BY JESSICA LAWRENCE
Driving on the freeway the other day, I noticed a truck with this sign on it: “We care about our reputation. Comments call: (an 800-number).”
It struck me that instead of saying “We care about our customers” or “We care about your safety” they focused on their own reputation. What they might have been trying to say is that because their reputation is driven and influenced by the thoughts of their customers, if they care about their reputation, they therefore care about their customers.
The problem is that they have the order of focus wrong. Caring first and foremost about your reputation (and not necessarily about your customers) leads to different behavior than if it is the other way around. And the interesting thing is that if they stopped worrying about their reputation, just had drivers who drove safely and courteously, and took good care of their customers, their reputation, in most cases, would take care of itself.
There are a few complications with that theory though, complications that have always been there but that in a digital age, in which everyone is online and people can hide behind their computers, are amplified. Reputation has always been a currency of business and of individual success in business, and there have always been people who maliciously spread false information about a business or an individual for their own gain or simply because they can. Before the Internet age, though, even if your reputation had been ruined in one town, you could move to another and start fresh.
Now, with the advent of the Internet, it is much more difficult to escape false and negative information that is being shared about you or your business. Your reputation can be impacted by anonymous reviews that the whole world can see on a variety websites and that negative information can come up through a simple Google search. Now that there are fewer and fewer copies of the Yellow Pages hanging around, and people use Internet searches to find simple information like a business address, hours, and phone number, and it is increasingly easy to come across negative information without even looking for it.
So what can companies and individuals do to protect themselves? The first thing they can do is be online themselves. Just because you or your business has no digital presence, it does not mean no one is online talking about you. Many people are often surprised when they do an Internet search for their own business’ name just how many search results there are that involve people talking about them.
To fix that, the first step is to at least have your own website for your business and for you personally. It is best if you can afford to buy the domain name affiliated with your business name (www.mybusinessname.com) or your personal name if you are setting up a website for yourself, but if not, you can set up a free site on a blogging service like WordPress. If you have no idea where to even begin with setting up a website, you could turn to services like Onepager (http://onepagerapp.com/) that specialize in helping small businesses set up Web pages at low cost.
As time allows, you should also set up a presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter, which allows you to put positive information about your company out into the world and interact with customers in a positive way.
In addition, it is helpful if you can monitor when your company is mentioned online in general and in specific social spaces like Twitter. Often people now turn first to Twitter to express their frustration with a company and then get even more frustrated if they do not get a response. You can set up simple searches to help monitor this information through free Google alerts and easy Twitter searches. You can also work with services like Reputation.com (which I have not yet used) to help monitor your online reputation for you.
By monitoring what is being said about you, you can more easily step in to respond in a positive and constructive way to comments, even if they are negative, which shows your customers that you are engaged and care about their experience.
If people do leave reviews of you that are factually inaccurate or overly inflammatory, you can contact review sites to have the post investigated.
In the end, as always, your best defense against a bad reputation is to provide great service and treat your customers well in the first place.
This article was written by JESSICA LAWRENCE and originally published on pe