How to Manage Your Business's Online Reputation - Page 2

By Jennifer Schiff
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How, When and Where to Respond

Being responsive to customers is an essential part of creating a positive impression – and managing your online reputation. If someone asks you a question online, answer, either on that site or via e-mail. If a customer has an issue, address it immediately, and don’t place the blame on the customer. (“Be humble,” advised McFeeley, and move on.)

“We always respond to comments posted on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, or elsewhere online, usually [via] a private message or e-mail to the commenter,” said Fernandez. “Regardless of whether the comment is positive or negative, we thank them for trying our flagship beer, and give them a sneak preview of what else we have in store for future beer releases. Comments by fans or critics are an invaluable opportunity to reach out directly to the consumer.”

Christopher’s Wine & Cheese’s Scott Seaman advocates – and follows – a similar strategy.

“Thank them for their interest and try to ask questions to have more of a conversation,” advised Seaman. “If they complimented something, maybe we ask what other products they think we should carry.  If it’s something specific like a bottle of wine, we ask what else they’ve tried from that winery or region, or we suggest other wines they may also enjoy based on the ones that they did.”

That kind of personal attention, he said, lets customers know their business is valuable and that they want to keep them as customers. And it typically leads to better sales, referrals and new customers.

Top Ten Tips for Creating a Positive Impression with Social Media

  • Get to know your customers. Find out which sites your customers frequent and join the conversation. And don’t limit yourself to Facebook and Twitter. If you are in the retail business, look at sites like Yelp. Similarly, if you are in the hospitality business, monitor and respond to comments on TripAdvisor.
  • Sign up for Google Alerts. “By subscribing to searches for our company name, we receive daily e-mails with links to pages containing our name,” said Fernandez. “We’ve been surprised with how rapidly we are informed about a mention of our company name – often within hours of the posting.”
  • Watch and learn. “I sat and watched Twitter for a couple of weeks before I ever started interacting,” explained Seaman. “Once I was comfortable there, I found a way to start automatically sending updates from the blog as well as my own conversations. The same with Facebook.”
  • Listen. “Know what people are saying about you, your competitors, and your industry,” said McFeeley.
  • Establish yourself as an expert. Every Thursday Ruby Jane’s Thomas tweets about the show Project Runway, where designers are given 24 hours to create an amazing outfit. “Every Friday I post my review of the show on my blog. Project Runway is always a trending topic on Twitter on Thursday nights, which means my tweets often turn up on Twitter’s home page. Similarly, Project Runway is always a top search term on Friday mornings, which means that my blog post will turn up in search results. This season two of the contestants are from my area, which means I can also submit press releases to local media about my ongoing coverage of the two local contestants.”
  • Be disciplined about posting. “Social media can be quite addictive,” noted McFeeley. You need to be disciplined about your time on sites and the content you post. Most experts agree that you should post only once or twice a day and keep posts brief and to the point, including links if relevant.
  • Give. “If you have a helpful hint, share it. If you see something interesting [such as an article], pass it on,” advised McFeeley. Thomas, for example, is currently Facebooking, tweeting, and blogging about Halloween costume and decorating ideas.
  • Don’t always make it about you. “Don’t use your social networking strictly for promotion,” advised Thomas. Use it to inform and educate. “Of course I tell my Facebook fans about sales or new products, but I also link to free patterns, tutorials, craft industry news, start discussions and hold contests.” Added Fernandez, “If all your posts are pushing your product, you run the risk of being seen as a Facebook/Twitter ‘spammer,’ and you will be ignored.”
  • Say thank you. Send an e-mail or post a response when someone says something nice about you. If a customer leaves an especially nice comment or testimonial, “send a card, via snail mail,” said McFeeley. “Appreciation marketing is a growing trend. Be an early adopter.”
  • Know who is minding the store. If you have employees posting to Facebook and/or Twitter, make sure you have written policies about who is authorized to do what and if certain things are prohibited.

How a Good Reputation Translates into Sales

“Small businesses have generally sold personal service as one of their best qualities,” explained Seaman. And by being on social media sites and other places that your customers frequent, participating in their conversations and showing that you care, “you give your customers a level of service and the personal attention they’re seeking,” he said.

For Christopher’s Wine & Cheese, that personal attention has resulted in a 13 percent increase in sales over the same time period last year, which Seaman largely attributes to social media and actively engaging customers online, through his blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about IT and small business issues and runs a blog for and about small businesses.

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This article was originally published on September 16, 2009
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