I’m sure that we all understand that our business’s (as well as our personal) reputation on the web is critical to our success and ability to prosper. In the prehistoric ’80s and ’90s, businesses and their brands pretty much controlled their own public image on the web by “pushing” out marketing and public relations communications to an interested public. Friends, those days are gone forever!

Today, it is incredibly easy for anyone to post positive or negative comments and reviews about you or your business online; and these posts by people like you and me can not only go viral very quickly, but can, and do, affect people’s behaviors.

To make matters more confusing for consumers, just as more and more of them are relying on internet-based comments and reviews to make buying decisions, new research from Gartner notes that it’s going to be more difficult to trust what you see online. Paid social media interactions are becoming a more established practice and Gartner is predicting that by 2014, some 10%-15% of all social media reviews and other forms of engagement will be fake, paid for by the companies getting endorsed. Of course Gartner isn’t predicting how many companies will unscrupulously post negative reviews and comments about their competitors, but I’m sure it happens.

Are You Monitoring Your Online Reputation?

Less than a decade ago business’s listened to their customers primarily through email and phone communications while occasionally using surveys and focus groups for getting customer feedback. But as social media exploded, Social Media Monitoring technology tools like Radian 6, Attensity, Lithium and many others came on the market to the meet the social media listening, analysis and engagement needs of larger enterprises.

Today it is of paramount importance that businesses of every size, including small, local retailers, restauranteurs, bed & breakfasts, financial advisors, medical practitioners and other professionals and mom & pops get on board with online reputation management.

Quite frankly, I simply can’t believe how many small businesses are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to managing their online reputation; risking their livelihood on the hope that disgruntled ex-employees, competitors, or unreasonable customers will not destroy the reputation that they have, in many cases, taken years to build.

Get Started By “Listening”

There are three inter-related components to an effective reputation management process; listening, analyzing and engaging. This post will focus on listening, while Part 2 will focus on analyzing and engaging.

As a colleague of mine once said, “If you want to be successful in your business and with social media in particular, you’ve got to start by listening.”

You simply must be scouring the web for (at a minimum) the following:

  • Who’s saying what about my business (or brand) and how influential are they?
  • Is what’s being said about my business good, bad or indifferent?
  • What appears to be triggering negative comments or reviews?
  • Where are my customers posting things about my business (what Apps and websites)
  • How complete and accurate are my listings in the various online directories and review Apps?
  • What’s being said about my competitors (how does my business compare or rank against others?)

Successful listening programs will uncover how your customers and others perceive your brand and could help you to identify the extent to which you’re delivering on your promises.

When customer experiences are out of line with customer expectations — either positively or negatively, they become increasingly likely to opine than when expectations are simply met.  So be sure to listen for compliments, complaints, problems and unmet needs. As you implement your listening program, you just may also uncover suggestions for making improvements to your business, products and services.

Listening Technology Tools

My favorite tools for listening to what’s being said on the web (web pages, blogs posts and comments, news, forum conversations, press releases, videos, pictures, etc.) is a combination of Google Alerts and Google Reader.

Set up Google Alerts to search for any mentions of your business, your products and services, your competitors, your industry and any other content that might be of interest to you and your customers. But, instead of getting daily emails from your Alerts, set them up to direct the found content to a Google Reader account you’ve specifically set up to manage your online listening program. Then each day, all you need to do is peruse the content delivered to your Google Reader for items that are in need of further review or action.

But how about all of the other websites and Apps? For example, social media sites like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter; online directories like 411.com, DexKnows, MerchantCircle and Superpages; check-in Apps like Foursquare; review and comment sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor; and industry-specific review sites such as Wellness.com and Doctoroogle.com for doctors and dentists, DealerRater and Edmunds.com for car dealers and Houzz where consumers gather to talk about remodeling and other hobbies but liberally sprinkle vendor recommendations.

There’s not enough time in the day to go to all of these sites, (and the hundreds of others), to see if there are any mentions of your business, brand or products. That’s where a good “listening” tool will help. It will make the listening process not only more effective but much more efficient.

Of course if you’re a mid to large enterprise you should consider one of the social media monitoring tools I mentioned earlier. But if you’re a small, local business these products will have way more functionality than you need and will probably be too expensive for you, as well.

Here’s some listening/reputation management tools for small businesses:

Closing Comments 

Reputation management has taken hold at many mid to large-sized enterprises whom recognize the need to track what people are saying about their company, brands and products. It’s the small business community that still represents a largely untapped market for reputation management tools.

So why hasn’t reputation management become a de facto part of every small business marketing plan? Many experts, including me, thought it would have happened by now.

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below; and stay-tuned for part 2 of this post which will cover how to analyze what you find and engage the people who have commented about or reviewed your business.

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About Jim Berkowitz

Jim Berkowitz

Jim is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industry analyst and technology consultant who assists organizations in planing for, selecting and succeeding with technology designed to get, keep and grow customers. As an Industry Analyst and CRM Technology Coach with CRM Mastery, Inc., (a company he founded in 2004) Jim provides technology selection services to enterprises across the country seeking to invest in CRM technology solutions. In addition, as a Digital Marketer, Jim provides web site design and development as well as internet and social media marketing services to small businesses and celebrities in Telluride, Colorado and beyond.

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