Protecting Your Online Reputation: Business Edition

If business is online, it has an online reputation. Even if you haven’t put your business online, it has an online reputation. The fact is, other people check online sources for your business’s information, hours, reviews, and more. So here’s how to proactively manage your businesses reputation.

Correct & Unify Information

Once per quarter, review all the information about your business online and make sure it’s correct. Obviously, this includes the information you already post online and manage, like your businesses Facebook page. But less obviously, it includes third party sources of information like your business’s’ Google listing and Yelp page. Is the address right? Are the hours correct? Do all these sources give your contact information? Is it the right contact information?

Third parties post incorrect business information all the time. Misinformation is dangerous and it’s important to take steps to make sure everything is correct. For example, a restaurant in Washington DC went out of business partially because of incorrect information on Google that the restaurant wasn’t proactive about correcting. Don’t let that be you.

You Need a Website

If you don’t have a website, it’s long past time to get one. Even if it’s simple, there needs to be a place online where you customers can find you, learn some basic information, and get your contact information. In a pinch, a Facebook page will do.

Respond to Criticism (When It’s Right)

You may be confronted with a customer who is not happy. Maybe they were treated rudely by staff. Or what they bought from you hasn’t worked properly. Or your service came up short. Whatever happened, now it’s in writing and the whole world can see it.

When this happens, you need to respond. Apologise for what happened. Be direct. Don’t invalidate them. For example, say “I’m sorry our staff was rude to you.” Don’t say, “I’m sorry you felt our staff was rude.” After the apology, offer to make things right and invite them to follow up with you on a more private channel. You’re trying to make your customer happy, but you’re also showing the world that when your business comes up short you try to make it right.

Respond to Criticism (When It’s Wrong)

You may also be confronted with a customer who is not happy and dishonest, disingenuous, or nuts. It’s still necessary to respond.

If you have no evidence that your angry customer is being dishonest (or is otherwise wrong), it’s best to leave a terse apology and an offer to communicate further in a private context. You probably won’t mollify this kind of angry customer, but others reading the exchange will see that you tried and that you remained professional, which is the most important thing.

If you do have evidence that your customer or critic is being dishonest (or is otherwise wrong), you may consider confronting them. For example, here’s Starbucks shutting down a New York talk radio host’s attempt to score cheap political points. This is a risky manoeuvre, though. Third parties reading this exchange are weighing you both to see who is more credible. It may be a good idea to run your response past an impartial third party. After all, we often think we’re more clever than we really are.

If your customer is clearly rude or otherwise terrible, consider inviting them to never return. For example, here’s a case where a customer left a lengthy negative review of a coffee shop that wouldn’t let her hold a conference call on their premises. The owner’s terse response tells other readers that this is the kind of coffee shop that won’t tolerate someone ruining the coffee shop experience for others.

Give It a Day

When responding to criticism, don’t post when angry. After you’ve written your response, give it a day and re-read after your temper has cooled.

Consider Hiring Online Reputation Management

Maybe the worst has happened and your business gets wrapped up on a lawsuit, becomes the scene of a crime, or is being constantly attacked by someone with a grudge. Your Google results start to look grim. Fortunately, you can hire reputation management firms who will help you sink the negative news and promote more positive stories about your business.