As a small or midsized business owner, you may have questions about how you are perceived by your customers. What are they saying about your products and services in public forums? How do you monitor and respond to customer feedback? Here's a small business reputation management checklist with tips on where to look, what to listen for and how to effectively respond.

1. Make Reputation a Priority

The first step to improving your online reputation is to make it a priority. As noted by Small Business Trends, it takes just a few online attacks or poor reviews to damage your reputation. But if you put in the work to effectively manage public perception, it's possible to create an approachable, forward-thinking online persona that both respects loyal customers and attracts potential clients.

2. Own Social Media

The Huffington Post recommends Facebook and Instagram as good places to start owning your brand; Facebook boasts more than 1.44 billion active users per month while Instagram has over 75 million daily users. Twitter is also a good bet, especially for tracking trending issues or providing quick responses to customer concerns. There's a common thread here: it's important to own your brand. Make sure your tone of voice and point of view are consistent across all social media channels to provide a sense of continuity.

3. Respond Well

No matter how well you craft your image, there will always be negative feedback. Identify what type of negative attention you're getting: Is the issue with you or a partner? If shipping is a problem, for example, you can redirect customers to the appropriate vendor; if the problem persists, consider a new shipper. If the problem lies with your team, such as product quality or support issues, follow these rules:

  1. Fully understand the issue before replying.
  2. Be specific and find out exactly what the consumer wants.
  3. Learn the specifics and use them to improve future service.
  4. Agree with customers wherever possible rather than challenging their perceptions.

Done well, your response to a negative review or feedback can have a positive overall impact as consumers spread the word about your willingness to listen and address concerns.

4. Curate Your Image

Ultimately, your brand's image is public, but the faces of this image are often those of individuals — sales reps, service team members and even the CEO. As a result, you must protect employees from personal attack and ensure their public image is consistent. Facing these challenges means taking a hard line against any kind of employee harassment or abuse while simultaneously managing the outgoing image of company personnel. Photos should be professional and employees must be trained to clearly articulate the company's image and mission.

Want to improve your small business reputation management? It's time to tackle social media head-on and make public perception a top priority. If you do it right, consumers will respect your dedication and also come away with a clear understanding of your brand.

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