I usually like to focus on the up-side of social media marketing for business. After all–it’s free, not too difficult to learn and manage with proper training and a great way to build and maintain relationships with customers. So what’s the “other” side? Reputation management.

In a nutshell, businesses need to think about what they could be losing by refusing to participate effectively in social media. I have a bit of bad news for those businesses–just because you decide you don’t have the time or inclination to participate doesn’t mean negative comments and conversations aren’thappening. Odds are, they’re happening…and you don’t even know about it.

One simple (and free) step you can take is to set up Google Alerts to help monitor online mentions of your name, company and other important phrases. Google will send you an email at the frequency interval you select—as it happens, once a day or once a week. I use Google Alerts myself and consider myself lucky that so far, no negative comments have come to light; it is still a useful tool to learn of a mention and to be able to comment or otherwise respond.

If you happen to receive a less-than-positive comment, don’t panic. Here are a few practical steps you can take:

  • Resist the temptation to erase or block negative comments. Transparency will earn you respect.
  • Acknowledge the comment publicly, online, but don’t engage there. Leaving digital “evidence” shows the commenter that you are a company that cares and does not hide behind a corporate veil.Note: the average person on Facebook has 230+ connections; therefore, your response has the potential to be seen by far more people than just the person who starts the conversation.
  • Express willingness to listen and follow up with the person.Example:
    “I’m sorry to hear you weren’t satisfied with our serve. My direct line is xxx-xxx-xxxx. I hope you will call me to help me understand what happened.”
  • Make sure you solicit feedback from customers to open the channels of communication proactively. Providing opportunity for them to share problems with you directly may reduce the number of online complaints.  Tools such as SurveyMonkey make it easy to design and send customer satisfaction surveys online.
  • Finally, be sure to share the good stories: testimonials, recommendations, etc. to balance out any negative comments that arise. LinkedIn’s recommendation and endorsement  features are a great way to showcase positive feedback you have earned for your professionalism.

Can you afford not to learn what’s being said about you and your business? In a presentation by e-storm on Reputation Management: The Why, The How, the following statistics were stated:

A London School of Economics study showed that a 2% reduction in negative word of mouth press showed a 1% increase in sales growth.

A Dell Computer study on word of mouth advertising showed:
– An average consumer is worth $210 to them.
– An average detractor costs them $57.
– An average promoter generates $32.

What is your online reputation worth to you?