another way is to stay on top of what is being said about your business. Since more and more of that conversation is happening online, it’s important to have as many tools at your disposal as possible in this effort. Fortunately, there are several free and easy ways to do so. In a recent Allstate guest blog posting, SurePayroll, Inc’s Scott Brandt outlined some easy ways to track your online reputation and catch issues as they come up: establish a Google Alert for your company name so you will be notified every time your company name or industry is mentioned, and utilize search engines (such as Google Blog Search and SocialMention) to track anything that’s being said about your company on blogs or social media platforms.
What can you do though when your company is hit with negative reviews on sites such as Yelp? While outreach to the offended party is the most recommended course of action, sometimes the intervention of an online reputation management service (or ORM for short) is required. Several of these companies have popped up in the past few years, and specialize in helping businesses fix their online reputation along with protecting your brand from future negative postings.
While preventing negative interactions through effective customer service and business techniques is the best way to prevent having to fix your company’s reputation later on, don’t despair if you find yourself in such a situation as those outlined in this article. There are solutions out there to get your company out of the online dog house and back into a prominent position as someone your customers can trust. Through preventative measures and making sure you’re using the best practices possible for your business, you can help make sure that you’re a respected company and one that your current and potential customers can trust.