To be honest, it's not just about you. It could be about your industry as a whole. The reality is, if people don't like you or your industry, they'll talk about it online, and that negative talk can be bad for business.
Case in point: there's some software I use that's pretty good at many things. It has flaws, but the support staff has been working hard to fix it. It hasn't always been that way. At this time last year, there were many people who felt the software sucked, and they talked about it a lot online.
During the year, there were a lot of improvements made to the software. So many improvements were made that the reasons people gave for the software sucking were gone. And yet those old posts remain near the top of the heap in the search engines giving people who don't know the software the impression that it still sucks.
Fortunately, there are a lot of people who have jumped to the software's defense on that page. This is good - and bad.
It's good because if someone takes the time to read the responses to the original article, they'll see an impassioned defense of the software by its power users.
It's bad because a) few people read EVERYTHING on a page and b) those logical, impassioned defenses are down the page a ways and c) because so many people have chimed in on the topic, the page is very active and therefore HIGHLY RANKED IN GOOGLE for many search terms related to that software.
This is a lovely case study of Online Reputation Management (ORM). Yes - there's now another acronym for you to be concerned about online. Think because you're just a small fish you're safe? Think again. Anyone can be targeted online by people who don't like them. Sole proprietorships to multi-national corporations can be affected. Here are a few examples of what bigger companies experience.
- www.walmartsucks.org and www.walmart-blows.com
- www.leafs-suck.com and www.habssuck.com
- ...and thousands more - you get the picture.
So, what can you do to make sure your online reputation isn't in tatters? Check up on it every now and then. That's what.
Search for your company name online. Search for your name online. See what comes up and see if anything worries you. If you find someone who's griping about you, consider whether they have a legitimate beef or just an axe to grind and take action.
Finding something bad about you online gives you an opportunity to turn around a bad situation. Or, if that's not possible, then at least you can tell your side of the story if it's appropriate.
You can also get busy putting more good news about yourself online. Over time, that can help push bad reviews further down the search results so people will be more likely to see good news about you than bad. Some ORM companies call this "innoculation". Unfavourable content may be online, but it will be overwhelmed by the good so the effect on you or your business should be minimal.