In today’s digital age, prospective buyers and business partners can see your content and your history of customer interactions online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Search engines are constantly evaluating your online presence and looking to reward popular, prominent companies that are highly regarded by customers.

With increased visibility and presence online, it’s especially important to do business with integrity and be consistent in how you engage with others. People need to know they are working with businesses they can trust. That’s where your online reputation can work for or against the long-term success of your organization.

If you can become a trusted source of information, you will be known as an expert in your field.

Building a Strong Reputation

In order to develop a positive online reputation, businesses need to decide what they want to be known for, then create the valuable content that customers will trust and that will highlight their industry leading expertise. Content marketing is the best way to help build your brand online. Writing a blog is a good way to do this, but there are also many other options such as podcasting, videos, and even social media.

We recently completed some marketing research with our partners and heard a lot about customer-centric organizations. Specifically, how important it is to take the time, from the CEO down, to listen to your customers. Reach out to them, check in, and ask how things are going. We call this Vitamin A (for Attention) and find it to be a very important ingredient for differentiating your company. The information you gather will deepen your relationships and signal to your customers that you care about their success. These insights (and the response you give them) can set you apart from your competition.

To more fully understand considerations for online reputation management, I interviewed Peter van Uden, owner of Quexcel Software Asset Management and Quexcel Marketing Services in the Netherlands, a marketing services firm for Microsoft partners. I asked Peter about his thoughts on how to approach reputation development. Here’s what he had to say.

What are some key things our partners need to know about online reputation?

Peter said that while it may be obvious, it’s worth starting off by saying that you cannot hide from the internet. Customer and business partner opinions are readily available, thanks to the web and mobile phones. To strategize around online reputation development, partners can start by doing a self-audit to learn what is being said about them.

“Put your company name into a search engine and see what pops up. Your website should be first, but you may find your LinkedIn profile ranked pretty highly, as well as other sites, like Facebook, which may include star ratings for your company. Also make sure to flesh out all the details of your social media profiles so they match your brand, and be sure to post updates regularly (once a day for LinkedIn is great).”

– Peter van Uden, owner of Quexcel Software Asset Management and Marketing Services

What examples do you have of best practices for partners?

Peter said that to him, three big areas come to mind in terms of online reputation:

1. Ask for feedback from your customers

Peter recommends businesses make a point to personally speak with their customers at least quarterly. “This will help you learn areas of improvement and often allows you a chance to make things right before an unhappy customer takes it to the web.”

He said that feedback is critical because people tend to leave reviews when their experience is exceptionally good or bad, both of which can have a big impact on your online reputation. “Provide a way for customers to give feedback on your company website. Closely monitor and respond quickly. People are looking for reassurance that this issue you experienced has been corrected, that someone is listening, responding, and takes proper action.”

Feedback also provides the opportunity to build case studies or curated reviews from happy customers. Peter suggests you build the case study by describing the initial problem or business demand from your customer, then outline the solution and the rationale behind it. Conclude the case study by briefly stating what your role as a Microsoft partner was. This provides an added layer of reputation that customers respond well to.

2. Network and speak at events

Speaking at events in your area is an excellent way to connect with new audiences. Showing your experience and expertise will help position you and your company as the true industry leading company your customers should trust.

3. Get company-wide buy-in

Don’t forget about your employees. Peter says that getting company-wide buy-in is important when developing your digital footprint because every customer touch point can influence your reputation. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and ask what would you want to see?

How can developing a positive reputation (online and offline) help?

Peter said that these days it’s about your customers and your employees. “Don’t forget that prospective employees are checking your company out as well. LinkedIn is a major source for this, but also local reputation sites and other social sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more. These sites are given preferential treatment in search engines as well.”

What can you do to proactively build a strong reputation online?

Peter said that building an online reputation that will benefit your business does take work and a plan. “Check out your competition online, see how they are perceived. Then get active – start to build influence through blogs, chats in social media, particularly LinkedIn.” He said that your website is a great place to showcase your expertise and what the value is for the customer. LinkedIn is your online business network, so get involved there with post updates to your business page as well as your personal profile. Facebook is great for sharing your work through pictures and videos and businesses should reserve big announcements and corporate news for Twitter.

“It all comes back to content and having a plan/strategy to generate regular compelling value. And most of all, ask your customers for reviews and educate them on how to leave a review. Create a one-sheet tutorial to help them out. Personal contact is best, it is what is missing in our online world.”

– Peter van Uden, owner of Quexcel Software Asset Management and Marketing Services

Are you presently leveraging your online reputation to grow your business? How do you best represent yourself online? Share your thoughts in the comments below.