This article first appeared as Anthony Bullick’s column in the Daily Post business section on 15 November.

Potential customers can be exposed to businesses in dozens of places. While this presents exciting marketing opportunities, it comes with threats that require careful PR management.

The internet has made every user a publisher. Reviews, comments, and blog posts do not require a gatekeeper – in the majority of cases, once the button is pressed, the content is published for all to see.

And for brands, this means people can talk about you, whether good or bad, with a significant reach and influence. An even bigger danger is that a conversation can take place about you without you even being involved or aware.

One of the first steps for companies to protect their reputation is to set up online monitoring. Google Alerts is a free tool that emails you every time your business name is published online. For social media mentions, use Hootsuite to monitor for conversations about your brand that do not include your Twitter handle.

If you have the resources, consider using a paid service to monitor for all mentions of your company across multiple digital channels.

One of the best ways to limit negative comments online is to speak to your operational and customer service teams. What are the most common complaints or concerns? What types of questions get asked? Another beneficial step is to review all previous complaints to spot patterns or trends. This allows you to identify if there is a particular issue causing problems eg deliveries or sales tactics.

If anything negative is made public, take a step back: decisions filled with emotion often escalate the situation further. It’s also important to ascertain the facts to assist with dealing with the situation – never make assumptions.

If the best course of action is to respond, address the issues succinctly and get to the point quickly. With any response, being open, transparent and honest is the best policy.

Attempt to take the conversation offline by offering a phone number or email address. This ensures it doesn’t play out in public, but shows other users that you are dealing with the complaint and care about what customers say.

When searching for your brand in Google, the results could contain negative articles on page one. To combat this, share good news stories with trusted online media outlets. Google will value these outlets and possibly favour them over other websites and therefore display these instead.

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