It used to be that only big companies needed to worry about their brand. Small- and medium-sized businesses were off the hook and free to humbly market their companies offline to folks within a certain storefront radius. But then the Internet happened. And social media. And it changed everything.
Today, even small businesses need to be vigilant about their brands. The fact that you’re smaller means you’re also more susceptible to pesky rumors, loud customer service complaints and customers getting vocal about bad experiences. A big company can shrug off those losses in sales. You can’t. Every dollar and customer counts. Social media has given each one of your customers a megaphone and you need to make sure they’re saying the right things. You need to be proactive about building and managing your online reputation.
Protect Your Brand
Before you even start building your brand, you should be taking steps to protect it. It’s absolutely essential that you’re in control of your name, and in the online world, that means securing it everywhere. Grab a WordPress account, a Twitter account, a YouTube account, and all the other available social media accounts still available. It may sound silly to register accounts you don’t think you’ll use, but it’s better to have them and not use them, then to let a possible competitor brandjack them for their own use. Just because you don’t see yourself creating a Flickr strategy today, doesn’t mean you won’t find a good use for one a few months from now. It’s better to have the account than to not.
You can check availability on all the major social networking sites at once using the username check site KnowEm. KnowEm even offers a premium service where they’ll go out and register all those profiles for you. For anyone who’s ever spent a day registering social media account after social media account, you know it’s a headache spared.
Build Your Brand
Once you’ve taken the steps to protect your brand, work to build it up. When someone does a search for your company or brand in Google, you want them to find you. Not an impostor.
Claim your search engine space by:
- Listing your small business in the local indexes
- Starting a blog
- Guest posting on other blogs
- Writing articles for industry publications
- Create speaker profiles for any local events and optimize them for your company name
- Creating YouTube videos and Flickr images with your company name in the title
All of these small steps will help ensure that a customer looking for you will find you. It’s a combination of SEO and online reputation management.
Monitor What People Are Saying
Someone from your company should be in charge of keeping an eye on the blogosphere, the Web and Twitter to monitor all brand mentions. There are lots of ways to track brand mentions but most small businesses will find the majority of their bases covered with Google Alerts.
If you haven’t used it before, Google Alerts is a powerful free tool from Google that allows you to set up alerts in a number of different verticals.
- News Alerts track Google News
- Blog Alerts track Google Blog Search
- Group Alerts track Google Groups
- Video Alerts track Google Video
- Comprehensive Alerts track EVERYTHING!
Once set up, Google gives you the option to receive alerts daily or as they happen and will deliver them via email or RSS. To keep an eye on your brand, set up alerts for your company name, your important and public employees, etc. You may also want to track competitors, keywords, important industry names, etc.
If you’re company is doing a lot of blogging, you may also want to set up alerts on Technorati and Blog Pulse. And if you’re on Twitter, you should set up some saved Twitter searches, as well.
Responding to Criticism
Chances are most of your online mentions will be positive. You’ll find people talking gloriously about how great your product is and how wonderful the service is. But this is the Internet. It won’t all be roses.
When you come across a customer who is genuinely upset or feels wronged, reached out to them and try to make amends for whatever happened. Be genuine. Apologize for what went wrong and offer a plan for moving forward – whether it’s a free meal the next time around, a discount or just a real promise that they’ll be treated with extra care when they next come in. It costs a lot less to keep that old customer than to try and convert a new one. It will also shows others just seeing that complaint that you care and tried to make things better.
If you find a blog post where someone is misstating the facts or spreading false information, enter the discussion and correct it. Identify that you work for the company in question and be informative without being defensive. The minute it sounds like you’re being defensive, you make the situation worse.
Not all situations deserve a response, though. If you find someone making an outrageous complaint, research their name or user name before you respond. Is the person really upset with you or do they just have a habit of “trolling” the Internet causing a ruckus and making crazy comments? If it’s the later, ignore it. Oftentimes, giving attention to someone looking for a spotlight makes things worse, not better.
Social media and the Web have made it possible for our customers to talk about our brands all over of the Web. As a small business, it’s your job to monitor what’s being said so you can actively and protect your brand.
Good list of things just about any business owner can do — and you don’t need to be an SEO expert. By devoting just a little bit of time into learning your way around online, you can be in better control of managing your online presence.
Really great advice to consider and implement. I had not previously known of the site KnowEm. It looks very interesting and I’m going to go over and see if it will help me. I do use Google Alerts and it has come in handy more than once.
I have seen KnowEm before, but I jumped up again when I saw so many online places listed!
At first I didn’t see what the image in this post resembled. Could it be that I am a city slacker or not a farm boy?! 😉
Here is an excerpt from my post, Food For Thought:
“I have soon been blogging for seven years. I will continue to build my EGO brand in the years to come, and in order to do that, I have registered a new domain name, Ego Sole Trader. It will be a powerhouse for thoughts on the trader principle and wealth of information for the self-employed (sole traders / proprietors).”
I will roll out my new site on my birthday on May 25! 🙂
Thanks for the post. Under “Building Your Brand” you mention tasks like writing articles and posting blogs as ways to enforce a companies’ image. I think i speak for at least some start-ups, when i ask…how do you get people to all that wonderful content? I’ve come across many marketing articles that mention the same thing–write good stuff. But just like a great product doesn’t sell itself, my hunch would be that neither does great content. Do you have any tips on how to drive traffic to your blogs and article postings?
Amanda: I can’t recommend knowem enough. I think it’s a really great service for small business owners looking to take hold of their online presence without wasting 2 days of their life registering accounts.
Martin: Yeah, I worried a little about that photo. I couldn’t find a good “branding” image. Hee. Good luck with the site launch and happy early birthday! 🙂
Shirley: As for driving traffic to blog posts, (and I hate to say it), but Twitter. If you can work up a good number of followers who really care about you, then they’ll flood to that article when you post the link. Otherwise, you can link to it from your site, other social media avenues, etc.
However, even if you don’t get a ton of traffic to that article, if you find ways to include your company name in the title, it’s likely going to rank just off that. There’s probably not too much competition for your small business in the search engines, so just little things like putting your company name in the title and mentioning it in the article will get the article ranking and help you claim more search space.
Thanks for your greeting! 🙂 The image is perfect together with the post. It took only some time for me to react! 😉 Houston, Texas, was one of the first places I visited during my trip in 1996.
I am contemplating if I should get a special Twitter and YouTube account for Ego Sole Trader. I will use a great video email message system Talk Fusion for sending out video greetings and communication bulletins. I am recognized as Lyceum nickname / user name / handle by many contacts. I wonder if it could be tough to handle plenty of accounts at the same time. The thing with Twitter and YouTube is that you often blend personal and business stuff at the same time in order to get your genuine and natural “voice”. People know that I am “rugged” individualist, “lone wolf”, introvert and social being at the same time! 😉
I think it’s very important to monitor the “buzz” on the Internet with Google Alerts and whatnot. This gives you an opportunity to build relationships with those who are referring to your business and to respond to anything that may be being said or written out there.
And I like your photo . . . it drives the point home 🙂
Thanks for the insightful article and great comment feedback.
Oops. I never have ever activated Google Alerts in my account. Now, I think I should have to.
Found the article very enlightening and surely opened my eyes on some important things to consider.
Hey great article. I think the advice provided is a very useful stuff as they can really help us avoid many small mistake which may lead to degradation of Brand even before its establish. I also agree with the fact that driving traffic to the blogs or articles is really difficult. On the whole the post can be considered as a small introduction to SEO.
An excellent summary for small business owner, including the small retailers that I work with.
Excellent tips Lisa. You know what, I came to the point of getting frustrated learning about SEO. I should not be. Thanks! 😉
Good food for thought, thx D
Affordable online marketing Blogging is a quick, easy way to inform and educate your customers, be easily found by search engines, and to talk about the things you’re passionate about.
Great post Lisa!
One small update to your suggestion to use Google Alerts for reputation monitoring — it will not alert you when someone posts a review to Google Maps, Yahoo Local, Bing Maps, Citysearch, Yelp, etc. It’s very important for SMBs to continue to use the standard search engines to check those reviews websites for new reviews. Some websites will alert you to new reviews if you join and claim your local business listings on these sites, but that’s not a universal policy.
There are some applications like Techrigy SM2 that purport to cover these business listing reviews, but the free version isn’t 100% reliable. Perhaps the paid version works better — I haven’t tested it.
Google Alerts is great, but you have to continue monitoring the many business listings for new reviews on a regular basis.