I have to point out that the rest of the world looks for you online before visiting your business, finds talk about you on Yelp and social media sites, and what they see can make or break your business.
Today your reputation online is more important than your price, service, or location. Despite what anyone tells you, you can and must manage it both before and after it may turn negative.
I can provide you the basics in strategy and tactics, but I was impressed with the guidelines in a new book, Control the Narrative: The Executive's Guide to Building, Pivoting, and Repairing Your Reputation, by Lida Citroën. She is an expert in this area, with some great stories to tell.
Here is her summary and mine of the steps that every business owner should follow in assessing and repairing any situation when you sense that your business's reputation in is jeopardy:
1. Assess the scope and impact of any negatives.
In today's world, it's hard to satisfy everyone totally, so you should expect some less-than-positive comments. If you find a few negatives among hundreds of accolades, your feelings may be hurt, but your reputation is probably not at risk. Look for trends, and people jumping in against you.
2. Don't ignore the issue or pretend no one notices.
For fear of calling attention to any problem, you may choose to not respond publicly, but no feedback should be ignored internally. Every customer or outside concern should be taken seriously as an opportunity to improve. Every reported problem likely means that many similar ones went unreported.
3. Resist canceling existing social media accounts.
Trying to disappear from the online world, or penalize it, is never productive, and may imply that you have something to hide. You can remove items from your article or blog, but people do notice, and may escalate their concerns on another forum. Adding more positives is the best way to mask negatives.
4. Separate your emotion from feedback reality.
When you get emotional about a situation or negative feedback, you are likely to react defensively, instead of with intention and clarity. Before you jump to any conclusions on impact or response, ask trusted members of your team for their perspective on possible options. They can help you remove emotion.
5. Set specific recovery goals and create action steps.
Consider your real accountability requirements, both legal and business, for each recovery alternative. Perhaps a public apology would be appropriate, or a private phone call or meeting with the impacted parties, providing resolutions and asking them to remove their issues. Seek long-term resolutions.
6. Be realistic about what you have control over.
You cannot physically control another person on or off the internet, or force them to work with you. However, you can always inform, inspire, and build trust through good actions. You also have full control of your own image and context, including providing leadership, skills, and expertise, rather than control.
7. Assess whether to take legal action.
Before you file a lawsuit, become familiar with the differences between slander, defamation, and libel, and retain legal counsel for advice. Always consider the long-play scenario. Unfortunately, in some cases where a legitimate claim exists, it's not worth the personal and professional cost for a legal victory.
8. Minimize your public response and defense.
Always resist fighting your battle online or in public. Online chatter can quickly turn hostile, and people tend to fight for the underdog. The internet is a hiding place for "trolls" -- people who post anonymously, ducking behind a keyboard with a sense of entitlement because you can't confront them in person.
9. Consider bringing in reputation experts to help.
If you have early indicators of a serious threat, or an existing situation that is getting worse, it's time to consider bringing in crisis management professionals, legal counsel, and reputation management experts. I recommend interviewing them personally, to be sure you feel comfortable with their goals.
10. Define indicators and measure impact and results.
These can be as simple as regularly counting positive versus negative results from a Google search, to satisfaction survey improvements over time. Refrain from bringing up the past to new customers, and celebrate every success with all your constituents. Be selective in how you communicate.
Remember that your company's reputation and your personal one are two different things, but they are inextricably intertwined. Either one can kill the other. That means, for example, that your personal social media accounts must not show you contradicting the values of your company.
As a leader in your business, you can't hide. Be the role model you want constituents to talk about.