On LockerGnome.net, Harold asks:

How do I improve my website’s reputation? What tools are available to do this?

Social NetworksReputation management has changed a lot in the past 10 years. Previously, your website’s reputation was built largely on your advertising and less so on word of mouth. Keeping your business out of the news for wrongdoing and presenting your products and/or services in a positive light through advertising used to be enough to promote positive brand awareness.

Let’s start by replacing website with company for the purposes of this explanation. Why? Because you should think of your website as a business. In many ways, it is a business, regardless of you making money off of it or simply doing it for the love of doing it. Thinking of your site this way will help you simply by the process of doing so. You’ll begin to think of your personal goals as business goals, and you might be less inclined to stray from your mission plan.

Today, everyone and anyone has a voice. This voice extends well beyond the bounds of the people you see during your daily life. A single upset customer may have swayed two or three people to avoid your business before, but now their over 100 (on average) Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Google+ circles are capable of hearing their issue and repeating it to their respective friends. If it’s a tool you’re searching for, then these popular networks are your best place to start. You might evolve your strategy to include services like HootSuite, which allow you to manage and track several different social accounts at once.

You are no longer just another customer, and a smart business knows this. The best businesses to work with today not only put customer satisfaction at the top of their priority lists, but they also take a proactive approach to reaching out and developing a relationship with their customers on a more personal level.

This can happen in a number of ways. You could ask a question that some or most of your customers might find interesting. A flower shop may randomly pose the question of their followers’ favorite springtime flower in order to generate dialogue with their clientele. This conversation creates context, which businesses can use to better pitch their upcoming products, services, and specials to their existing customers without upsetting them or driving them away.

Marketing is no longer about push. Push is still relevant, but you can only get so far by placing ads on every available surface or website you find. You need to create context in order to avoid the ad blindness so many consumers have developed in recent years. Offer your products or services to influencers in your respective genre, and let them help to promote your brand in a way that carries far more authority than an advertisement ever could.

Ask yourself, “Would You believe your favorite blogger or the brand when it comes to determining if their product is right for you?” Chances are, you’re more apt to believe someone you already have context with. Your company’s reputation depends on these influencers in a big way.

If someone calls your brand out on Twitter or Facebook for wrongdoing, then you’re better off responding to it openly and providing an acceptable customer solution than sweeping it under the rug. Your reputation is one part what people say and an equal part how you respond to it. Don’t be afraid to apologize publicly when you’re in the wrong. Even if you aren’t, it pays to go above and beyond now and then.

Context is king in today’s business world. If you don’t have a relationship with your customers beyond just the produce or service you provide, then you’re going to have a far more difficult time managing your website’s reputation down the road.