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They’re talking about you — online.

If a potential customer reads a negative review, they're more forgiving if you’re a part of the conversation.

If a potential customer reads a negative review, they’re more forgiving if you’re a part of the conversation.

Your online presence is bigger than you think. It’s certainly bigger than your website. People are talking about your business all over the Internet — whether you like it or not.

Maybe you’ve never visited a review or social media site, but guess what? They’ve probably visited you. Someone stopped in for a bite, bought a new car or was simply in the neighborhood and voila! Your online listing was born. And yes, it can happen without your blessing.

We’re not talking about angry customers who had a bad experience and spend their time venting in a blog post that six people will read. We’re talking about reputable, heavily trafficked sites where people go to check in, read reviews and sometimes offer up a piece of their own mind.

So what, you ask? Well, you may be losing clients and sales without even knowing it. It’s pretty simple: Online reviews pack a punch. According to, 89 percent of consumers trust online product and service reviews. Whether it’s spot-on or wildly out of whack, your online reputation may be a customer’s first touchpoint with your business.

But I don’t have the know-how. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the — stop. Stop hiding behind excuses and take action. Your reputation may depend on it.

Claim your profile.

Most sites give business owners an opportunity to “claim” their business. An email, letter or phone call is probably all you need to take the reins. Before you go down the Internet rabbit hole, take a look at the usual suspects: foursquare, Yelp, Google+ and Bing Places. After you locate your company’s listing, there’s usually a “Is this your business?” link. Go through the steps to become the page’s administrator. Then complete your profile and correct inaccuracies.

See it as an opportunity.

You’ve taken the first step and made your claims. Great — but you’re not through yet. It’s time to read the fine — or not-so-fine — print. Negative online reviews present an opportunity to make amends, clarify policies or at least make your presence known to other customers. If a potential customer reads a negative review, they’re more forgiving if you’re a part of the conversation. If you’re nowhere to be found, people are more likely to believe even the wildest review, or conclude that you don’t care. A proactive and involved owner projects a business that’s on the ball. But don’t get into an online shouting match. Post a thoughtful, personal reply and try to take the conversation offline. If you’re able to engage the customer, offer a resolution quickly.

Get a plan.

This is an ongoing process. You’re going to have to set aside some time. Check the comments and reviews at least every couple of days — the prompter the response, the better. You can go about it in a couple of ways:

  1. Drive manual: Get yourself a profile on the aforementioned sites (and add Facebook and Twitter to the list while you’re at it). Search each site for mentions of your business. When you see an opportunity, jump into the conversation. Don’t feel the need to respond to every single comment. Pick your spots. While a manual effort is certainly time-consuming, it won’t cost you anything more than time (and maybe some headaches).
  2. Hire a professional: What you’re looking for is a service that searches out comments from around the web and puts them in your lap. This route certainly saves you time. Check out reputation management and social listening companies, like or Sites vary from free or low-cost options to more robust (and more expensive) programs. If one of these companies offers to hide negative information, think twice. That’s not really the point. The point is to take a look at the comments, both positive and negative, so you can decide when to interject. Don’t try to bury the bad ones — they might come back to haunt you.

Whatever method you decide to use, get online and start paying attention. You’ve worked hard to build your business. It’s worth the time and effort to protect its reputation.

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