Gorman, RichToday’s guest post is by Rich Gorman.

The Internet has often been likened to the Wild West, and not without reason.

Anyone with a vendetta and enough determination can eventually tarnish a company or an individual’s online reputation.

Online defamation is a particularly big problem for smaller brands; not only must small business owners contend with bad reviews and damaging allegations, but also with the many internal errors that can create online reputation nightmares.

For external issues, negative reviews, BBB complaints, or plain-and-simple bad PR, there are two basic routes that a small business can take.

The first method is to employ a professional reputation repair service; the other is to attempt going the DIY route. In either case, however, the best efforts are undercut if the company persists in making basic reputation management mistakes.

The good news, for small businesses eager to enhance their online portrayal, is these common mistakes can be easily identified, and ultimately stopped. Here are four of the most common reputation management mistakes that small businesses make, along with some tips on minimizing these potentially disastrous problems.

A Lack of Awareness

The first common problem small companies face is the belief that reputation damage could never happen to them. There are a lot of small business owners who believe that, if their products are good and their services superior, bad reviews and customer complaints could never be a problem – then they’re blindsided when negative PR happens.

Don’t allow yourself to become naive or complacent; bad reviews can happen to any brand, and at any time, stemming from flat-out unreasonable customers, from competitors, or even from disgruntled ex-employees.

Going Social Without a Strategy

Of course, many small business owners are all too aware of the looming possibility of online reputation damage, and as such, they are diligent in taking proactive action to defend their brand. This is admirable, but when that proactive action is taken without proper foresight and strategy, it can do more harm than good.

This is especially true when it comes to social media implementation. Posting regular updates to the company Facebook or Twitter accounts can prove very helpful in cultivating a positive online image. It is only helpful, however, when it’s on-message. That’s why it’s typically not a good idea to have the social media work handled by a summer intern, or a brand new employee. The work of reputation defense should be handled by someone who gets – and is invested in – the company’s vision!

Zealous Response

Still, other small business owners damage their brands by becoming too zealous in responding to negative reviews. Online reviews are incredibly influential in shaping consumer opinion and determining a brand’s reputation, but that hardly means an immediate response is always in order.

Certainly, responding in gratitude to positive reviews can be a good idea. With negative ones, though, it’s important not to respond in anger or in haste – and in fact, it may be best to avoid responding at all. A response is unlikely to win over an unreasonable customer, but it is sure to lend the bad review greater visibility. It’s better to focus on creating positive content instead of responding directly to the negatives.

No Monitoring

A final reputation management mistake that companies make, and in many ways is the most foundational error of them all, is a lack of monitoring. For many small businesses, keeping tabs on the way the brand is portrayed on the Web is simply not a priority, especially when there have been no known negative listings. Once again, though, these negatives can happen at any moment, which is why monitoring is not a one-time thing, but an around-the-clock process. Companies that haven’t, at the very least, established Google alerts are leaving themselves wide open for online attack.

These are all internal problems that can make the external issues even more dire. By fixing them, small businesses can ensure that they’re helping, rather than hindering, their online reputation.

Rich Gorman is a multi-tasker himself, helping multiple companies and sharing his expertise about personal reputation management. Rich operates the official blog for the direct response industry, where he shares his thoughts on direct response marketing.