This article first appeared in the North Wales Daily Post business section.

While the internet has brought a lot of opportunities for businesses, it can also be a major headache for many SMEs.

From a barrage of 1-star reviews to a negative news article online, businesses can come under fire quicker than ever before in today’s digital world. Everyone is a publisher and it’s all too common to see people taking to social media to air their frustrations with a brand

In addition, there has been a rise in fake news, which adds further complexities to online reputation management.

In most cases, effective communication can save the drop in share price, sales and brand reputation.

Complete an audit of your current situation. Google your brand. How good are the reviews? What other websites are brought back on page one of the search results? What other phrases does Google advise users may be of interest?

Also check out your social media platforms and review sites for ratings and comments.

Create a crisis communications plan that has your digital presence at the heart of it. Consider all scenarios that could happen – and some that seem far-fetched. For example, if you are a logistics company, one of your vehicles could be involved in a crash, or a piece of fake content could wrongly imply your drivers race each other on the motorway.

Drafting holding statements for each scenario will allow you to respond quickly. Any form of silence, or the dreaded ‘no comment’, will allow rumour to spread making it increasingly difficult to get your side of the story across.

In the plan, include a clear line of approvals, liaising with your crisis PR agency, to ensure responses are accurate and signed off.

For negative comments on review sites and social media, it’s important to take a step back; responding emotionally can cause the situation to escalate.

Put the post in context and attempt to gather facts. Reply to every comment, offering a way to take it offline e.g. a phone call or email. This ensures people see you have responded while making sure it doesn’t play out publicly.

Importantly, being honest and transparent is the best policy and will help your brand navigate any choppy waters.

Ultimately, prevention is better than the cure. Build goodwill with proactive PR and relationship building with key stakeholders. If you have built trust, people are more likely to listen to you during and after a crisis, which makes communicating your story, and limiting any negative impact on your reputation, a lot easier.