A new phrase/job/concern has emerged since the development of social media: Online Reputation Management (ORM).
We've gone from 1) hurry up and get out there! to, 2) spread your message on every possible social media platform that's humanly possible! and now, 3) make sure someone is in charge of your ORM!
What was once an activity you, as a small business owner, could do in a few spare hours throughout the week, has now become a full-time job. And let's hope it's not yours because, as important as managing your online presence to stay viable and capture the attention and wallets of your customers is, managing your small business is your most important task. Don't intertwine the two until running the business becomes managing your online reputation.
Word on the street, however, is that web visitors hate one thing the most about a company's website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed: its emptiness. Otherwise called a virtual property "ghost town."
Where's your Ghost Town?
Maybe it's time to take stock of your online reputation and highlight any ghost towns--those social media dens into which you moved, built a fire, and eventually forgot about in the pursuit of other, bigger fires. The longer the list of your online properties, the more time you're involved with stoking the fire, keeping the flames hot.
Once you put yourself out there, you'd better be committed to keeping your presence active, or your credibility slowly--sometimes quickly, if you make a bad first impression--chips away. How many properties do you currently occupy, and are your fires stoked?
Assessing your online presence and making an ORM plan
First, if you don't already maintain a list of all the places your business lives on the web, you should. List every property, from your website to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google +, Tumblr, and others. Is your company listed or being reviewed on websites like Yelp, Angie's List, or Yellowpages? List those, too. All of these properties and listings online are contributing to the overall brand of your business.
Next, determine the type of audience each social media platform addresses. Your message and brand are being reviewed by your customers, potential customers, competitors, collaborators, ancillary service providers, and those who simply stumble upon your business without a pre-conceived idea of what you stand for. Who are you communicating with, and where?
Eliminate any those that don't further your goals, speak to the audience you're most trying to reach or engage with, or that you aren't motivated to keep up with, even if it's a good fit for your business. Because silence leaves the customer/visitor their internal dialogue about your company.
4 questions to ask yourself about online reputation management for your business
Once you've revisited all of your dens, swept out the cobwebs, and felt the warmth (or lack thereof) of your fire, you're ready to manage your online reputation. You have three choices: do it yourself, appoint an in-house staff member, or outsource. Your action plan should include the following questions:
1. Do you have reputation problems stemming from poor reviews, a lack of online presence, or unpleasant media coverage? If managing your reputation is spurred by poor business practices or customer reviews, you have more work ahead of you than just enlivening your social media hangouts. This is where you step back and re-evaluate your practices, logistics and operations, and employees. Strengthen your business internally before you strengthen your public appearance.
2. Are you being consistent from place to place? Is your online activity properly reflecting your company goals? Compare your brand to your current message, and revise as necessary.
3. Where are customers interacting with your content the most? Cultivate those, and learn to integrate other platforms into the most useful of your social media platforms. Research various software that can help you manage all of your pages, such as Hootsuite or Sprout Social.
4. What is your ORM timeframe? Determine a schedule and reporting process to either hold yourself or staff member responsible for your online reputation management process, or research companies with whom you can outsource. High profile companies like Reputation.com take on challenges to your business's reputation, while content media firms help strengthen your brand, provide a plan and tools to connect with your audience online through blogs, videos, and other content, and offer analytical tools to track your progress.
Don't let your business become a ghost town by overwhelming yourself with social media presence. Make a plan and move ahead with roaring fire!