Why Online Reputation Matters to Small Business

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

21 Reactions
  1. That’s eye-opening, to say the least, and something more small businesses need to spend time thinking about and acting on. Glad you’re getting the word out, Lisa.

  2. Lisa–
    I know years ago being online for local businesses didn’t matter much. After all, the Yellow Pages were where it was at for finding great businesses, right? I found a stat from Google that said something like 90% of smartphone users search for local businesses. It’s something that can’t be ignored.


  3. I would never have guessed that 40% would totally bail on the company, but this shows how important it is for SMBs to maintain a solid web presence.

  4. Some interesting points here, does make you think that all the hard work can be undone in an instant without looking after your online presence

  5. Wow. I’m with Robert. I would not have guessed the number would be so high.

  6. Thanks Lisa for reminding us about reputation/risk management on the Social Web.. which many are taking for granted. The trouble is that when bad word spreads about your brand on the Social Web, it’s like a plague and people who read it won’t even question the authenticity of the claim, or even check out the person who has written a negative review about your products or services. Great to be reminded of these things you wrote here.

  7. We’ve found that using podcasting as a way to generate blog posts is highly efficient for the business owner, if done right. The key is having a plan, having a sidekick interviewer/editor to finish up the audio and then rewriting the transcripts into content that you can post along with the podcast. If you do this right, you’ll have 80,000 words by the end of a year and a great start to building a rock solid reputation in your field.

  8. Thus the proliferation of social media compliance and monitoring tools. It’s no longer just a “nice to have” for businesses who value their online reputations.

  9. I agree with you. A positive review does help, but a negative review can hit your business very badly. Hence, it is important to stay out there, being alert, and do everything you can do to save and revive your business reputation. Thank you for the great tips on helping web presence.

  10. Online brand and reputation is so important, yet unfortunately many businesses don’t take action until the negative reviews or complaints starts. It’s much harder repairing the negative effects when you don’t already have a solid foundation/reputation in place. Be proactive first, reactive second.