Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Online Reputation Management - This Isn't High School Any Longer...

Remember in high school when all you cared about was what other people thought about you? You wanted to make sure you wore the right clothes, had the right shoes, hung out with the right crowd, etc... Back then it seemed like what other people thought about you was the most important thing in the world.

Fast forward to present day. You’re a business owner (or at least someone that’s responsible to a certain degree in your business’ success). Are the opinions of others as important today as they were back in high school? While your clothing choices are not as big of a deal as they once were, I’m going to say YES, and probably even more so thanks to the Internet.

If someone wants to talk about your business and has an “ax to grind”, the power of the Internet gives even the smallest customer a global voice and s/he can have a significant impact, especially if you're not aware of what's being said about you online. This is much more powerful than back in high school when the worst that could happen is the gossip makes it to the lunch room. No, what's said goes everywhere and lasts forever.

So, what are YOU doing to either help ensure that your happy customers have a voice and can get the word out to the rest of the world? Or, and maybe more importantly, what are you doing to monitor what’s being said about your business (good or bad)? You may not be able to get rid of any bad reviews, but you CAN help to ensure that your happy customers know how to post a review and hopefully you can get more good than bad ones online (no, you can't "ask for good reivews", but you can make it easier for them).

Customer LobbyImage via WikipediaI’ve talked before about one of WSI’s newest partners, Customer Lobby, when it comes to managing customer testimonials and reputation management. The service provides businesses an opportunity to help their customers share thoughts and testimonials. Because the reviews exist on a third party site, the credibility goes up and is easy to share and show off. But one of the great thing that I like about Customer Lobby is it makes the review process quick and easy for your customers. As an example, you can check out my Customer Lobby page and see some of my reviews.

While sites like Customer Lobby will help you ensure that reviews are getting created, there are also some sites out there businesses can use to help keep an eye on what’s being said already, both good and bad.
Image representing Google Alerts as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase 
The first is Google Alerts, which scours the web and Googles indexing for key phrases and search terms that you pick. The system can send you updates on several different intervals and is a great way to keep track of your business, your competition, key employees, your market trends, etc…

Another tool similar to Google Alerts is Social Mention. While you can also check for many of the similar types of phrases (such as your own business, competition, etc…), this service tends to search more in the social sphere and looks into blogs, social media sites and related “non-traditional” web properties.

Finally, one tool that I like to use is good ‘ole Twitter Search. While many people discount Twitter because they feel they just don’t have time to keep up with the quick pace of posting by many, the real-time information stream of Twitter can provide you with an instant look at what’s being talked about online.

I suggest you hop over to any of these sites and put in some of your keywords to see what comes back. Try your business name, industry trends, major competitors and even your personal name. You may need to play with some of the search techniques to "tweak" your results and consider using things like quotes around words you want together and you can use the plus sign to add other terms.

For example searching for eric cook will bring back results that have eric or cook in the results. But when searched as "eric cook" you get those two words next to one another, and the results are much more fine-tuned. Add "eric cook" + wsi and you get any search with my name and my company in the search result. These are much more focused and can really help you get some meaningful results in your search efforts.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of ways to help manage your reputation online. But hopefully a few of these items have piqued your interest in learning more about how to position yourself to better know what’s being said about you and your business online. If you’ve got other tools you’ve used to manage the online chatter about your business let me know. I’d love to hear what you have to say about this. And, if you need some help just give me a ring (269-841-5007) and I'd be happy to help.
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