However, users need to be aware of the potential problems that may arise when facing content that is less than positive.
Manage your profile
Control any websites, profiles and blogs that you own. Create profiles for your particular search terms, where possible, even if you are not going to use them for promotional purposes.
Utilise social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to promote yourself or your brand, and ensure these rank for your key search terms. Take steps to set up your profiles so they are secure, and limit others from commenting or posting content without your consent. Ensure that the social profiles you use make sense for your business.
Monitor search results for your key search term - this may be your own name, your agency name or brand.
Set up Google Alerts or other online monitoring software to notify you when your search terms are mentioned online.
Occasionally, search engines alter the way they rank websites, so monitor your search results regularly. What might feature on page one of Google one week may not appear the next.
The impact of social media and review sites on businesses
People have always used the internet to exchange advice, views and information, but social media and the growth of review sites and consumer forums have resulted in more ways in which users can express their opinions publicly.
Sites such as Trip Advisor and Money Saving Expert have grown in ranking authority, which means that if a review about your business is posted, it is likely to rank. What's more, these types of sites do not generally require users to verify comments, leaving companies often exposed to untrue or unsubstantiated remarks.
Unwanted content online can cause serious harm to businesses, as well as personal stress to the individuals involved. And while larger companies are more likely to have the resources and finances available to challenge comments, smaller businesses can easily be ruined.
However, the main review sites, forums and social media platforms do offer a way to report inappropriate content, and there are practical steps you can take to protect your business online.
If your company is receiving negative reviews, don't post 'fake' reviews to counteract them. Implementing a positive review strategy will allow you to promote positive reviews, while managing the negative. If customers are complaining, it's for a reason, and you need to respond and take action.
Avoid long conversations on review threads - it only keeps the issue alive. Try to resolve repetitive threads where similar issues are arising regularly. Unless you tackle the issue internally, you'll be facing similar complaints on an ongoing basis.
Encourage happy customers to leave comments online. Collect good customer testimonials. Don't make them up - it's very obvious not just to users of the website, but also to its owners.
Unwanted information online for individuals
If the content is posted on a personal blog, and contacting the site would only aggravate the issue further, look to the removal options that are available on the search engines. Google and the other major search engines have removal tools, generally a simple form to be completed. The search engines cannot remove content directly from the offending websites, but they can remove the links to the content from their search results.
Individuals in the European Union have the option to submit 'right to be forgotten' removal requests via Google. Images and video content can also be challenged.
Ms Social is Caroline Skipsey, managing partner at reputation management company Igniyte.
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