When President Barack Obama recently launched his Twitter account (@POTUS) it set a record by gaining 1 million followers in 5 hours. Makes one wonder why the original innovator of online political campaigning took so long to access all those eyeballs (his 2008 victory is called the “Facebook election” by many).
Then again, within minutes of hatching onto the Twittersphere, numerous racist slurs were directed his way. Ranging from the predictable use of the “N Word” to the downright vile wish that he get cancer. It didn’t show the best side of an Internet that many hope will increase meaningful participation in the political process.
If that wasn’t bad enough, some ugly growing pains of the Internet also came to light in regard to where the President lives. During the same week that those nasty tweets were being directed at him, it was discovered that when racial slurs in relation to African Americans were put in Google Maps, it directed users to the White House (as well as to some historically black colleges).
The problem apparently resulted from an unintended consequence of Google’s algorithms factoring in what is said online about a location. As Google explained it, “Certain offensive search terms were triggering unexpected maps results, typically because people had used the offensive term in online discussions of the place.” Google is tweaking their algorithms and the problem will “eventually” be fixed. “We sincerely apologize for the offense this has caused, and we will do better in the future,” said Google.
It is actually difficult to decide which of the incidents is more troubling. Many a small business with an online presence has had to deal with scathing remarks about it by a disgruntled (and usually anonymous) customer. “The portions were too small, overpriced and I’m surprised I didn’t end up with food poisoning!” In those cases a small business owner might be able to respond (e.g., Yelp permits them to comment) and many of us discount such vitriol if it’s an outlier from other reviews.
But how your business is viewed online (or in some instances doesn’t show up at all) because of unintended consequences of algorithms might be even scarier. In the early days of the Internet it was sarcastically said, “It must be true because I saw it online.” However, there has been a shifting of attitudes in that regard. A recent survey by the American Press Institute found that a large swath of Americans get their news online. So if an algorithm is affecting the online reputation of your business, you had better know it and see if there’s anything you need to do about it.
So how do you maintain a good online reputation for your small business? Similar to maintaining good credit, you need to monitor it on an ongoing basis. And just like you would get a credit report to see the current state of your credit, you need to take a look at the current state of your online reputation. Here are some basic steps that any small business owner can undertake:
Google Search Your Business : To ensure seeing the most accurate results, sign out of any open Google accounts (e.g., Google+, Gmail) and open a private/incognito window in your browser. Otherwise the results can be skewed by “cookies” and/or the preferences Google uses to provide results that are relevant to you (e.g., location, search history). You should also search any forms of your business name that people might use to refer to it (e.g., Coke, Coca-Cola).
Analyze” the Search Results : There are some basic categories that you can place each result into for an overall idea of your online reputation. Is the result “Positive” in that it says good things about what is important to your business? We’re sure you’ll have no problem identifying a “Negative” result. Same goes for a “Misidentified” result that has nothing to do with your business (depending on the result and ranking, it can actually be as detrimental as a negative result). Is it “Unhelpful” in that the result is actually about your business but doesn’t do much to enhance or detract from your reputation (e.g., old Craig’s List posting to recruit sales associates).
After you’ve categorized the search results, you’ll have an idea about the basic online reputation for your business. Keep in mind that you really only need to look at the first page of results (over 90% of online searchers don’t go beyond that) and that more weight should be given to the top results since they are what is ranking high in regard to your business. So, if the top 5 results fall within Negative and Unhelpful categories, you need to do some work to improve your online reputation.
And that’s actually the biggest benefit of the above exercise. You can form a plan to improve or maintain the online reputation of your business. Too many Unhelpful type results? Maybe its time to add a “News” page to your website that includes the happenings at your business. Bad Yelp reviews on the first page of the results? Maybe its time to provide a “Comment” from the business owner (what to say is a more complicated subject for another article).
Monitoring and managing the online reputation of your business is critical so that it’s not left to the vocal and sometimes vicious critics online or to the unintended consequences of an algorithm. And unlike President Obama who only has a short time left in office, we’re sure that you want your business to continue on into the future.
LAD Solutions has a team of professionals that can assist you with Online Reputation Management. To learn more about these services, please call (888) 523-2926 or submit your request and one of our representatives will be in touch with you shortly!

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