Four Steps to Managing Your Online Reputation

Every business dreams of having something go "viral," but sometimes it happens when you least expect it or with unexpected outcomes. For a small business, this can be especially daunting as online gossip or negative reviews can be the difference between securing or losing a potential customer (and sometimes hundreds of them).

So, how do you manage your online reputation? Here are four best practices for your small business to implement:

Use a monitoring tool: Small business owners don't have a lot of time and with so many online channels playing host to conversations about your company and brand, it is a daunting task to try to keep on top of all of the information. I suggest using a monitoring tool to remove a lot of the legwork for you. One of my favorite solutions happens to be from one of my clients, Yahoo!, called the Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard, which allows you to monitor up to 8,000 different sites all in one place. They have a free solution to start, so it won't break your bank account either.

Leverage your raving fans: If you find a negative review about your company, often the best way to battle negativity online is with positivity. Once you identify a bad or unfair review, go to your core base of customers or fans and get testimonials (written or video) and support to compensate for the others. Anyone reasonable individual will take all of the information into account.

Make it right: If you do mess up, which happens even to the best small business, don't just say you're sorry, but offer a solution. Responding to an online issue authentically with a "we are so sorry that we dropped the ball, but our goal is your satisfaction. Can we offer you X?" can turn around a negative experience and have the extra benefit of letting others see how you handle the situation. People are forgiving when you 'fess up and make an effort.

Know when to leave it alone: In an isolated incident (particularly with someone who seems a bit "off"), sometimes NOT drawing attention to it is your best strategy. When it comes to your online reputation, you have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em!