Retail is tough. Online retail is even tougher. The internet is an open-source community, a cyber-domain for the public in which any Tom, Dick or Harry can dwell and speak their mind about a product or service.

With retail comes the inevitability of positive and negative feedback, but there’s a difference – the sentiment is broadcast live, is indexed and can be viewed by millions and millions of users worldwide. It’s certainly a lot worse that hearing about the woman who got food poisoning from buying the local butcher’s two month old chicken… isn’t it?

Put into every day context, online reputation management applies the same principles in dealing with negative sentiment in the real world – if you encountered a derogatory mark in the newspaper, appearing to thousands of readers, which strategy would you deploy to counteract its effects?

Let’s look at some text-book cases of Australian online reputation management:

Retravision Bunbury – all it takes is one tech-savvy blogger to potentially destroy your brand name online, as seen in the example of Retravision Bunbury. After being dissatisfied with the quality of the service, the blogger took to his favourite online platform in order to give his readers his two cents worth – a strongly negative review of the store.

Fortunately, Retravision Bunbury were wise-enough to be tracking their brand name online, with a customer service representative addressing the issue directly and inviting the dissatisfied customer to contact him to discuss the issue further.

What’s the underlying message here? It’s a classic case of Customer Service 101, and for some reason a lot of businesses think that they are exempt in the online world, despite the damage being grossly exacerbated by the magnitude of exposure one single blog post can achieve.

Your first step into protecting your online reputation is to simply look out for your own brand name. Sign up with Google Alerts, set up a remote email account and stay on top of the online buzz around your brand name.