What people say about a business online has long-term implications for a brand and can determine whether it attracts and retains customers and remains visible online.
As a result, more small businesses are dedicating time and resources to monitoring their online reputation as they opt for more proactive strategies.
Clutch surveyed 529 small businesses from across the U.S. to gauge how they monitor and manage their online reputation.
We use the Small Business Administration’s definition of small businesses as those that have limited revenue and between 1 and 500 employees.
Small businesses can use this report to learn how often other small businesses monitor their online reputation, what resources they use, and how they can overcome the unique challenges they may face in online reputation monitoring.
- Eighty-eight percent of small businesses (88%) monitor their online reputation at least quarterly.
- Two-thirds of small businesses (66%) use social media to monitor their online reputation, and nearly half of these small businesses (48%) use social media with other platforms to round out their monitoring efforts.
- Nearly half of small businesses (44%) use only human resources, such as in-house employees and public relations agencies, to monitor their online reputation.
- Millennial-owned small businesses use digital tools (69%), such as Google Alerts or social listening software, almost as much as human resources (68%), such as in-house employees and PR/online reputation management agencies.
Small Businesses Control Their Narrative by Proactively Monitoring Their Online Reputation
Reputation matters to businesses of all sizes and may determine if a consumer chooses your business or a competitor.
People increasingly rely on online reviews of businesses; 86% of people read reviews for local businesses before deciding where to shop.
This makes online reputation monitoring mandatory for businesses looking to succeed.
“A small business with a brick-and-mortar store is going to keep their storefront managed and appealing,” said John Gottschall, CEO of Neumann Paige Inc, an online reputation management firm. “For a small business, your local search results on Google are like your storefront because most of your clients are going to look you up online first.”
“For a small business, your local search results on Google are like your storefront because most of your clients are going to look you up online first.”
Small businesses’ websites, third-party online reviews, and social media comments and discussions are businesses’ digital storefront and make a first impression on potential customers.
Small businesses acknowledge the opportunities and risks this heightened dependency on online reviews presents. As a result, 88% of small businesses monitor their online reputation at least quarterly.
More small businesses recognize the value of regularly monitoring their online reputation and plan to adopt more proactive strategies in 2019.
Small businesses can reclaim control over their brand and their brand’s narrative by tracking their online reputation.
“If you’re not monitoring your online reputation, you lose control of your brand,” said Anthony Will, CEO of Reputation Resolutions, an online reputation management firm that helps clients repair, enhance, and protect their online reputation.
"That might sound extreme, but as a small business owner, your company's online reputation will be largely defined by third-party reviews which can make or break your business. You want to have as much control as possible over your brand's online reputation."
Small businesses that don’t surveil their online reputation allow third-party sources to define their brand to potential customers.
Adopting a more proactive approach can give small businesses more control over their brand in the digital space but may be challenging to implement.
Small businesses opting for a more proactive approach to monitoring their online reputation should consider what this would look like for their specific brand.
LogoMix is an online logo maker that regularly checks its online reputation using a variety of digital tools, such as Hootsuite and Mention. In 2019, it plans to implement company-wide changes in how the company monitors its online reputation.
- Actively contribute to online discussions about its brand
- Use SEO techniques to help Google “see” these reviews
- Improve customer service efforts
The company also highlights customer reviews on its website.
This makes online reviews more accessible to customers visiting LogoMix’s website and makes its brand seem more transparent which helps build trust with consumers.
Adopting a more proactive online reputation management strategy is a cross-departmental effort that requires increased internal cooperation and coordination.
“So far, we've had our ups and downs regarding how the switch to a more proactive approach has been,” said Audrey Strasenburgh, search engine optimization (SEO) strategist at LogoMix. “It is so easy to simply fall back to the way we used to approach reputation management and there is a constant need to remember that our goal is to provide the best possible service to our customers.”
Although making the switch to a more a proactive approach isn’t easy, businesses such as LogoMix see the long-term benefits of claiming more control over their online narrative.
Social Media Is the Most Popular Platform for Online Reputation Monitoring but Shouldn’t Be Used Alone
Small businesses on a budget need to invest in a low-cost, high-impact online platform that will allow them to monitor what people are saying about their brand. Social media checks both of these boxes.
Two-thirds of small businesses (66%) use social media platforms to monitor their online reputation.
Small businesses also use Google search results (57%) and review sites (42%) to monitor their online reputation.
Each of these platforms has a different set of benefits and limitations. Social media allows for real-time conversation about your brand and control over what content appears on your brand’s page.
Review sites highlight people’s perception of your small business and Google search results show how relevant your brand is online. You can’t control the content on these platforms which is why it’s important to monitor them.
RIZKNOWS is a digital media company that publishes review videos on popular consumer products. Jeff Rizzo, its founder and CEO, relies heavily on social media to not only to monitor but also to build his brand’s online reputation.
With more than 450,000 subscribers on YouTube alone, RIZKNOWS uses social media to connect with its large following instantly.
The company also acknowledges social media’s challenges, however.
“The biggest advantage to using social media for reputation management is that we can interact directly with commenters and reviewers, and the public can see our responses,” Rizzo said. “On the downside, since we have such a large online presence, staying on top of comments and reviews can be a major chore.”
RIZKNOWS is a business that was built for social media, and its videos are shared across social media channels, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Its reputation depends on its ability to connect with viewers and make them trust the reviews it produces.
Although social media can be a powerful tool for small businesses looking to monitor their online reputation more proactively, it shouldn’t be the only tool they use.
“There are a lot of people who think the internet begins and ends with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but it’s dangerous to stop there,” Gottschall said. “You have to monitor social media, but you also need to go beyond it to effectively monitor your online reputation.”
“You have to monitor social media, but you also need to go beyond it to effectively monitor your online reputation.”
Although social media is a powerful platform, it is not the only platform small businesses should consider, especially because a business’s social media accounts might not appear in Google’s search results.
Nearly half of small businesses who use social media to monitor their online reputation (48%) also use at least one other platform, such as search results or third-party reviews, to track their reputation online.
RIZKNOWS, for example, uses Google’s Search Console to monitor the performance of its website.
Search Console is a basic, free tool that helps Rizzo understand how visible his brand is when people search for specific keywords.
Social media is an easy, cost-efficient way small businesses can control and monitor their online reputation. However, social media presence does not solely define small businesses’ online reputations, so small businesses should consider which other platforms they can use to supplement monitoring efforts.
Digital Tools Help Small Businesses Monitor Online Reputation but Don’t Replace People
Although digital resources help businesses monitor what people are saying about their brand online, they do not replace human resources.
Small businesses still rely primarily on human resources to manage their online reputation, including:
In 2019, small businesses are supplementing human resources, such as in-house employees and public relations firms, with digital resources, including:
- Online reputation management tools, such as Google Alerts (34%)
- Third-party reviews sites, such as TrustPilot and Yelp (26%)
- Social listening software, such as Hootsuite and Mention (22%)
Digital resources like these are growing in popularity, but small businesses are still more likely to use only human resources (44%) than only digital resources (26%).
Small businesses are also more likely to use a combination of human and digital resources (30%) than only digital resources (26%).
Although digital resources, such as social listening software, gather and consolidate useful information, they can’t act on the information they collect.
“Digital tools provide the information that needs to be interpreted, but people, whether an agency like ours or someone in-house, become responsible for managing the information these tools collect,” said Ken Wisnefski, CEO of WebiMax, a reputation management agency.
Small businesses that use a combination of human and digital resources to monitor their online reputation tend to use the digital tools to collect information, but still rely on people to analyze the information and act on it.
With so many digital resources for monitoring online reputation on the market, it can be challenging for small businesses to decide which resources are right for their needs and budget. For example, there are Google Alerts and Reputology, social listening software such as Hootsuite, and third-party review sites such as Yelp.
“With a large number of monitoring solutions on the market today, it can be difficult to determine the right monitoring tools and strategies for your business,” Will said. "The concept of monitoring your company's online reputation is a relatively new phenomenon that small businesses must embrace in order to be successful in the digital age."
Every small business should identify its main goals for investing in an online reputation management tool. For example, if a small business wants to receive a notification every time it receives a brand mention online, it could set up a Google Alert for its business.
Will said he recommends Google Alerts to all of his clients because it is effective, free, and timely.
Digital resources such as Google Alerts can help small businesses consolidate instances where people are talking about their brand online, but they still need people to analyze and act on the information these digital tools collect.
Online Reputation Agencies Help Small Businesses Save Resources
Small businesses need to consider their budgets and time restraints when deciding how to track their online reputation.
Some small businesses might rely on in-house employees to monitor and manage their online reputation, while others might find not find this to be a realistic option.
“The biggest challenge we initially faced with monitoring [our online reputation] was the time investment needed,” said Hector Simoudis, CEO of VP Legacies, a personal connection and content creation firm. “Like most small businesses, we simply didn't have the time to optimally monitor our online reputation … It's a full-time job.”
“Like most small businesses, we simply didn't have the time to optimally monitor our online reputation … It's a full-time job.”
Like VP Legacies, many small businesses might find they have neither the time nor knowledge to properly monitor their online reputation.
Simoudis said VP Legacies's employees weren’t sure how to begin tracking their online reputation and were asking themselves questions, such as:
- What keywords do we track?
- What review sites need to be monitored?
- Should we outsource reputation monitoring?
- What software should we be using?
VP Legacies leadership decided to hire an online reputation management agency and found Reputation Resolutions.
“Working with Reputation Resolutions has improved all aspects of our monitoring and overall strategy,” Simoudis said. “Their reputation management services have saved our company a significant amount of time (and headaches) and have allowed us to focus on what matters most: our clients and growing our business.”
VP Legacies could re-focus on its primary goals by hiring online reputation management professionals.
Other small businesses can consider hiring the right online reputation management agency for their budget and needs if they don't have enough in-house resources to properly track their online reputation.
Millennials Use Digital Tools as Much as Human Resources to Monitor Small Businesses’ Online Reputation
As technology evolves, how small businesses use digital resources to monitor their online reputation likely will change. Younger generations tend to rely on digital online reputation resources more than older generations.
Sixty-nine percent of millennials ages 18 to 34 (69%) use digital resources to manage their small businesses’ online reputation compared to 57% of Generation Xers ages 35 to 54 and 34% of baby boomers ages 55 and older.
Similarly, 68% of millennial-owned small businesses use human resources, such as in-house employees and PR agencies, nearly as much as they use digital resources, such as social listening tools and third-party reviews.
To most people, this may not come as a surprise because younger generations grew up using digital technologies.
“Younger business owners tend to be more in tune with digital developments and are generally more open to the use of new technology in their businesses in my experience,” said Ollie Smith, CEO of ExpertSure, a website that offers price comparisons on products.
In the future, small businesses likely will rely more on a combination of human and digital resources rather than replace their human resources with digital tools.
“Online reputation monitoring software programs are helpful, but they aren't perfect and lack the human touch,” Rizzo said. “So far, the best combination we've found is a full-time employee that manages a few software programs to monitor what is being said about our company.”
Digital resources can help small businesses approach their online reputation more proactively by notifying them when someone mentions their brand online. People, however, are the ones who need to act on the information these tools gather. Overall, most small businesses see the value of human resources, regardless of generation.
Small Businesses Will Approach Online Reputation Monitoring More Proactively in 2019
A business’s online reputation is influenced by what people say about its brand online, in reviews, and on social media. If businesses choose not to monitor their online reputation, they risk losing control of their brand narrative.
In 2019, small businesses will rely on a variety of platforms and digital tools to more proactively monitor and manage their online reputation. They likely will use digital resources more than in previous years — not to replace but rather to supplement their human resources such as in-house employees and public relations firms.