In today’s business world, online reputation is everything. Your company’s reputation is ready to be written, and if you don’t write it, someone else will. Business owners must take an active part in building their company’s image.

Last week while I was driving home from work one of my new clients called me in a panic because somebody had written a negative review about them online. They were stunned that anyone was able to write anything they wanted to about their business, regardless if it were true or not. As unfortunate as this is, it is reality. Freedom of speech has allowed anyone to say anything they want about anybody else for quite a while now.

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The difference is, now that we are all connected, it is easier for everyone to see what everyone else is saying about us any and every one anytime they say it. Word of mouth has long been a huge accelerator or decelerator for a business’ success. We are people, we are social creatures and we like to talk to each other. We seek each other out to share our successes, our failures and our frustrations. With worldwide connections at our fingertips, comments, reviews and photographs can be shared in seconds. If you are going to sit there and lament about the passing of the “good old days” when you could just walk up and talk to a customer and look at them in the eye and do a deal on a hand shake then you are going to go out of business. It’s that simple. The world of business has evolved, and so must you.

Every generation talks about the up-and-coming generation and how it’s just not like the good old days.

When I was a kid I heard about how too much TV would rot my brain, how RAP music was not real music, video games were going to destroy our minds, reality TV is not real entertainment, and that social media is not really interacting with real people.

You can make all those arguments you want to, in your personal life. However, when it comes to your business, if someone is no longer going to look at you in the eye and do business with you that way, then you need to find out how to get on their phone, computer or tablet and do business with them. That is what doing business in the twenty-first century looks like. This means you need to be where people are having their conversations. More often, those conversations are not done face to face but through online social websites. As a business owner you have the opportunity to influence those conversations in a way that will benefit your business.

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You influence those conversations in two ways. First is “top down” which means you are influencing the influencers. You are getting other people, who already have audiences, to talk about you, your services and your perspective on your expertise. Whether your expertise is in tires or taxes, it does not matter. What matters is having influence on the direction the conversation is going.

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The second way you can influence a conversation is through what I call the “bottom up” influencers. Those are the individuals, the people on the ground level who are talking amongst themselves sharing opinions back and forth. They are adding comments to review sites about businesses, referring to one another on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Instagram, Snap Chat, Linked In and a billion other social networks that you have never heard of and probably cannot pronounce.

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Bottom up influence, at one point, used to only have influence at the local level. For example, everyone would talk about how terrible the baker is in town and how they wished they had a new baker. The baker’s popularity was known only to the local town members. In today’s world of technology the reviews of the baker are communicated and shared instantly and openly for all to see. There are no town or county lines and no border restrictions to these comments.

Guiding the general populace’s discussion around the industry you are in and the subject you want to be a part of not only comes from the top down in the mass media but now comes from the bottom up as well. Both of these influence one another. The mass media changes as public opinion is expressed en-mass and of course when people watch TV and are told what to think they offer opinions and echo what they think is right.

When it comes your little business and what people are saying about you, YOU ARE WHAT YOU PUBLISH.

As far as your reputation online goes, if you don’t publish anything, the best case scenario that you could hope for is that no one is going to know you and talk about you. But eventually someone is going to get upset and they are going to write something about you. If you do not have a Yelp profile people will enter your street address, your location and take a picture of the front of your building. While leaving you a one star review they will leave a detailed nasty review for all to read. When potential customers come looking for you on Google the only thing they will see is what others have said about you. You must defend and protect your business’ reputation. Jessica Merritt stated, “If you take the time to build a great reputation before problems pop up, reputation issues will be less damaging and easier to fix.”

I know this can sound overwhelming. It can be difficult to know where to start on some of platforms, especially if you have never been on them before. But people are having conversations with or without you. So it’s definitely better to be a part of the conversation that is going to happen – if it is not already happening. If you are a brick and mortar business with a certain geographic local that you service, I highly recommend you get on some of the local review sites if you are not already and then go actively participate. Customers today look to and trust the internet when it comes to finding businesses. In her article, Amanda Ronan shared the following statistics:

74% of people consult Yelp when looking for a home service provider. *86% of people would pay more for services from a company with higher ratings and reviews.

 

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Regardless of your profession or the type of services you offer, customers are searching for you online. What are they going to find? Have you spent time creating a positive reputation? Have you responded professionally to negative comments and resolved them as quickly as possible? You are what you publish. What is out there about you and your company?

For businesses that sell to larger geographical locations, like the country you live in or the globe and small businesses alike, I have put together a checklist for getting some media coverage and doing some big “top down” influence or outreach. If you have not already, check out the video I made about getting covered by traditional media. There is a lot of useful information in there about the benefits of traditional media and how to get started with them. Once you have watched the video, click the link below it and get a checklist of what to do in order to reach out to some of these influencers and really get that “top down” game going.

The “bottom up” game is something you just get in to, get your hands dirty and start participating. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers for reviews. Remember that when the time does come that you receive negative publicity or comments, whether they are true or not, it will be your customer’s positive feedback and their loyalty that will get you through it. For those customers reading through previous posts, remembering one negative comment amid the vast amount of positive comments will be difficult to do. The top down game is a little bit tricky for some because a lot of people just do not know where to start. Watch my video and carefully go through the checklist. Both of these will help you better understand how to begin the process of influencing the influencers.

 

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