By Cliff Stein, CEO of Reputationchanger.com
Online reputation management remains a fairly new, and fairly misunderstood, industry. What’s the single biggest misconception about online reputation management that SMB owners have? Simply this: That they don’t need it.
Online reputation management is often associated with PR crises, with public scandals, and with bad reviews. If you run a SMB and you are accused of disreputable behavior—if some Google listing says that your entire business is just a scam, for instance—then you need to consult a reputation management firm. For those companies that are honest and legitimate and do everything above-board, though, reputation management really isn’t necessary, right?
Wrong. The truth is that reputation management is not just about defending yourself when allegations or bad reviews strike. It’s also about being proactive in branding your company in a way that will help you withstand online attack. It’s about knowing that online defamation can happen at any time—and to any company—and that it’s your duty as a SMB owner to be prepared for it.
In fact, online reputation management is especially important for small and relatively new businesses. The reason for this is simple: A SMB typically has a comparativly minor online footprint. There may only be one or two online listings that speak to a new business—so if a defamatory listing or negative review appears online, it is guaranteed to be one of the first things a potential client sees. By contrast, a company like, say, Apple has so many online assets, a single bad review or unwanted listing is ultimately going to be like a drop in the bucket.
No Business is Immune
No business is immune from online attack or from bad reviews. You may do everything honestly, you may treat your clients well, and you may have products that are superior to anything out there. You may be running the single greatest SMB in the world. None of that makes you exempt from the threat of online attack, however.
It’s simply a matter of the complete freedom of expression that the Internet affords. Anybody can say anything they want to say on the Internet, regardless of veracity. So of course, allegations that you’re running a scam, or reviews that say your products are lousy, may not have any basis in reality. They may not even come from real consumers, but rather, they may be planted by business rivals or disgruntled ex-employees.
For new businesses, sabotage from a competitor is especially daunting. As we said above, a just-started business usually has a limited array of online assets currently available. If a larger company wanted to wipe that SMB out, quickly and easily, it would make sense to do so before the company really found its footing in the online world.
Obviously, then, there is no way to predict when bad reviews or unwanted press will happen. What you can predict, to some extent, is the damage done.
The Power of Bad Press
Simply put, in the Age of Google, a single undesirable online search listing can be devastating. That’s because, more than ever, consumers are basing their purchasing decisions on what they find through online searches. Times are tough and budgets are tight; what consumer wouldn’t do his or her due diligence, checking out online reviews to ensure that a company is reputable before spending any money?
What this means is that if someone searches for your company and finds only positive press, you’re in a very good place—but that could change in a heartbeat. One bad review is all it takes to sink an online reputation. A bad online reputation, meanwhile, can lead to lost sales, diminished client lists, and even an increase in refund requests. For a SMB, just making its start, a bad reputation can essentially sour customers and would-be clients before the company has a chance to get off the ground.
SMB’s Need Reputation Management
That’s where the services of an online reputation management firm, or of a solid DIY reputation management campaign, come in handy. This is not about responding to a crisis, necessarily, but rather it is about preventing the kinds of damage that can be done by bad online listings. A good reputation management campaign is one that is proactive in cultivating a SMB’ identity as a brand of immense goodwill and repute—in short, a brand of choice among consumers. With that SMB identity established, the company is in a better position to ward off whatever unscrupulous attacks the Internet might throw at it.