There's a growing trend that you're not going to like -- but you need to know about it. It is that small businesses have to worry about their businesses getting trashed online. What do I mean? I mean that customers and, yes, even competitors, may write negative things about your business. And those negative comments, in the form of product or service reviews, can be found by the public and prospective customers doing their pre-sales research. Those negative comments could hurt your business. To understand why this trend is growing, you have only to look at online activity in general. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, 75% of American adults are online. That means 170 million people (75% of the 226 million adults in the United States) go online. Of those, 81% or 137 million look for information online about a service or product before buying. And 30% or 51 million people, have posted a comment or review online about a product or a service. This just counts people in the United States -- not even other countries. My latest column at the OPEN Forum examines this disturbing turn of events: The most alarming part to business owners is that reviews can be made anonymously on most sites. So customers are free to embellish, or simply use stronger language than they'd use if they had to give their real names. You may not even know who is doing the complaining, so you may have no way of determining how to make matters right. And the dirty little secret is, a competitor may be out spreading vitriol to damage your business. It's no accident that when you see product reviews online, sometimes they're accompanied by anonymous comments denouncing the product and at the same time praising a competing product. Occasionally you'll see multiple anonymous comments each extolling the virtues of a different competitor!\u00a0 Interested bystanders? I doubt it. Don't just gnash your teeth. The solution is to be proactive. Manage your business's online reputation. Reputation management is becoming a standard part of running a business today. I offer up tips and a reading list for how to manage your company's online reputation. Read: When Your Business Gets Trashed Online.