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Life Health > Running Your Business

Not that kind of advisor: How to own your online reputation

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It’s all just a click away: your life, your business and your reputation.

In today’s cyber-connected, everything-at-your-fingertips world, a prospect rarely makes a move without Googling, Yelping or BBB-ing it. Based on a smattering of strangers’ ratings, they then decide what to do, which means they’re three or four steps into the research process before they initiate contact with the advisor.

One bad moment, therefore, can live on in Internet infamy and two main pitfalls can do you in—often without even knowing it; the negative review and a non-existent online presence. Luckily, both can be managed proactively.

An unfavorable review is certainly not welcome, but it’s also not the be-all, end-all. Show me a company without a single dissatisfied customer and I’ll show you a company that doesn’t exist.

With that in mind, you’re smart, not narcissistic, if you set up a Google alert with your name, company name and other identifying factors. From there, Google does all the work by deploying its bot army to crawl webpages, blogs, tweets, etc. and then sends you a tidy summary in the manner you request, either in an RSS update or email. You can choose to receive the information in real time, or on a daily or weekly basis. Yes, sometimes you get information not related to you, but delete is just a button away. Plus, you can experiment with other qualifying tags to help narrow the alert’s search results.

If something less than stellar appears online, take time to address the issue in the same forum. Be conciliatory while citing credible supporting factors–years in business, awards, customer satisfaction ratings and the like. Never get into a public debate of the issue and instead, offer to follow up with the individual directly–and offline–to try to diffuse any back and forth commentary.  I’ve found myself swayed when I’ve seen a point/counterpoint posting and will often give the benefit of the doubt to the business—one that might be bearing the brunt of a grumpy patron. By the way, public recognition of positive reviews is also important–don’t give all the attention to the “squeaky” posters.

So what happens if someone does a search and no one, namely you, shows up? Ensuring you have a solid online presence should be elementary, but it needs to be robust enough to matter.

At a minimum, your website should include meta-tags and client-permitted endorsements, your own blogs and writing, as well as any recognition you’ve received from corporate, ratings agencies or something similar. Most informed consumers will review at-large Internet forums in conjunction with your website, and the latter may serve to counteract one-off comments that occur in the former. Also pay attention to sites like Yelp that may have your bare-bones information, a listing you may have to “claim” as its owner and populate further.

Admittedly, it’s a mad, mad, Internet environment and your best step is to not standstill. It’s your reputation. Own it, wherever it lives.