Your online image is a reflection of your brand.
As such, small businesses rise or fall on the backs of their online presence. After, large businesses can take years to recover form a negative online reputation.
Everything you do has and creates an impact online. Search engines like Google and Bing are working to build your online business profile based on what you and others say about your business online.
Now, while managing what search engines determine your reputation to be is largely out of your hands, you can develop and maintain a positive online reputation.
Your online image starts with your website – which is your central business hub. Then it expands to all the social media networks, business directories, forums, and any other online presence you may cultivate – knowingly and unknowingly.
Here’s why you need to manage your online presence and how to use social media to help you in the process.
Social media usage is growing
Social media use is one of the most popular online activities. In 2019, 79% of the U.S. population used some form of social media. That is almost 247 million social media users in the U.S. Worldwide, it’s close to 3.5 billion.
Facebook is the most popular network with 2.3 billion accounts, and according to Statista, Facebook is most popular for sharing content. It is followed by YouTube with 1.9 billion. Instagram use is steadily rising as it becomes the most popular platform for viewing photos.
As you can see, social media is quite popular. Therefore, one can understand why new roles have emerged alongside the growth of these media. Digital marketers. Social media managers. Engagement specialists. It’s also why major companies and some small businesses invest in tools to monitor their mentions online. With so many users, it’s only natural that your business can be brought to heel – or take off – on the backs of certain social media posts.
Now, before spending any money, most of today’s consumers will do their product and service research online. Ninety-One percent of prospects read online reviews. And 84% of people will trust an online review over the word of a friend or a co-worker.
That’s why it’s so important to work on building and maintaining a positive online image. As a small business owner, you may not recover from the repercussions of a targeted online campaign designed to destroy your business. Or one well-written negative review to which you never responded.
How to maintain a positive image online
Let’s go through the social media strategies you can use to manage your online reputation.
Claim your identity on all platforms – even if you’re not ready to use it
So, you’re just starting out. You’ve created your business, but you’re not ready to start using all the available social media channels. So, you put it off.
Now, your business has taken off, and you want to establish a complete brand presence online. You go to sign up for a Facebook page, Instagram, or Twitter account. Only you can’t because you’re told that name is gone already.
What? How come?
Because someone else has taken it.
And it could get even worse. They can take it and use it against you. Identity theft doesn’t only happen with individuals. It could reach your business too through your social media accounts.
So, even if you’re not ready to market through all your social media channels, you should still claim your accounts before someone else does.
The same goes for review sites.
You may not want to open the gate for a flood of reviews, but they will come whether you want them to or not. So, put yourself in a better position to be able to respond to reviews and comments. Claim your Better Business Bureau, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Business, and listings online. So, whenever reviews are left, whether positive or negative, you can respond. (Having these official listings also improves your business legitimacy and drives confidence in consumers).
Finally, domains. Make sure you have control of domains that are associated with your brand. For example, if you have a .com domain, you can also consider buying the .net and .org domains. You don’t need to use them other than to redirect them to your main site.
This will also prevent rival or other businesses from purchasing a domain that’s just like yours except for the URL extension. they can eventually outrank your website, even if they’re newer simply by following the strategies we’ve outlined in this post.
Keep your brand active on social media. You don’t need to post every day unless you have the resources to do so. But occasional posting will not only remind customers you’re still here but can also improve your ratings online.
Create and use your website blog
In addition to claiming your social media accounts and other online profiles, it’s time to start managing the assets you own – your website.
A company blog is a high-value brand tool that helps your business rank higher in search engines and supports your online goals.
So, start spreading targeted business content. When you feed search engines with positive information about your brand, that’s the type of information that will surface in search results. Get active with your blog. Publish posts about your business, results, successes, brand stories. Google and Bing will love you for fresh, consistent content.
Now, you won’t always be able to remove negative or unwanted content from showing up in search engines. But, if you publish new, high-quality content on a consistent basis, you’ll eventually be able to suppress it. So, again we are emphasizing that you need to create the type of content that you want people to see of your business online. Control the narrative.
Monitor your business reputation online
You need to know how your business is currently being portrayed online. Running a simple search can give you a quick idea of what that reputation looks like.
Once you know, then you can start taking steps to adjust if it’s not the reputation you envisioned for your brand. The good news is that there are many tools that can help you monitor your online reputation for you, some of them free like Google Alerts.
Manage your online reviews
In addition to claiming your business listing on online review sites, you need to monitor and manage your online reviews.
The worst thing you can do is ignore negative comments online. Respond to them indicating that you’re sorry to know their experience has been anything but stellar. Then offer to address it.
When done right, you can turn negative social media feedback into a customer service success story. For example, when you’ve addressed your customers’ issues and they are happy with the results, you can then politely ask them to edit their review.
Turn customer sentiment into brand stories
To find customer sentiment requires text mining and analytics techniques. And there are various tools and software you can use for that. But, for now, you can get started simply by assessing your online reviews, or setting Google Alerts for your business name when it’s mentioned across the web.
When you mine this information, use your customers’ words to describe your products or services. Who knows, you just may find a gem of a review that can create your next viral content or ad. A good brand story is waiting in your mentions.
Don’t forget to engage online with positive reviews
Now, while you’re actively searching for negative comments on social media so you can head off any repercussions, don’t forget about the positive feedback as well.
These are people who are voluntarily talking about your business in a positive light. That kind of goodwill is difficult to buy. So, interact with them. Show that they are appreciated and valued customers, and they’ll continue supporting your business and encourage others to do the same.
5 steps to cleaning up your online business image
Now, what if you’re not sure what your image currently is. Or, when you research, you realize it is certainly not what you had intended.
Here is a quick 5-step process to cleaning up your online business image so you can maintain a positive online identity.
1. What is your image?
Before you can clean up your image, you need to determine what it is exactly. What do you want to be known for?
So, Google your business and see what comes up. Use Bing and Yahoo! Search as well. What do you see? Is the content and images reflective of the brand persona you thought you had been cultivating?
(Pro tip – use incognito or private mode on your browser of choice. This ensures the search results aren’t skewed to sites you normally visit or what search engines have defined as your type of content. If you operate in a particular market, try a VPN to see what your business brand profile looks like in this territory.).
2. Time to clean
If you’re disappointed in the results, then it’s time to do a bit of cleaning.
Un-tag your business from any image that isn’t reflective of the brand you want to portray. If your website is ranking low in search results, then start optimizing with blog posts and other website content. If you’re finding old tweets and posts that may reflect badly on you now, remove them.
In Facebook, for example, you can use the ‘View As’ feature to see what the public sees? Or visit your online media from a friend or family member’s profile. Because persons can block you from seeing certain things, you may not be able to see all that is showing up on your brand profiles.
And if you’re having difficulty getting anything related to your brand removed, you may consider reporting the accounts – if the concerns are legitimate. Or asking a lawyer for advice.
3. Optimize your presence
By now you should know what sort of brand image you want to portray. If not, let’s talk about building a distinct online image for your small business.
So, start the process to make sure your brand is reflective of this image. Not that you’re going to make your small business into something grander than it is. Avoid negative posts that may have consumers questioning your brand. Align yourself with the values that you hold dear and which support society’s growth.
Side note: This is why a lot of businesses lost traction during the 2020 BLM protests. They failed to acknowledge where they stood on issues of national importance. Or where they did, the collective community determined they are coming down on the wrong side of history. So, we’re not saying to wade into every discussion. No, far from it. But the ones that have a major impact on lives and livelihood? Yes, make your stance known. You’ll only be able to attract the right type of audience and customers that resonate with your brand.
Back to the business of optimizing your online presence.
4. Use social media to protect your brand image
Develop a social media policy. Your business is not too small to have one. Then, consider getting the help of a Social Media Manager or Strategist to help you cultivate a strong social media presence. The Policy you develop will guide their activities and those of your contractors and employees.
You can’t be in all places all the time, so it helps to have someone who can monitor your traffic, respond to comments, and create an engaging presence that attracts the right type of audience. As we’ve said before, you don’t need to be active on all platforms. What you can do is identify those where your audience is most likely to be and start there.
Remember, social media management is a highly sensitive position. You’re giving someone access to set and display your image to the world. If they use your platform for their own personal agendas, your business will take the hit. Therefore, even as you hire, keep your fingers on the pulse of your business. That’s why knowing how and why to cultivate an online presence is important.
5. Get active in getting customer feedback
If you aren’t doing so as yet, consider emailing clients or customers a satisfaction survey after a purchase. With these surveys, they present a better chance to listen to your customers so you can understand their issues and where you need to improve.
You may not find every negative review about your business online. And as we’ve noted, persons will more likely leave a positive review than a negative one. So, knowing the issues that your customers are facing will allow you to proactively address them. This will certainly improve customer retention. After getting feedback, you can then ask some of those customers to leave reviews of your business on public sites.
A positive online image is not built overnight.
It takes time and effort. But it’s important because businesses large and small are made on their online presence.
And as you’ve seen, there are numerous reasons why you should use social media for business. Managing third-party review sites and engaging with customers and prospects are necessary to run a thriving business. Finally, building out your own website and optimizing it for your online reputation is a must.
Your online presence and brand identity are what you make it. How are you seen today, and what would you like to be known for? If you want to cultivate a strong online reputation aligned with your values, then request a consult with an online strategist that drives business results.
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