This post was originally published on Profile Defenders (an online reputation management company).

The online reputation industry has become big business. The Harvard Business School said a single star on Yelp can increase revenues by 9%. This is because the Internet is akin to the Wild West. Customer complaints could previously be swept under the carpet. And if someone got really mad companies could sue for libel. But now anyone can say absolutely anything, and they can often do it anonymously.

If you argue back, it will usually lead to severe consequences on your part. In most cases, you can expect your reputation to be left in tatters, regardless of whether you are right or wrong.

Rather than discussing how you can prevent this from happening, this article is going to assume that something has already gone wrong and you have made a mistake. This is how you can go about repairing your online indiscretions.

Admit it

There’s nothing worse than a company that has obviously done something wrong and they won’t admit it. This is often down to the pride of someone relatively high up in the organization. They know that by admitting a mistake publicly they are admitting that they did something wrong, and this simply isn’t acceptable to them.

Pride is all well and good, but this will do nothing for your online reputation. Customers aren’t stupid. They may forget about what you did, but the chances are they will have already departed to a competitor.

Admit what you did and admit it publicly. Be proud of your mistakes and then apologize for them. You should be sincere in your apology. The worst thing you can do is the ‘sorry not sorry’ apology. This is where an organization apologizes, but it’s done in a tone of defiance or defensiveness. This is not the way to go about it. Be sincere and then get back to business.

Find the source of the pain

Now you have admitted to your mistake you need to find out what happened in the first place. Apologizing and getting back to whatever you were doing before only ensures that the mistake will happen again. It’s very difficult to repair your online reputation after making the same catastrophic error twice.

You should find out what went wrong. Your investigation shouldn’t focus on the competition or that blasted person who uncovered the issue in the first place.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, your options are limited in having any critical content removed. This is the Internet and the chances are the content will exist somewhere. As it becomes less relevant it will disappear, but in the meantime, you can understand why what happened happened and how you can prevent it from happening again.

In many ways, you should see these pain sources as opportunities to learn and grow. Absolutely every company has gone through similar situations.

Take the initiative

An online reputation doesn’t just happen. It’s something you have to continuously work on. Taking the initiative means you have to be spending your time polishing your reputation. For a start, your product should be perfect. This is just as important for your revenue as it is for keeping your target audience happy.

But customer service is the priority. You need to make sure that whenever you are dealing with real people you are treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve. If you stay positive and go out of your way to help people, it’s extremely difficult for anyone to paint you in a negative light.

Online reputation repair can create customers

It’s easy to see online reputation as something to fear. In many ways, it can actually create customers. More than ever before, consumers want to work with companies that will treat them in the right way. If they see that you are addressing problems and apologizing for the mistakes you made, they know that they are going to receive the respect they deserve.

There are a lot of cases where customers have actually been created based on online reputation alone.

The cure is in the prevention

Protecting your online reputation is best done not by finding the cure but by providing a prevention plan. The best way to keep your popularity high is to not make mistakes in the first place. Many problems can be solved through testing.

It’s not uncommon for companies of all sizes to enlist loyal customers or random members of the public to test out their products and services. By uncovering problems early, you can solve them before anyone notices. Online reputation really can make or break your company, so it’s in your best interests to invest both the time and money in this.

After learning about the importance of online reputation, how will you go about repairing your online reputation today?