From the December 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

The onslaught of blogs, discussion forums and user-generated media has changed the flow of information about people, products and brands forever. Anyone with a computer, a video camera or even a cell phone can post information, reviews and comments about you and your brand on dozens of highly visited online destinations.

It's no longer enough to create a website and assume that prospects will learn about your company solely from there. In today's online social media world, businesses of all shapes and sizes must actively participate in online reputation management.

Of course, the best way to manage your online reputation from a business standpoint is to put out great products, provide excellent customer service and honor all your commitments. That's certainly a great start, but you may still need to monitor and respond to what's being said about your organization.

Reputation management, however, is not simply about responding to the negative; it's equally important to amplify the positive. Here are some simple ways to get started creating a reputation management program:

  • Sign up for news alerts. Google allows you to set up custom searches on Google News for any phrase, such as your name. When you subscribe to this search, either via RSS or e-mail, you'll receive an alert anytime your search phrase shows up in the news. BoardReader.com and ForumFind.com allow you to keep track of what's being said on bulletin boards and forums. If you need to closely monitor what's being said online in real time, use Twitter's search.twitter.com feature.
  • Participate in social media. One of the best ways to combat negative comments is to make sure you have lots of positive content showing up for searches of your name or company. Best practices such as adding a blog with frequently updated content and information, creating well-written LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, and writing and submitting articles to article directories can help assure that you have a lot of positive content attributed to your name online.
  • Host a blog. Starting a blog and inviting customers to leave comments is a great way to keep an eye out for potential issues. If customers have an issue, and you help them get the answer by way of your blog, you may turn that issue into something positive and stop them from posting negative comments elsewhere.
  • Employ social search engines. Claim and enhance your business listings on search engines such as Yelp, InsiderPages, CitySearch and JudysBook. These sites enhance your business listing and allow users to rate your services and write testimonials. The best thing you can do on these sites is create a great profile and encourage your customers to post positive reviews. More of these reviews are being picked up by search engines like Google and shown in their local directories.
  • Build your reputation. Recently, a number of sites such as Naymz.com and RepVine.com launched with the sole purpose of allowing you to build an online reputation by inviting people to write reviews about you and your work. LinkedIn, the professional networking community, also allows and encourages this practice.

John Jantsch is a veteran marketing coach, an award-winning blogger and the author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide. Find out more at ducttapemarketing.com.