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Manage Your Online Reputation

The Web has revolutionized the way businesses communicate with customers, and with the rise of social media, your online presence encompasses more than just your website.

“You are missing a huge opportunity to get people to call you if you don’t use social media,” says Michael Anschel, principal of Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build, a design-build firm in Minneapolis.

Build an Online Presence
“Having a Web presence isn't optional anymore,” says Alyssa Gregory, president of avertua, a virtual assistant firm. “You certainly don't need an extensive and expensive website, but you need to be present and accessible online to take full advantage of the marketing power of the Web.”

Gregory says interacting with users through social media enables your company to develop a relationship with your target audience. “If your company has a steady, genuine and transparent online presence, you can increase the level of trust your customers have in you and your business,” she says. “This will eventually result in increased work.”

Use Social Media Effectively
Anschel recommends updating a blog daily or weekly. He uses his company’s Facebook page to promote events, awards and community service, as well as to post pictures from events or work in progress. He also tweets five times daily, adding that Twitter is a great place to promote ideas, build networks, solicit feedback and build your fan base. Play up the fact that you have a small business, he says, because people assume they’ll get a more personal experience.

When it comes to Twitter, Anschel says it’s important to post interesting, relevant information. He says a tweet shouldn’t be used like an advertisement; customers will see right through one that sounds like straight PR. He recommends posting links to articles relevant to your peers or customers. In addition, linking to Facebook photos of a finished project is a great way to promote your work.

Go Beyond the Basics
Once you’re posting content on a regular basis, you’ll have more time to network and research what people are saying about you.

Networking
Anthony Pascale, president of organic lawn care company Natural Turf in New Jersey, says his business’ Twitter and Facebook accounts help him feel connected to his industry and peers. He sends messages to noncompeting companies to gain ideas and contacts. In fact, a recent connection with another landscaping company made him aware of a liquid fertilizer that costs 50 percent less than the granular one he was using.

He also finds it beneficial to connect with companies that complement his, such as  sprinkler companies, so he can give customers recommendations on whom to hire. Knowing about these companies makes him look more professional, he says, and gives him the opportunity to be recommended by someone else.

Researching
The most important part of managing your online reputation is to find out what people are saying about your company. Pascale recommends doing regular keyword searches on Twitter, Facebook and Google to find customer posts or reviews detailing how they were treated by your company. “It means a lot more when it’s coming from someone else than from you,” he says. “When it’s spoken on your behalf, it carries a lot of weight.”

Gregory agrees that your business can be heavily affected by online reviews and testimonials — especially if they’re negative — and all it takes is one unfavorable blog post or tweet to hurt your business. Luckily, there are a number of free online tools to help you monitor your online reputation.

“Tools such as Monitter and WhoLinksToMe index conversations from blogs, social networks, online links and other social media outlets, simplifying the process of online monitoring,” Gregory says.

Rather than ignore or refute bad publicity, reach out to the person who posted the comment, apologize and ask what you can do to rectify the situation. They will likely post another comment discussing your efforts and excellent customer service, which portrays you in a better light.

All You Need is Time
The good news is that of all the business investments you’ll make, creating a solid online reputation will probably be the least expensive.

“The advantage of social media is that it’s free,” Anschel says. “It allows you to create your presence and your brand. For small businesses, it’s all about the brand.”

Managing your online reputation does take a time commitment, but it’s well worth it. Anschel recommends an average of four to six hours a week to focus on and strategize your online efforts. By taking the time to develop an online presence, you are building a more sustainable, long-term base of support.

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