Posted by: Mike Clough

Managing Your Small Business Reputation

Protecting our ReputationIt takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” ~ Warren Buffet.

Every business must manage their reputation because in the end, what else is there? Yes, a business with a great reputation can fail, but it is far more difficult for a business with a poor reputation to succeed. Marketing gurus talk about the importance of branding and although I don’t disagree, isn’t your reputation really your brand or image and vice versa? Therefore, protecting your reputation, your brand, your image (whatever you wish to call it) must be at the top of the list as a business owner.

There are several things that impact the reputation of a small business. In general, everything in your business that touches your customer has the potential to either build or tarnish your reputation. Your policies and procedures around customer complaints will often play a large role in determining your reputation. The message you send when you invoice a customer or make a collections call affects your reputation, brand and image. How your phone is answered and how many buttons the caller has to push before reaching a live person can affect your reputation. Every thing that touches the customer can have either a positive or negative impact.

In the past, companies managed their reputation by placing carefully crafted messages in various media. The invention and mass adoption of Internet access and interactive web applications including social media has effectively put the consumer in charge of the message. Consumers trust the word of other consumers far more than what the company might have to say. And, with the millions of people using social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, news can travel very fast – in minutes thousands of people can know of a good or bad experience with your business.

As soon as customers express their opinions about products, services, brands and companies (good or bad) on the web, it is there for the world to see and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get them removed. If you doubt that, pick any company or brand name (maybe your own) and search Google for “CompanyName complaints”, CompanyName sucks”, or the like and you may be amazed at what you find.

So, as a small business owner who wants to manage their company’s reputation, where do you start? I recently wrote an article, Customer Complaints Are Good For Business, where I shared the details of a bad experience with a furniture chain here in the Midwest. I called them out by name and was pleasantly surprised when they contacted me through the comments feature of my blog. This told me they were paying attention, “listening”, and had decided to insert themselves into the online conversation stimulated by my article. Read the comments on my article and you will soon realize that listening is the first step in managing and protecting your reputation. So, how do you listen? Here are some free listening tools:

There are millions of people chatting on Twitter every day and any one of these conversations could be about you, your company or your website. You can listen by using a free service called TweetBeep that monitors Twitter and sends you an email alert for the keywords, phrases and domains (your personal name, your company name, your brand, your blog/website name and/or domain) you have selected. The alert will tell you what was tweeted and who tweeted it. Of course, you will need sign up for a free Twitter account if you wish to insert yourself into these online conversations.

You will also want to sign up for BackTweet Alerts. Because Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters most twitterers will use link shortening services like,, etc. in place of the actual web address of a specific web page or blog article that is much longer. The really cool thing about BackTweet is that it translates the shortened address into your actual link and alerts you by email when someone tweets about it.

Websites, Blogs & Public Forums
Google claims to have indexed over 1 trillion domains and over 150 million blogs with over 1 million new posts every 24 hours. Then, there are public forums, social bookmarking and reviewing sites where users can comment. My blog, America’s Best Business Practices, averages almost six comments per article while other more popular blogs will average much more.

To “listen” in these places, you will need to sign up for a free account at Google Alerts and/or Giga Alert. I personally prefer Google Alerts. BackType Alerts is a free service that primarily searches comments on blogs and forums looking for keywords, phrases and domains. Don’t forget to sign up for that as well.

SocialMention is a free service that works a lot like Google Alerts. So why would you want to use both? Just in case one of them misses something, possibly the other will pick it up for you.

Have you ever wondered what people are saying about your company and brands on the message boards? All public message boards are open for search, but BoardTracker Alerts seems to pick up the ones that everyone else misses. Be sure you don’t forget this one or you will miss out on the discussion about your brand features, organization’s last fundraiser, and more.

All of the listening services above are free. However, you should not overlook Filtrbox even though they charge a small monthly fee for their service. Filtrbox can replace all of the free listening services and give you much more than just alerts. Not only does it listen/monitor and alert you, it gives you the tools to analysis and engage. At the least, might want to take advantage of the free trial.

So now that you know the many tools available to help you listen to the conversations about you and your business on the web, what is the next step? When you read my previous article, Customer Complaints Are Good For Business and the comments, you will notice three case studies. One is a short story and video, of which you may already be aware; the second is my experience with the furniture chain and the comments that proved they were listening and had inserted themselves into the conversation, creating brand ambassadors within my family; and the third relates a problem one of my readers had with Procter & Gamble and how they were not listening. All three cases were handled differently; resulting in different outcomes which, in turn, had an impact on the company’s reputation. As you realize the implications of cause and effect illustrated in these three cases, you will probably know what you should do without me having to tell you.

By listening, you will learn a lot about which of your policies and procedures are creating goodwill and building your reputation and which ones are having a negative impact and diminishing your reputation. Of course, it is critical to empower your employees so they can resolve problems quickly while untold others in social networking communities may be watching. As I pointed out in my previous article, an unsatisfied customer made satisfied is ten times more loyal than a happy customer and often will become a vocal brand ambassador.

To accomplish this, you will need to encourage your employees to invest some of their time in these social networking sites. Is that too big of a leap for you at this point? It is entirely up to you. After all, it is your business and you need to determine what will work for you. However, those business owners who are hanging onto practices of the last decade seem to be struggling more than necessary.

As I conclude this article, I can’t help wondering if any of the companies that provide listening tools are listening and will decide to weigh in on our conversation. It wouldn’t surprise me if the answer is no. You know what they say; the cobbler’s kids often go barefoot and a carpenter’s house is never finished. Let’s see what happens.

Those who enjoyed this article also enjoyed:
Customer Complaints Are Good For Business
Branding Is The Key to Differentiation
The Difference Between Brand and Branding
How Important is Social Media in a Marketing Plan?
Differentiate Your Company with Superior Customer Service
Is Your Business Open or Closed?

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at



Early prevention and management of issues can save a small business from major headaches and possible litigation down the road.

Hello Mike,

Thank you for the tips and links. Please note that TweetBeep is down for service “ALERTS TEMPORARILY DISABLED FOR SYSTEM MAINTENANCE SHOULD BE RESTORED THIS WEEKEND SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE, TWITTER MADE CHANGES WE HAVE TO ADAPT TO…” I thought your readers would like to know.

Best of Success,

Thanks Eric. The minute I brag about them, they decide to improve their system. Well, what can you do? It was great before the upgrade so I suspect it will be greater following the upgrade. Thanks for the “heads up.”


Mike – thank you so much for this article. I think that reputation is everything in today’s economic environment and instant access to almost anything from anywhere. I like your point that businesses with good reputations can fail but it is less likely that businesses with bad reputations will succeed. We all know that bad news tends to travel faster than good news so one bad comment could easily grow exponentially in the power to ruin a small business owner’s reputation. You summed it all up with “…isn’t your reputation really your brand or image and vice versa?” Thanks again for sharing your insights.

Thank you for taking the time to comment Julie. It is the only reward most of us bloggers receive. That and we hope that we make a difference. Your kind words lead me to believe that what I write does make a difference. So thanks again for your kind comment.


Great information. That is why it is so important to encourage your customers to give reviews about your business.

I have declined to do business with some companies because the only thing I find on the internet is complaints about them.

Wish I could be more original with my response, but simply want to express my thanks for the information you shared.


An excellent article. One of the main challenge with all the listening tools out there (free or paid) is that you get inundated with so much junk data that it’s overwhelming. On top of that you have to manually sift/read through all that clutter to figure out the essence. I think it’s about time that a solution with singular focus on measuring and managing any company’s reputation came into existence. This solution will not only aggregate the customer reviews from all major Web and Social Media sources but it will also leverage the analytics to transform VOC data into actionable insights on:
- Customer quality of experience/sentiment
- Key value drivers that impact company’s reputation
- Proactive ways and actions points to improve company’s brand image & reputation

I am happy to announce that such solution do exists and is provided by our company (

An excellent post – thanks for sharing. We, too, have found Google Alerts to be very useful. We also use a great “listening” software tool called Sysomos (
Their SaaS model is expensive, however, and thus out of reach of most small business owners: we use it on behalf of our clients.

Your readers may be interested in learning about the Process we use to run our Social Media Marketing efforts. I say this as many people appear hesitant to leap in and begin their SMM activities, yet feel pressured into doing something because of the current level of hype surrounding the field. Fear of the unknown is part of that hesitancy, but we believe there is also a fear of doing something “wrong” and thus exposing oneself to criticism or – worse – ridicule. Your advice about listening is thus incredibly important, and to that, I’d like to add some additional pointers. To help our clients deal with this, we wrote a series of posts which describe the process we use to run a SMM campaign. It follows the Process Mantra of Think, Plan, Do, Measure and Repeat, and includes a whole section on “listening”. The strength of this approach is that it is what drives Continuous Process Improvements: If you follow this approach, you will get better and better over time at running your SMM campaigns.

There are 4 posts in the series:

1) How to Run a SMM Campaign. The formal process description. And because it calls for one to measure ROI as one of the metrics to use in monitoring your campaign, the other 3 posts cover:
2) How to measure the ROI of your website as a whole
3) The 10 best free ROI calculators on the Web and
4), How to build your own ROI calculator so that you can measure the ROI of your SMM.

Here’s the link:

Great post…I just started a Manufactures Representative firm. I am very well tuned in to reputation. What I have always done in my 20+ years of selling is to under promise and over deliver….and always do what you say you will do, that is really the only way to maintain my credibility.

Once Customers figure out that you actually do what you say you will do, a form of trust develops and the relationship moves into another gear.

A good sales guy listens more than speaks anyway…another way to provide value over the masses who don’t.



I found Mike’s blog very informative. It’s the first time I’ve seen this type of info. Thanks very much, Mike.

Is it as Sanjiv states – you get inundated? That sounds very time consuming to wade through. Is it then time effective and worthwhile?

Yes, Larry, I agree – always do what you offer to do. Overdelivering is great.

Eric – thanks for your helpful info, too.

I’ll be moving on to read some of your other articles, Mike.

Keep up the great work!

Ruby, I am not inundated. When I set up my alerts I used “exact” words and phrases rather than “any” of the keywords. I do this by putting what I want in quotes. Example: “America’s Best Business Practices”.

As a result I do not receive alerts for single words like America’s, best, business or practices. I suspect if I had not set it up for “exact” words, I would be inundated as it would alert me to any of the keywords.

Thanks for your comments.

Thanks Mike! As a micro biz relatively new to social media (last fall), I appreciated learning about the links to monitor business feedback.

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