The Importance of Managing Your Online Small Business Reputation

Reputation Management of Your Online Small Business

One of the most important assets of any small business is its reputation – stakeholder opinion can be a driving force when it comes to establishing the value of your brand in the marketplace. As consumers continue to enjoy unlimited access to information and unprecedented freedom of expression online, it seems that Reputation Management strategieshas taken on a heightened level of importance for small business owners. What is “Reputation Management” and how important is it to your small business? What is involved and can small business owners manage the process themselves?

What is Reputation Management of Your Online Small Business?

Have you ever “Googled” yourself? Using a search engine such as Google has become the universal way to perform research on a person, product, service or company. The results of these searches are the foundation of Reputation Management. More and more, your small business identity is being established through online content. What is written and/or posted by you or others in websites, news, press releases, blogs, social media, etc essentially defines your small business.
Reputation Management strategiesis the process of identifying and managing your online content. In an Internet Duct Tape guest blog post, Tim Nash, a reputation management strategiesconsultant and co-founder of Venture Skills, defines the three basic areas of Reputation Management strategiesas:
  1. Finding out what people are saying about you
  2. Creating a persona or brand image
  3. If needed, defending this image
The scope and nature of your online identity is becoming an important way of defining your small business. Right or wrong, true or false, what you or others (clients, employees, competitors, etc.) are saying about your small business online will affect your reputation.   

The Importance of Reputation Management of Your Online Small Business

“Reputation management strategiesis particularly important to small businesses,” says Aerial M. Ellis, Owner of Urbane Imagery, an urban marketing strategies and public relations firm located in Nashville, TN. “I’ve seen it become a very important component to building public relations strategies for several clients. Because small businesses are heavily reliant on word-of mouth and return customers to impact their revenue, the mismanagement strategiesof their image can be crucial; ultimately the consumer determines the business’s reputation.”
Reputation Management of Your Online Small Business

Reputation Management of Your Online Small Business

Managing your reputation has always been important - “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it...” (Warren Buffet). Nancy Williams, Managing Director at Tiger Two Ltd., a U.K. based online reputation management strategiesfirm, feels that “your reputation is what makes you succeed or fail as a small business - with the internet permeating every aspect of business (and social life) it is even more important to be managing that reputation both online and off line.”

Managing the Process of Your Online Small Business

Assessing your identity, building your personal brand and managing your reputation online can be a very involved process. Some of the components include:
  • ongoing search engine research
  • website development
  • search engine optimization
  • blogging
  • participating in social networks
  • posting articles
  • issuing press releases
Laura Marshall, Senior Manager of External Relations at Lumetra, a health care consulting organization located in San Francisco, CA, defines the online management strategiesof your small business reputation as “a daily scan of blogs, news, and other online information to see what people are saying about you.” She adds that, in addition to what is being said, it’s important to note the source of the information and “how likely their words are to get picked up by others.” Marshall elaborates that a post on a popular online news site “may hit the national media” where a post from an individual blogger may not have as great an impact.

Hiring Out of Your Online Small Business

As a small business owner, you may not have the time or staff resources to take on the challenge of Reputation Management. “Online reputation management strategiesisn't just a matter of setting up a blog and occasionally spending time on a discussion forum,” says Nancy Williams, “It is an ongoing and strategic process which requires constant review and action.”
Williams also notes that it can be feasible and “often more effective” for small business owners to manage their online identity but adds that “guidance to ensure that the time is being spent well in respect to the aims of the business owner is pretty important.” Depending on your needs and budget, there are different companies and individual consultants that can help manage your online identity. 
One thing to remember about managing your reputation online is that it’s impossible to remove all traces of negative press. A good Reputation Management strategiesconsultant should be able to help you increase your exposure online and help you develop a positive online reputation.   
“As a PR practitioner, I have seen small businesses attempt to manage their online reputation via MySpace, Blogs, Google, etc. And for some, it can be quite a struggle - That’s where a consultant with some level web expertise can be an asset,” says Aerial M. Ellis.” The mismanagement strategiesof an online reputation and waiting until a crisis arises can be the root of a credibility problem. By then, it may be too late to do any damage control.”
“If your business is too small to have someone do the daily web screening (and personally & promptly respond to people who say good and bad things about you), then you may want to hire someone to do it for you”, says Laura Marshall. “Even if you decide to hire a consultant to manage the process, Marshall still feels it’s critical to have your own employees be the source of any company information. “Because of credibility and accuracy issues, try to get comments from your own people rather than having them (consultants) speak for the company.”

Reputation is Built Over Time of Your Online Small Business

Developing your online reputation is an organic process that takes time – every time you engage in communication; your small business has the opportunity to build its reputation.
“It’s re-established day by day with each mouse click, each online newsletter, each email or e-blast or forward, each web page,” adds Ellis. “Managing a reputation requires constant attention to learning about your industry and the changes that take place with your target consumers. Nowadays, for most small businesses and even non-profit organizations, a good online reputation is mandatory for survival.”
Laura Marshall concludes that “the larger issue of Reputation Management strategiesis having company leadership that understands it's a proactive thing and not reactive - Think about it with every business decision you make.” 

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