You’re a small business owner. Most of your customers are the people who live within 25 miles of your storefront. Why does it even matter what the Internet has to say about your brand? That has no impact on your bottom line.
No. Dangerously wrong.
Weber Shandwick recently released a new report called The Company Behind The Brand: In Reputation We Trust  [PDF] that breaks down exactly why business owners should be concerned with the online footprint they’re leaving (or not leaving) behind. One of the most interesting parts of the report for me was the finding that any disconnect between corporate and brand reputation triggers a sharp consumer reaction. That means even if your product or service is excellent…if the image of your brand is less than stellar, it will still hurt you.
According to the report, when a consumer learns that a product they like is made by a company they have a negative relationship with (54 percent of consumers responded they’ve experienced this), 96 percent of consumers took some kind of action.
What kind of action?
The most frequent response was that consumers stopped purchasing the product (40 percent). In fact, surprised consumers were twice as likely to STOP buying the product as they were to continue to buy it. And this is a product they originally admitted to liking! That was pretty startling to me. Just as noteworthy – consumers who didn’t immediately stop buying the product went online to try and learn more about the company.
Both of these statements speak to the importance of creating a positive Web presence.
- Consumers are using social word of mouth, online reviews, and other online content to form a judgment about your company. The judgment they form is then strongly tied to whether or not they decide to purchase your product.
- When consumers are conflicted, they go to the Internet to answer the “should I trust you” question. They’re then using the information they find about your brand to help them make that decision.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not trying to target a national audience. Local consumers are using the Web to find information about local businesses. It’s up to you to make sure they’re finding the right kind of information.
What should every small business be doing to help build their Web presence?
- Create a Web site: Your brand Facebook profile or Google+ business page is great. But your business still needs a Web site . Some place where you can talk about your product/services, establish credibility, introduce your team, offer resources, and be found for hyper-local keywords.
- Blog: There are few better ways to build industry authority than with an active blog. Producing content on a regular basis also ensures there’s always something you can promote and be found for.
- Get involved in social media: Maybe that means getting active on Twitter or Facebook. Or maybe it means developing a presence on a Q&A site like Quora  or participating in a small business networking site like BizSugar . Either way, find out where your audience is engaging online, and set up a satellite community there. Talk to your audience and let them get to know you on a more human level. Just don’t get too human .
- Get involved in your community : Whether it’s sponsoring your town’s little league team, speaking at local events, or putting together an industry-related group at the local high school, by getting involved in the community that you live in you help to build a positive reputation offline, which can then carry online when people write about your efforts, link to sponsors, etc.
- Guest blog on relevant sites: Guest blogging  is a great way to build goodwill, establish industry credibility, and introduce your company to people in other networks.
- Solicit & manage online reviews : This is a biggie and it’s only becoming more important. We’re going to sites like Yelp, Google Place Pages, TripAdvisor, etc, to learn how the experiences others had with your brand. Make sure you’re not only doing what you can to encourage customers to leave reviews, but positively responding to any negative or neutral comments that may be there. You not only help save that relationship, but you show everyone else who may find that review in the search results that you’re listening, you care, and that you hear them.
Online reputation management is important for businesses of any size. It’s about creating a positive Web presence to make your brand one that people trust and want to engage with. Because, as the report mentioned above shows, it doesn’t matter how great your product is – if people don’t trust you, they won’t be interested in it.