Whether your business consists of one or two people working out of a home office or a dozen profitable brick and mortar stores, a significant portion of your success will hinge on your online reputation. Random foot traffic cannot be relied upon to keep the doors open, and traditional advertising has become more expensive and with less impact as the distractions of the digital age increase. The best, and least expensive way to build a business is to use the power of the internet to craft your niche in the marketplace. But months and months of hard work can all be undone with a few negative comments that go unanswered. Customers look to other customers both for recommendations and for red flags about a company, and it is up to you to manage the perception of your company in this space. Here are five ways to improve your business reputation online.

First of all, you must be honest. People want to interact with brands that are backed by real people, not large, faceless corporations. So if something goes wrong, if a customer is dissatisfied or a promise goes unfulfilled, meet the situation head on. Apologize for whatever happened as soon as you can, in whichever public forum it appears. Your company’s name won’t be built on perfection, but on admitting mistakes and rectifying them quickly. That’s good customer service.

You also must make sure that whatever promotions you run online are transparent and above board. Potential customers will be happy to interact with your brand and share contests and sales on Facebook, Twitter and the other social networking sites as long as the rules are clear and fair. Don’t waste that support by ‘tricking’ them with hidden costs or elaborate restrictions. If you’re going to give something away, make it easy. Remember, the goal is to spread the word about your brand, and the better that takes care of your customers, the better your online reputation will be.

There are many ways to improve your online reputation that have nothing to do with customer service, and it all starts with quality community engagement. Become a part of the conversation wherever your customers go, even if it isn’t on your website or networking pages. Start discussions, promote other experts that people should know about, and share important news stories and events. If you can develop a voice as an expert in the field, people are more likely to want to engage with your business.

While consistent posting and sharing is fantastic, you also don’t want to waste your customers’ time. Focus your online efforts on just one or two products and messages, and don’t overwhelm people with repetitive posts. That way you won’t get spread too thin and end up making costly mistakes, and people will actually enjoy hearing from you. The last thing you want is to become a nuisance, especially since the internet makes it easy to tune out what you don’t want.

Finally, protect your customers’ privacy. Social media has created a world where personal details are shared in massive public forums, but that doesn’t mean you should bend the rules. Always offer people an opt-in for newsletters and emails, and never share your customers’ data with other companies. Whatever expert SEO Dubai course you may have taken that suggests you monetize your email list, don’t sacrifice your business reputation to make a quick buck. If someone starts interacting with your brand and then all of a sudden finds they’re getting spammed every day, your relationship will end. Maintain a strict privacy policy and share it with your customers, and they will respect your business for it.