If your brand’s online reputation is driving prospects to the competition, you’re not alone. It happens every single day.

Many businesses suffer from poor reviews, angry social media posts, or negative articles. While services do exist to help mitigate some of the damage done online, they can be cost prohibitive. These factors often leave business owners or executives throwing their hands up in despair.

Here’s the good news: protecting your brand’s online reputation doesn’t have to be expensive or overly technical. Best of all, it can be done without spending a dime.

When people hear the term online reputation, they likely place it in the context of consumer brands or services. Think of the last time you hit up Facebook or Angie’s List to read reviews before visiting a new café or hiring a roofer.  You’re not alone if you head online to scope out a company. A whopping 92 percent of consumers now read online reviews for local businesses, and 40 percent form an opinion after reading one to three reviews, according to BrightLocal. However, online reputation management isn’t just for retail brands or B2C services.

If you’re a startup looking for investors, online reputation matters.

If you’re a business owner considering a company sale, merger, or acquisition, online reputation matters.

If yours is a growing B2B that needs to attract top talent, online reputation matters.

In fact, online reputation matters for any person or brand that needs to connect with any stakeholder in the digital environment.

Start with Strategy

Don’t waste time and effort on a directionless initiative. Define company-specific goals, and then design an online reputation management strategy that helps your business reach them. As with any effective strategy, you’ll need to consider factors like decision-making powers, people, and processes.

Monitor Online Reviews and Ratings

You can’t address problems you don’t know about. Social media monitoring tools allow you and your team to track and analyze publicly-shared online mentions related to your business. You can invest in a social media monitoring platform that offers robust data and reporting. However, you can also set up Google Alerts, which is free, to email notifications when your business gets an online mention.

Set up the tool or alert for keywords and phrases like the names of your brand, products, key personnel, and other relevant terms. (Bonus tip: find opportunities to gain a competitive edge by monitoring your competitors’ names to learn what they’re doing right—and what they’re doing wrong.)

Respond to Negative Comments on Reviews

Ignoring the negative will not make it disappear from search results. When social media monitoring uncovers a damaging mention, make response a priority. Speed allows you to get a handle on the situation, but it’s important to customers as well.  Research published in The Social Habit found that 32 percent of people who have used social channels to contact a company for customer support expect a response within 30 minutes; 42 percent expect a response within 60 minutes.

Post an initial public reply to let the customer—and anyone else viewing that page–know you’ve heard the complaint. Then steer the conversation away from public posts or messages (i.e. move to email, phone, or private/direct messages). This helps reduce the public glare that can raise tempers and create stumbling blocks to resolution.

It’s critical to look for patterns in negative online comments, too. Sure, a single harsh comment can be triggered by a customer having a very bad day—or a very bad attitude. But if monitoring detects the same complaint online over and over again, it’s time to dig into the problem more deeply. If needed, make adjustments to the product or process to reduce the likelihood of future negative comments.

Seed Search Engine with Positive Content

Make it harder for weeds to grow in your brand’s search engine results by sharing plenty of positive brand-related content.

  • Post consistent, relevant blog entries.d
  • Find or create opportunities for you and key team members to guest post on respected blogs and online publications.
  • Maintain a strong presence on social media channels through regular posts and comments.
  • Encourage happy customers or clients to write honest online reviews.
  • Implement SEO best practices to boost organic search rankings.

Be Transparent

Whether you’re responding to an online review or posting a new blog entry, transparency is the glue that will hold your online reputation together.

  • Remain true to company beliefs.
  • Don’t hide criticism or negative feedback.
  • Address rumors or misstatements with facts, not arguments.
  • Apologize for mistakes.

Don’t let others define your brand in search results. Take control of your online business reputation with a strategy that creates a positive impression on all your stakeholders.