Whether you’re a high-profile celebrity or own a small, locally based business, your online reputation matters. With social media and websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon, a few negative reviews can spell disaster for a brand.

Poor reviews on Yelp have proven to be especially harmful for small businesses, including restaurants and retail outlets. Because of the algorithms used by many of these sites, businesses find that negative comments receive much more attention than positive ones. And with the widespread use of smartphones to access review sites at a moment’s notice, some business owners are witnessing customers stand outside their restaurants, checking their phones for reviews before entering. If these would-be customers read a few negative comments, it’s common for them to turn away for another option.

If your business is dealing with this issue, it’s important not to ignore it. Instead, you need to take action to protect your company’s reputation — and its bottom line. If you don’t already have a presence on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s time to start. This will allow you to respond to criticism in a swift and professional way, showing users that your business cares about feedback and is willing to make any improvements necessary to enhance the level of service it provides.

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You should also engage with sites like Yelp and Zagat, which allow you to “claim” your business and respond to comments left by customers. Again, you should remain professional at all times and show real concern for the issues highlighted on these sites. In the case of Yelp, the site provides some helpful tips for your responses to both positive and negative reviews.

Proactively engaging your customers

Although you should be diligent about responding to reviewers online, you should also take a proactive approach to customer engagement that allows you to build trust with both existing and potential customers over time. You can do so by posting regularly on social media, maintaining a company blog, developing and distributing regular press releases and keeping your website copy up to date at all times.

There are a number of firms out there that specialize in online reputation management, so if your needs are significant, you may want to consider reaching out to one of them. If you’re looking to develop regular blog content, press releases, articles and social media content that helps promote a long-term positive brand image in the eyes of consumers, however, work with a professional copywriter — ideally with a firm with experience writing rich, informative content for reputation management purposes.

While the results are not immediate, making the investment to provide your customers with the content and information they’re looking for will significantly enhance your search results and make your brand a trusted name in your competitive field.

Steve Bailey is president of ProPRcopy, a copywriting firm providing a wide range of written content for businesses and organizations across the United States and around the world.