The internet is a wonderful tool for business. It can make the entire world your potential customer base and give you powerful methods of marketing and promoting.

It also, however, gives an anonymous platform to anyone — with good reason or not — who seeks to hurt your business by harming its online reputation. In the business world, your online reputation is your actual reputation. As user reviews are quickly replacing word-of-mouth advertising, it’s more important than ever to protect yourself online.

In order to counter online attacks, there may be no better tool to protect your business’s reputation than social media. Follow this guide to harness the power of social media to enhance your business’s reputation.

Don’t Be an Ostrich

If someone gives your business a bad review or makes a negative comment, it’s natural to want to close your eyes and hope it will go away. It won’t. By ignoring criticism, you’re guaranteeing that your critics are the only ones talking. You have to defend yourself and your company.

Avoid Tit-for-Tat Fights

It’s also natural to want to return fire, but resist the urge to get into a spitting contest with a stranger online. When you engage in an exchange of insults with an angry customer where everyone can see, it looks boorish, childish, and unprofessional. No one wins such an argument, but you definitely lose. Your opponent has the benefit of anonymity. You don’t.

Social Media to the Rescue

Social media is, without question, your best remedy to attacks on your online reputation. One-seventh of the world’s population is on Facebook alone. If your business doesn’t have its own page on Facebook, handle on Twitter, and profile on Google+, you’re already behind the curve. These sites are the microphone through which you’ll be speaking.

Post Your Good Reviews

Incrementally — NOT often enough to come off as spammy — post a link to your good reviews. People are used to getting your business updates, and testimonials can be the best form of free advertising in the world. Use them to your advantage by including a “what people have been saying” section in your newsletter.

Be the Bigger Person

If the person’s complaint or bad review is legitimate, give them credit for bringing it to your attention. Send out a Tweet that actually thanks them for pointing out a flaw and then articulate what you’ve done to improve. You’ll look like that bigger person, and by admitting your mistakes, you’ll make yourself someone whom others feel comfortable doing business with.

Engage in Discussion

Invite your customers to debate any bad reviews. It humanizes you and puts a person behind your business. By highlighting any complaints, you’re showing that you are engaged and that you want to improve. It’s natural to try to delete any bad reviews. Don’t. Bring them to light, showing the world that all of your customers are important — even the unhappy ones.

Social media can be a business owner’s best friend. When you use it as your company’s connection to the world, it provides you with a direct link to your entire base of customers — and potential customers. When your online reputation comes under attack, which it’s sure to do at some point, social media should be your first line of defense.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about social media and the blogosphere.