So it has happened; a company is suing Google for libel.

The Ballymascanlon House Hotel in Ireland is angry that Google’s auto-complete function immediately links the hotel with receivership, which is when another party holds some assets until the business’s debts are repaid. In other words, the Hotel is being perceived as in some sort of financial trouble, which isn’t the case according to the hotel. Representatives from Ballymascanlon have said this has hurt their business and demanded it be removed.

Google didn’t change it, as the auto-complete feature simply shows what Google users most often search for, and so the Hotel moved to litigate. Of course, the entire case Ballymascanlon is building is silly and will no doubt be thrown out, but it does show the impact online perception has on a business. The hotel has a 1,200-year-old history, and a lawsuit over something Google has little control over is now completely overshadowing it.

This news story should act as a cautionary tale for small businesses looking to establish an online presence. The Internet acts as a megaphone, which means anyone with something to say about your company has a method to get their opinions heard. Many small business owners know how biting a negative review can be, so it is understandable that they want to avoid any media that could shine a spotlight on that review. But that could be more detrimental to your business than the review itself; it may create the perception that you aren’t confident in your business, or are trying to cover something up. That destroys trust and, without trust, potential customers will pass right over you. So what can you do to avoid that?

Get a Facebook

This is one of the easiest things you can do, as a Facebook requires very little monitoring. Consumers love to know their opinions are appreciated, and using Facebook means they can write on your page and tag your company whenever they mention it on their own profile. Facebook pages are extremely easy to find, and are a great way to stay in contact with your customers. Of course, you do want to make sure to keep an eye on it, and other sites, your customers use to write about your company.

Monitor Online Reviews

Be sure to know where your company is listed and to keep an eye on what is being posted. Even if you do not use the review and check-in features on sites like Yelp, Foursquare and Google, your customers do, and you should be sure to look into what people are saying about you. There will be a lot of fluff and quick blurbs, but occasionally someone will take the time to thoroughly write a review on your company. If it is good, note what they said and be sure to highlight those features. If it is bad, look into why it is bad and try to correct them. Above all else, don’t sweep anything under the rug.

Own up to your mistakes, and make it clear you are working to fix them

It is very easy to ignore bad reviews, and some sites even let you delete them off of your page, but that just creates the perception that, while you know about the problem, you refuse to do anything about it. Instead, make the changes that are necessary to counteract that review. If you did something really bizarre, like trying to sue Google for libel, that earned a lot of bad press, then own up to it. That shows maturity, which inspires confidence.

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