For every small business, reputation is everything. It’s also not something a small business owner can ever take for granted.
Whether it’s the way you conduct yourself personally or professionally, or the quality of your brand, products and services, success depends on maintaining credibility in the eyes of your customers.
If you don’t, they can do considerable harm by voicing their displeasure on social media and/or taking their business elsewhere.
Here are three ways you could be damaging your company’s credibility with clients and prospects.
1) Breaking promises
Everyone who does business with you enters into a contract in which they pay for a product or service that you promise to deliver. You might also promise to:
• Respond promptly to every inquiry or complaint.
• Provide a product or service by a certain deadline.
• Deliver your goods in a specified volume.
These are only the most common promises many small business owners make, and each time such a promise is broken, they lose (or begin the process of losing) a client.
“Countless small businesses claim they'll go the extra mile for customers, and will put client interests above their own,” notes marketing expert Daniel Kehrer. “Don't be a business that spouts platitudes but leaves customers unsatisfied. Keep in mind that your business is accountable to customers and it is important that you and your employees take that obligation seriously, and personally.”
2) Hosting a badly designed website
These days, nearly everyone’s first impression of your small business comes from their experience with your website. The look of the website and the quality of the customer’s browsing and purchasing experience essentially represents the credibility of your business. So a lot is riding on how well the site delivers.
When was the last time you looked at your website and evaluated the following?
• Visual design and appeal
• Ease of navigation
• Clarity of content
A website that hasn’t been updated for two years or more or contains content unchanged from six months ago conveys the image of a sluggish, inattentive and poor-performing business. Not only does it undercut the business’s credibility, it leaves that business open to further damage from:
• Bad customer reviews
• Online criticism from others in your industry
• Negative ratings on social media
Web design experts strongly advocate a simple look for most small business websites, free of flashy gimmicks like animation and video. Content should be updated on a regular basis and prospective clients should be able to easily search through different pages for the information they want.
3) Having a poor social media presence
There’s no longer any question about if your business should have a social media presence, only how well you represent it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and elsewhere. Exhibiting poor “social media etiquette” is a guaranteed credibility-buster and should be avoided at all costs.
Such bad behavior includes:
• Failing to regularly schedule new blog posts
• Posting tone-deaf tweets and other online messages (sarcastic, in poor taste and/or overly critical of the competition)
• Publishing inappropriate photographs or other inconsistent brand imagery
• Ignoring your followers
• Allowing your Twitter account to get hacked
When someone responds to one of your tweets or comments on a Facebook posting, do you take the time to reply? If a negative review appears online, do you go ballistic in your response? Is your approach to customer inquiries: “I’ll answer when I get around to it”?
People observe and evaluate your social media presence all the time. Bad online etiquette harms your business’s credibility and can cause the loss of potential customers. Building and maintaining your credibility is an ongoing process. Don’t do anything to sabotage the time and hard work you put into it.
Peter LaMotte is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK, a PR firm in Washington, D.C. he routinely writes about social media marketing and online reputation management.