Thirty years ago, small businesses heard from customers in person or via snail mail. Twenty years ago, they relied on the phone to learn what their customers thought of them. And ten years ago, businesses had realized that email was now the mode of communication of choice. But in the last decade, social media has taken over our world, and customer interaction with small businesses has turned what was once a private interaction into a public one. The result, of course, is that any smart small business needs to not only create a powerful online presence, but manage it well. And part of that management is reputation management. All over the web, in the bright white lights and in deep dark corners, your customers are talking about you. Here’s how to make those conversations work for your small business, more often.
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The most important part of managing the online reputation of your small business is ensuring that, first, you actually know what your online reputation is. For a small business, this can sound like a weighty task necessary of outsourcing to a fancy firm – and thus far outside the bounds of many a small business budget. The reality, in fact, is quite different. Reputation management is easier than it sounds, and more doable for any small business to take on, no matter where you are and what work you do. The key lies in searching for what others are saying about you.
Thankfully, the tools you need are straight forward. Set up Google Alerts for the name of your company, founder, and potential key employees. Then, create the attendant social media search equivalents for the same search queries. Remember to include words, phrases, and social media handles, as when customers reference you it may not be in the way you think it will be. (i.e. You may be @EdsCheapEats on Twitter, but folks might be typing that in without the username as “Ed’s Cheap Eats”, “Eds Cheap Eats”, or even “Eds Eats”. You’ll want search queries set up for all variations.) Make these searches as automatic as possible per the specifications of each particular platform, and ensure that there is a streamlined system so that reading and reviewing the results of these searches happens in one fell swoop, by one particular employee or small team. (Reputation management will never work well if different employees are seeing different online comments or complaints, preventing them from acting with complete knowledge. Additionally, processing your online comments at distinct times throughout the day or week makes it a more manageable process.)
Once your small business has created these searches, you’ll likely be inundated with a lot more information about you than you had before. Even adding the search results from just one social media platform you weren’t looking at before could prove overwhelming. Don’t let it. Instead, your first step should be to embrace the positive that you see. It’s there – I promise! Look for those messages that share someone’s happy experience with your product or service. How it helped them, how it moved them, how it served them as they had hoped. Then, go ahead and respond to the individual. Send them an @reply on Twitter, or write a comment on their blog or Facebook post. Thank them for their support, and for the kind words. (If what you see isn’t all positive, don’t fear. Keep reading.)
Promote the Good
After you’ve responded, the next important thing to do is to promote those good words. Different platforms will allow you to do this differently, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
- On Twitter, retweeting a customer’s comments is a great option. Depending on the flow of positivity you get from the Twitterverse, you may not want to retweet every comment that comes through. But a select few on a regular basis are surefire bets.
- On Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, re-share positive posts with the same caveats. Don’t overwhelm your stream of followers with them, but sprinkle them in wisely.
- Any good comments that come in – it doesn’t matter the platform – should be curated onto an ongoing document of endorsements that you can use for future marketing purposes. You never know when a great endorsement might come in handy. The best of the best can even go up immediately on a page on your website, and the best small businesses take aims to constantly add to and update this section.
Turn Around the Bad
The bad news is, it won’t all be good.
Any small business knows that when you open the floodgates of the online world’s commentary, you’ll see some stuff you wish you hadn’t. And that’s OK. Because ultimately, this is a long-term game. You’re working to build your small business brand online, and doing so involves interacting with those who have not had a fully positive experience with your brand, and then working to try to turn them around. The way you respond will depend on the platform, and what you say (or do) will depend on the complaint at hand, but remember a few keys:
- The customer is (mostly) always right.
- A little empathy goes a long way.
- Responding in a public way means others can see the action your small business took.
Take the time to care, and realize that attempting to solve someone’s problem in the public space of the world wide web makes it about more than that one person’s specific dilemma. Even if that person’s issues aren’t resolved, or that person never responds again, the rest of the world will see how you handled the response. That alone is one more reminder of the power of reputation management – and the power you have to turn it for the favor of your small business. In the end, it’s easier than you think to make positive waves.