*Originally posted February 22, 2017. Updated March 23, 2020*
Is your business more public than you think?
In this overwhelmingly information-rich world, the answer is a definite yes. And if it’s public information, it has every legal right to carry on.
Among social media platforms, review sites, consumer blogs, industry forums, and business search databases, there’s a good chance that you’re being talked about. People flock to this public information so they can get a better picture of your company from others’ experiences. This includes current and prospective customers, as well as potential business partners.
While this offers opportunities for consumers to get to know you, it may not be a genuine reflection of your business. Whether that’s due to inaccurate descriptions, slanted comments of dissatisfaction or unanswered questions, negative remarks weigh heavier than any others.
86 percent of consumers will think twice about doing business with companies that have negative online reviews.
What can a business owner do?
The key is to follow one fundamental piece of advice: keep tabs of the public information that exists online about you and your business. Take the good with the bad, and help your business thrive while maintaining data security in this very public world. Every online personal or business search database, review, post, comment, photo and share that is connected to you could be accessed and spread by others.
Pay special attention to these three areas where public information could compromise you and your business.
Beware of Mingling Your Identity and Your Entity
With public exposure comes the potential for overexposure. This is especially true if you’re a sole proprietor that intermingles personal information with business information.
What’s the problem with mixing personal and business information?
With so much personal information available to the public, it would only take a few clicks to find your home address, birth date, associated family members’ names and Employer Identification Number (EIN) among other sensitive data. Remember, for a sole proprietor, an EIN provides a direct tie to the individual owner/taxpayer, and an EIN can be used to open new lines of credit. Cyberthieves can impact your score through business identity theft, just like personal identity theft. And, the information in your business credit profile is 100% public information, available to anyone with $100 to spend on a report.
A business owned and operated by one individual. The owner and the business are viewed as one and the same – there is no legal differentiation.
Support a Two-Way Street
Ask for direct feedback from your customers whenever they do business with you, and make it quick and easy for them to offer their opinions.
Why should you invite open communication?
Open communication will give you an opportunity to resolve any issues customers may point out by initiating a dialogue that people will value. It can also reduce negative public-facing comments about your business because you welcomed and addressed concerns instead of hiding them. This may even lead to messages of appreciation where customers applaud your transparency and problem-solving skills.
Interact with Feedback
If you have constructive and engaging responses to negative comments, it may help reduce the damaging effects of bad press. Likewise, respond to glowing write-ups.
Why do consumers need to hear your voice?
Even a simple “thank you” can be beneficial as it reflects your consideration for your customers’ opinions. Every interaction offers a chance to build rapport with your customers and express your appreciation for their valuable feedback.
Tips to Protect Your Business Identity
- Keep your personal life and your business separate on social media. Connecting personal and business information leaves you vulnerable to identity theft and your business vulnerable to fraud.
- Respond to critiques in a constructive and engaging way. Track comments posted online about you and/or your business and encourage your customers to provide feedback on their experience.
- Check your personal and business credit score. Monitor your credit file and banking statements regularly for errors that could indicate fraud or identity theft.
- Opt-out of any online public information databases. By opting out, you can to limit easy access to your personal information.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of EZShield Inc. alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or entity, including specifically any person or entity affiliated with the distribution or display of this content.