This week I had another one of those wonderful lightbulb moments where something I read online put something I knew into sharp relief. This one was all about the resistance some business owners have to taking charge of their online reputation and controlling the narrative and benefitting from it. It is the same conversation I have had too many times and it goes like this: “Oh I am not online and  I don’t need to be.” The issue is that the business owner I will be speaking to doesn’t realise that their business is already online, is being discussed, and evaluated. You’d think that every business owner would want to be aware of that, to respond to it and to realise the substantial benefits of it. I would. 

But I am always surprised by the number of business owners who do not Google their own business name. Why wouldn’t you? It’s all there – online – every time your business name is searched.

But the particular aspect of what I read that got the old brain in gear was this: “Trying to disappear from the online world, or penalize [sic] it, is never productive, and may imply that you have something to hide.” (Source: “10 Steps to Managing and Repairing Your Business’s Online Reputation,” by Martin Zwilling, Inc. Best in Business). The important words here are “may imply you have something to hide”.

Well, these days, as we all know, it is very hard to hide online and trying to manipulate, edit, or remove online conversations is very difficult and very damaging: it is also extremely counter-productive. Good businesses don’t need to hide, they do not need to fudge or manipulate, it is only bad businesses that do. So, whether an online reputation is solid, or challenged, the response should be exactly the same in both cases – embracing it, owning it, and responding to it – all the while increasing the number of online reviews to benefit from it.

As a business owner it is vital to ask yourself : “If I am not honest about my business and its performance, then how can I expect to attract customers that are motivated to look for honesty and transparency?” It’s a no brainer really.

So imagining your business is ‘not online’ is a complete fallacy and if you do not control the conversation then it will continue unabated without the opportunity to respond or to correct real issues about your business’ performance. That could be anything from rogue employees to system failures – issues that can be easily remedied.

I would see all of this as a huge opportunity – that moment when you finally see and absorb what is being said online and actually  get it – that your reputation is forged by others and you don’t need to be left behind in it. You don’t need to fight it, to blame others, to find scapegoats, or try to wash it all away. In fact, your voice is the one that potential customers desire to hear the most. They want to see responses, they want to see admission and acceptance and if you do not do this, then the corruption to your brand will just grow and grow.