A recent study done by TMP Directional Marketing shows that in 2008, search engines officially surpassed the phone book with regards to how most consumers find (and choose) local businesses to patronize. Do you know what that means? It means that if your business isn’t online yet, it needs to get there and it needs to get there now.
The days of relying solely upon consumer reports, word of mouth and traditional advertising to figure out what a business has to offer are gone. Today people have Google. Google tells them pretty much everything they need to know from what a business’s hours are, to what prices it charges to its goods and services to what other customers have thought of that business and even how that business is ranked within professional circles. That probably feels overwhelming. The good news is that you do have a say in what Google has to say about you. You are in charge of your own reputation and there are lots of great places to find answers about reputation management.
The place to start, however, is with how you present yourself. You can’t simply toss up a static page that features a photo of your store front, your business hours and an address and phone number. That would have been fine five years ago or even two years ago. Today, however, your business needs to be interactive. In addition to your website, you need to have social media accounts and pages. That’s right; you’re going to have to learn to work with Facebook.
Beyond that, you’re going to have to learn how to interact with the people who comment on your Facebook page, your Twitter stream and who leave reviews about you online. How you respond to those comments and questions will tell people far more about you than any sort of paid advertising you might be thinking of buying. You want to make sure that potential customers (and previous customers leaving reviews) get the best impression of you possible.
This means taking every comment seriously and working to fix the things people have complained about or being able to explain why something should stay as it is eloquently and respectfully. It isn’t enough to simply respond to these comments and questions individually anymore either. Today you have to respond publicly, where people can see it. This means leaving comments on your own Facebook page, in your own Twitter stream and on review sites.
There are all sorts of things that you can do to make sure that when people search for your business on Google, they only see good things and only get a great impression of what you’ve got to offer. Managing your online reputation is definitely within your reach—even if you’ve only ever used email to send your kids “why don’t you call me more often” emails.