Do online reputation worries have you tossing and turning at night? Do visions of crashing sales and traffic have you pulling your hair out? Are you hyperventilating over thoughts of unscrupulous competitors posting nasty reviews about your business?

Yeah, I thought so. "And I bet you're also burning brain cells trying to figure out how to combat these things before they happen, aren't you? It's understandable; many businesses currently online don't have a brick and mortar counterpart to fill in if the online version fails. Many companies, upon failing online, fail all together because the Internet is the only version they have.

While I can't guarantee the economy will hold, the Internet won't crumble, or that your competitors won't win out, I can guarantee this. If you make the five online reputation mistakes listed below, you'll be taking huge leaps towards making your nightmares come true:

#1 Reputation Fail: Not Controlling Your Brand Image

When something happens at your company, you want to make sure you're the one bringing it to the public. You don't want other people writing your brand story because:

1) They might, even with the best of intentions, get it wrong

2) They might not like you in the first place, and purposely blow any negative out of proportion

By making sure the news first comes from you, whether good or bad, you're also:

1) Making sure the public sees your spin on things

2) Giving the perception of being upfront and transparent

3) Giving your business the "look" of accountability

#2 Reputation Fail: Responding To Every Critic.

No business is going to have a 100% happy customer rate; everyone's different, and everyone's expectations differ at least a little. That's okay. Unfortunately, unhappy customers are much more likely to post a review than happy customers are.

It can be hard to resist the urge to comment and defend your beloved company, especially from some of the more hardcore, slanderous or foul-language comments. However, responding to every critic can end up doing you more harm than good.

Don't treat all feedback with the same level of importance. If it's credible and constructive, pay attention and respond politely. If it's disparaging and obviously just a healthy dose of venom, bite your tongue and step away from the keyboard.

#3 Reputation Fail: "Astroturfing" Reviews.

It's a common theme in many businesses. Astroturfing reviews, or posting fake reviews on review websites, is a common practice, especially among small businesses. Resist the urge.

Fake reviews are easy to see and track down. A business owner who feels like they need to post bad reviews on a competitor's site, or good reviews on their own, is sending out a poor message to potential customers. Rather than stoop to this level, ask your favorite, most active customers to post a positive review for you.

#4 Reputation Fail: Responding On The Defensive.

If you respond to negative reviews, take it all with a grain of salt. Rather than respond in an angry or defensive manner, always start by addressing your customer's concerns. Keeping a friendly, understanding tone can go a long way to stop a potential PR problem from blowing up into a huge PR problem.

Take Amy's Baking Company as an example. In 2010, a reviewer on Yelp wrote a negative review. Unfortunately, Amy's response was less than professional, full of anger and insults. To make matters worse, the story was picked up by a local news source, Phoenix New Times, as a top blog story.

The owners would have done well to keep their comments tame; the heavy, negative tone of their responses far outweighed the negative comments of the reviewers. As well, with several four and five star reviews, the chances of the poor reviews carrying much weight are a lot less. Unfortunately, they appear not to have learned their lesson yet and are still responding with viciousness (albeit tamer viciousness).

#5 Reputation Fail: Letting Someone Else Carry The Torch.

This is your business. You've put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into building it. So, why would you let someone else tear it down?

Too often, businesses start to crash and burn when the owners become too busy to manage their own reputation. They start to hire others, and not necessarily PR professionals at that. Often, the job of online reputation management is given to the least busy intern, as if they're the most qualified simply because they have the most time.

However, your online reputation is extremely important. Having someone who doesn't know your business write your blogs, for example, isn't going to do you a lot of good. Having your secretary manage your social media on his or her off time isn't either.

If you simply must hire someone to manage your online reputation, make sure that's what they do. You don't really want the entire reputation of your company to hinge on the work of a summer intern, do you?

Assess your internet marketing strategy. Look over the steps you plan to take while building your online business. While you're at it, make sure you have guidelines in place to circumvent these five reputation fails. Of all the reasons you could get a bad reputation, you don't want the biggest reason to be you!

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