The most valuable elements of your business are your brand and your reputation. Reputation is simply the public’s perception of your brand. Once tarnished, a business reputation is hard to repair. Some people still refuse to buy Tylenol, for example, because of a Tylenol product-tampering scare that happened more than a quarter-century ago.

You may work hard to repair a damaged reputation, but the public (and media) may find it hard to forget even the slightest negative incident. Especially today, consumers online and actively sharing their experiences with various brands, reputation is more important than ever. You may distinguish yourself or your business with prompt delivery, a quality product, or outstanding customer service, but if you carry a negative reputation, these distinctions may be of little help. Reputations can take months and years to repair; some remain damaged forever.

The internet makes it easy to monitor and track discussions about your brand and reputation. The internet also provides literally hundreds of forums and opportunities to spread grievances both minor and major; facts, unfortunately, can play little if any role in the internet rants and slanders that may be initiated against you and your business. For these reasons and others, reputation management services have grown significantly in recent years.

Public relations agencies now offer reputation management as a value-added service and as a way to measure and track an ad campaign’s success. Other companies do nothing but create strategies for fixing or re-establishing a brand’s reputation. Is reputation management necessary? The overwhelming consensus is, Yes! While not every business can afford to closely monitor its reputation, here are a few strategies everyone can use to influence and keep abreast of developments:

Position yourself. Develop and promote the positive reputation that you want for your brand. If there’s negative online talk about your business, at least you’ll be out there defending it.

Use Google Alerts. Google Alerts is free and notifies you whenever something is posted online about your brand.

Listen, learn from, and engage consumers. If they’re complaining, find out why, and repair any damage. If feedback is positive, give your customers more of what they want. Try new things or you’ll risk decline; there’s a reason McDonald’s is always adding new items to its menu.

Punch up your online profiles. Does your brand have its own Facebook page? Should it be on Facebook, LinkedIn, and both? Social profiles are free. Revise those profiles, and share content that helps with your positioning.

Deliver on promises. If you make a promise to a customer or employee, keep it. Nothing creates scorn for a business faster than failure to deliver on a promise.