By Erika Madden | Featured Contributor
From carefully crafting your perfectly-positioned prices to the late nights you’ve spent tweaking your website, you’ve worked hard to nurture your business into something profitable. But if you don’t devote the same care to watching over your online reputation, all of your painstaking work could prove fruitless.
The reality is that it only takes one sarcastic remark, frustrated customer, or careless photo to make people think twice about doing business with you. And what’s worse? These reputation-killers are only one Google search or Facebook visit away from every one of your future clients.
Maintaining a good reputation requires vigilance, but the good news is that you can take action today without spending a dime. Here are 8 free ways to make sure your online image looks — and stays — squeaky clean.
1. Secure Your Business Name
If you don’t claim your business name on social networks and blogging sites, you’re giving someone else the chance to misrepresent you online. Don’t risk it, because it does happen. The places you’ll definitely want to set up in your name — yes, even if you don’t actively use them! — are Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Foursquare, Yelp, and Quora. From there branch out to places like Vine, Flickr, Tumblr, Vimeo, and so on. (Check your name’s availability quickly with KnowEm.)
2. Fill Out Your Profiles
Incomplete online profiles are almost as bad as having no profile at all. That’s because they scream one of two things: “I’m lazy!” or “I’m clueless!” You can’t earn (or maintain) the reputation as a trustworthy expert in your field if it looks like you’re just slapping things together as you go along. Do you have a profile photo uploaded on all of the networks? What about cover photos? Have you filled out every field on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn…?
3. Get A Classy Headshot
You may love how you looked when you were posing with your girlfriends — and your neon sunglasses — on that epic camping trip last summer, but awkwardly cropping out your head and using it in association with your business gives people the immediate impression that you don’t take your job seriously. Instead, find an attractive setting that complements your brand image and ask a close friend or family member to take a few polished photos of you. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, take them yourself using the timer feature on your camera!
4. Use A Pro Email Address
To look reputable, everything — yes, even your email address — needs to play the part. Gmail is fabulous, but using it as the face of your business correspondence can give people the idea that you’re an amateur. Setting up an email using your business website’s domain name is simple AND totally free. Your webhost should have step-by-step directions, but if you get stuck, recruit a friend or search Google.
5. Respond To Problems Swiftly
Businesses aren’t dismantled by complaints; it’s how they’re handled that can make or break your success. If you let disgruntled clients and customers linger, you’re virtually guaranteed that what likely started out as a private or minor problem will be rapidly (and passionately) flaunted for thousands to see. Minimize public embarrassments by making every effort to respond to complaints or help requests within an hour.
6. Be Gracious To Your Critics
Acting snarky or defensive when you get an poor online review is one of the surest ways to obliterate your good name. To preserve your reputation as a business that people can admire and trust, don’t shoot back a reply when you’re feeling humiliated or angry. Once you’ve calmed down, tell them you’re sorry for their experience — and generously offer whatever is in your power to make it better for them.
7. Commit To Keeping A Blog
Blogging is your chance to tell your story the way you want to say it. Yes, it can be grueling at times, but the alternative is far worse in the long run. If you’re not out there flooding the internet with what you want to say, it’s much easier for that old embarrassing remark or one bad review to stay near the top of the search engine results. (And look more important than it is.)
8. Listen In On Others
On the internet eavesdropping is considered a good thing. Even the most delightful and conscientious entrepreneurs can find themselves on somebody’s trash list now and again…but if you don’t know about it, you can’t take steps to repair the problem. To stay aware, first set up Google Alerts for your name, your brand name, and common misspellings or acronyms. Then regularly check in with online reputation monitoring sites like Social Mention.
Your reputation is a precious asset that’s impossible to restore to its original brilliance once besmirched.
Give it the TLC and protection it deserves so people can love your business as much as you do!
Erika Madden is the irresistible super geek behind Olyvia, a digital marketing, reputation, and etiquette consulting company that helps women be delightful online. Between herding three feisty young children, running to the store for more Starbucks K-cups, and obsessively tweaking her website, she considers her success to be just short of miraculous.