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There has been a lot of discussion about how businesses and
individuals need to participate in social networks to get their
messages out, but there is little discussion related to managing online

Vehicles such as Angies List, Facebook and YouTube are prime
locations for your customers to share their positive or negative
experiences related to your company. There are also thousands of blogs
that are sharing information with customers every day on what they
liked or disliked about their experiences with businesses.

If you are still not convinced that your online presence is
important consider that women are nearly twice as likely to use blogs
than social networking sites as a source of information (64 percent),
advice and recommendations (43 percent) and opinion-sharing (55
percent), according to a recent 2009 Women and Social Media study.

From somScore, the data figures for video views from November 2008
finds more and more people are watching videos—about 146 million or 77
percent of the U.S. Internet audience. This is up over one-third year
over year.

Your customers are online and not just looking at your Web site and
Facebook page for information about your company. What took you years
to develop in local reputation can be brought down in a day with
negative commentary. Therefore, it pays to protect your brand where
ever consumers are offered a degree of interaction.

It’s important that either you have an employee who conducts
comprehensive online reputation management to ensure that your brand
attributes are protected across all social channels. Another option is
to hire an outside company to regularly monitor for negative commentary
and, if any is found, combat it by researching the situation,
discerning if any action is required, and then engage the problem.

A good response will provide facts and ask for corrections if
required. This is where your company blog or those of your employees
and customers can be invaluable. Opening the conversation to as many
sides as possible and broadening the discussion.

Some key areas to consider when dealing with your online reputation management:

Do not get defensive: Even if your customer is not correct in what
they wrote, you cannot criticize them. You need to reach out, listen,
try to understand their perspective and then work to resolve their
concerns. How you handle a situation is often more important that the
actions that caused or resolved the situation. In the social networking
world, style counts.

The best defense is a well executed offense: You do not wait for a
virus to attack your network, so why would you wait for negative
postings to protect your online reputation? Begin with your customer
service. It is always easier to work with a happy customer than it is
to negate and unhappy one. Proactive postings on a regular basis
through blogs, Twitter, and other social mediums can go a long way.
Don’t forget to share good news as it happens as well. When appropriate
a shared press release between you and a customer goes a long way to
bolstering your reputation in the marketplace.

Hire an objective source: It is hard to be objective when it comes
to your own brand and reputation. Just as it is difficult to evaluate
your own work, it is challenging at best to understand outside
perceptions of your business. Many outside companies assist with
keeping your business top of mind with existing and potential customers.

You do not need to invest millions, or even thousands of dollars in
your online reputation management, but you do need to pay attention to
what is being said about your business. An investment of just a few
thousand dollars can go a long way to building and protecting your
brand and business.

Kathleen Martin is the special projects coordinator for Channel Insider.