You're a business owner. You own and operate a brick and mortar business. It doesn't matter if you're a restaurateur, a dentist or own a retail outlet. People out there can check into your business.

What is a check in?

A check is when I take out my phone and write a status update about being at your business.

If your business doesn't already have an existing Facebook page, anyone can create their own page to check into on Facebook. Or if you're an older established business who hasn't moved into the digital era, an unofficial Facebook page may already exist for your business. And if you already have your own Facebook page, people can still make a duplicate page.

Why is that a problem?

On the surface it doesn't seem like that big a deal, but it can actually be a way bigger problem that destroys your business.

First, we'll go over what an unofficial location page is.

An unofficial location page is an unclaimed Facebook page about a business that is generated either from scraped data from Wikipedia, or by a consumer who tried to 'check into' your business but didn't find an existing location.

Here's an example of what it looks like:

As a consumer, I can see myself missing this indicator.

On Facebook, when you don't claim your business page, every single public 'check in' can be seen on your page.

That means both positive and negative check ins are seen by the entire world. And a check in isn't even a review.

But that shows total transparency, right? Isn't that a good thing?

If it did, then businesses wouldn't be claiming their pages left and right, then updating them with their own images, branding and statuses.

So what does it look like when a person checks into a business for an unofficial page?

This image is on the safe side. On other pages in the medical world, I have seen check ins that contain profanity, people flicking off the location, pictures of broken bones or blood, and so forth. Even if you're in a much safer industry like a restaurant, someone can make a page about your business and fill it up with check ins of obscene stuff.

What if someone goes on a huge rant? What if someone tries to fill your page up entirely with hate? Is that the message you want to send to the world about your business?

Now you might think, "I have my locations page already." The problem is still the same: even if you already have your own locations page setup, you still need to constantly check for duplicates.

So how do you prevent duplicates and make sure you don't have any issues?

1. Claim or make your own page

If you don't already have a Facebook page for your business, claim one of the existing locations or make your own.

2. Update your page with your content

If you already have a page, you can skip this. If you don't, change out your cover photo, your logo, update your about us page and so forth. This will let potential consumers know that this is your business page.

3. Verify your page

When you verify your page, you will get a checkmark next to the name for your business.

This will tell Facebook that it is your official page, so that it can be boosted up in rankings and give customers confidence that this is your actual business page.

If you have multiple locations, set up the Facebook locations feature so you can show a map of all your venues.

4. Claim duplicates every month

When I first started cleaning up locations, there were hundreds of duplicate pages I needed to clean up for the business. It was so bad that I needed to talk to Facebook directly to get the issue squared away.

Each month, I still have to continually go in and audit the properties for the brand I manage because people keep going in and making up their own business. To claim a duplicate page, all you have to do is click 'is this your business' and either merge or claim the page.

If you have too many, it may be best to claim them all then submit them for merging all at once.

You will have to continue to do this month after month. If you don't, then you leave your business vulnerable to an unfair image, or worse yet, something that destroys your business completely.

And don't just check Facebook. Check your locations for all your platforms, from Yelp to Foursquare to Google Places and so forth.

5. Update statuses and audit your check ins

Your status updates and images that you post are your marketing pieces. Use them wisely and start working on building out your brand to be portrayed the way it should be seen in the world. You can even use your brand's new Facebook page's advertising features to promote specials, throw events and get the local community to come visit your venue.

What I wrote about isn't just a problem on Facebook. The same thing can happen on Yelp or other platforms. It's a matter of your business reputation.

Your reputation is the most important part of your business. Don't let it be a victim to circumstance in any way whatsoever.

As Dennis Yu of  Blitzmetrics says, a robust, active Facebook page for your business not only won't scare off potential customers, but will help you in search results, increase the word-of-mouth effect and help your customers your marketing for you.

Have you faced a problem with your business's reputation like this? How have you dealt with it? I'd love to learn more! Comment below.

Published on: Jul 19, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.