Most small businesses start off with a clean slate, where nobody knows who you are. While this can be problematic in terms of gaining customers and making sales, the consuming public also has no idea about the type of company you are. You haven’t been around long enough to get a reputation one way or the other, so you have to work extra hard to make those first few customers take the leap and trust you enough to make a purchase.
As your business gets older and expands, you build up a reputation. If you’re honest in your business transactions, offer a good product or service, and provide a good value for the dollar you will probably get a good reputation, and customers will be willing to spread information about your company through word-of-mouth referrals. If you cause a perceived slight, the product doesn’t work, or the cost is higher than expected, however, you can get a bad reputation. The problem is that negatives spread much faster than positives, with each person being likely to tell at least ten others of their negative experience with your company.
The internet has ramped up the spread of reputation at least a thousand fold. A good review can disseminate to hundreds of prospective customers, while a negative review can get retweeted and shared across the web before you have a chance to make things right. In response to these rapid developments, a new business necessity has evolved – reputation management. This means that small business entrepreneurs must actively plan to monitor and manage their online reputation. They must work to increase the amount of online reviews they receive, find ways to listen to what prospects and customers say about their company online, and allocate time to respond to positive mentions and try to correct negative impressions. If your small business is new to online reputation management, here are some things you need to know:
• Your prospects are already looking for you online: With easy access to smartphones and digital devices, the first place potential customers look for information about a business is online. But they are not willing to just take your website at face value. They want to look at what other people have to say about you, so they ask their social media circle, do a Google search, or check out review sites in your market or industry. They are very likely to take action if there is a review from somebody they know, but they are almost as likely to take action based on opinions posted online – even if they do not know the person providing the opinion. If they can’t find anything about your business, that is almost as bad as having no reviews at all.
• Your prospects are creating a new marketing paradigm: When advertising first began, the power was all in the hands of the marketers. They decided what they would say, who they would talk to, and what information their prospects needed. Newer generations, especially the Millennials, are completely reframing the way this paradigm works. They want to be in control of when they receive information, look to multiple sources for input, ask questions that are important to them, and expect to get fast responses. If your customer base is younger, you are going to have to do a lot more work to communicate and engage with them.
• Your search results need it: You still want your business to appear on Google or other search engine listings, but even those companies are changing the way their compile their results. They search for websites that are current, companies that provide educational information, and positive reviews. If your company is listed frequently on review sites, it is highly likely that will be reflected in your search engine results.
During 2018 you and your employees will definitely have to get yourselves into the business of reputation management. You can handle some of it yourself, or you can find software to provide an assist. The most important thing is that you really have to talk up reviews with satisfied customers.