Whether personally or from a business perspective we all have thought about "Oh, I don't want to be online! It can hurt my reputation!" Especially for small businesses, one small mistaken review of your business can hurt in a big way. The way new review sites are popping up seemingly everywhere, small business owners usually panic with the power their consumers are given for voicing their opinion about their business.

Being in the marketing and branding industry for small businesses, I can understand and reason with the hesitations of small businesses claiming profiles on various social media and directory sites. But at the same time, I also think about how businesses can grab a hold of their online control and make the best of it. There are various ways that businesses can holster their online exposure and reputation.

Review Sites

On sites like Google and Yelp, small businesses usually see the most of their customers there browsing several different types of businesses when looking for products or service. Local search engine marketing is important for small businesses and these types of sites are used often by potential customers to find the best business for their needs. Once customers have interactions with businesses, especially personal interactions like they get with small local businesses, it is common for them to review them on these types of sites.

This gives small businesses a great opportunity to grab a hold of that good (or bad review) and use it as leverage to improve their reputation. When there is a negative review on these sites, instead of shying away from it, businesses should embrace it and use it as a chance to improve and respond to that comment. Too many times businesses react badly against the review or don't react at all. Embrace your online reputation can give you a chance to interact with your customers (even the disgruntled ones) and earn their business over and over again.

Social Media

Many main stream social media sites are offering reviews and ratings for local businesses, like Facebook and Foursquare. Similar to review sites, business owners should use these sites as a chance to interact with their customers and improve their services or products. After all, if you upset enough customers and continuously ignore them, you eventually won't have any more. Because social media sites are more tightly connected with your customers' friends and family, it is even more important to connect with them and get their feedback.

Website

Have you had great email conversations or interactions with your customers in your store? Use your website as a chance to embrace your customer testimonials for your potential customers and clients in the future. Kindly ask you customers for their information and permission and use your website as a sales tool. After all that is what it is for.

So to wrap it up, the online world can be a scary and intimidating one for small businesses, but it doesn't have to be when it comes to your online reputation. Use the different sites and tools to help you improve and interact with your audience on a deeper and more meaningful level.