By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you ever Google your business’s name just to see what pops up? You should, because what you find on the Internet and social media might surprise you. Negative reviews, claims that your business cheats customers or accusations against you personally could the first search result you find—and that means that’s the first thing prospective customers see, as well. If you don’t practice online reputation management, your business could suffer.

Last year I interviewed an entrepreneur who lived through a nightmare situation when a scathing review of his business on social media led to a 50 percent drop in sales. The business owner had to lay off staff and, a year and many online reputation management efforts later, his business was just beginning to recover.

A situation like this is every small business owner’s worst fear. In fact, fear of negative reviews on social media is one factor that keeps some small business owners off of social media altogether. But taking this attitude is putting your head in the sand. The reality is, customers are saying things about you online, both good and bad, whether you know it or not. If you don’t know what they’re saying about you, how can you take steps toward smart online reputation management?

Here are some steps you can take for savvy online reputation management:

  • Set up a Google Alert on your business name, your name, and even your key products’ names so that when someone says something about you online or on social media, you’ll be alerted. Once a month or so, type your business name into search engines and see what comes up. You might be surprised.
  • Claim your business listing on local search directories such as, and Google. Again, you may be surprised to see that your business information is listed; many directories put the names of local businesses into their systems, and that information may or may not be correct. You want to make sure the proper information is listed. This is also a time to check out any reviews that pop up.
  • Know what review and social media sites matter to your business. If you own a restaurant, you’ll want to check out Yelp. If you run a bed and breakfast, you need to look at TripAdvisor. Like it or not, your business is getting mentioned on these sites and you need to practice online reputation management there.
  • What if you find out someone is badmouthing your business online? Take steps to contact the person and find out what the issue is. While you will want to make your first contact in the public forum of the website, it’s best to take further communications offline. If you can remedy the situation, do so. Once the situation is resolved, share that information online.

More and more today, customers value small businesses that are honest, so trying to hide a negative review or comment will do you more harm than good. Instead, focus on turning the negative into a positive. Handling a tough situation in a professional manner can win new customers to your side.