A growing number of small businesses in the U.S. are bypassing traditional reputation management services and shifting toward digital-only resources to monitor what people are saying about their brand, according to a recent survey conducted by D.C.-based research and consulting firm Clutch.

Social media is a cost-efficient way for businesses to monitor their online reputation, and this method appears to be the most popular resource small businesses use today. According to Clutch’s survey, two-thirds of small businesses (66 percent) said they now rely on social media platforms to monitor their online reputation.

ClutchTop three platforms small business use to monitor online reputation.

Nearly half of the small businesses who said they use social media to monitor their online reputation (48 percent) said they also supplement their monitoring efforts with the use of least one other platform. Among these, Google search results (57 percent), third-party reviews sites such as TrustPilot and Yelp (42 percent), online reputation management tools like Google Alerts (34 percent) or social listening software such as Hootsuite and Mention (22 percent) were the most popular resources mentioned.

It appears that people also remain a primary ingredient in most small businesses’ online reputation efforts. More than half of the businesses polled (54 percent) said they still rely on in-house employees to monitor their brand’s reputation online, and more than a quarter (27 percent) said they retain PR firms or online reputation management agencies. Nearly half of small businesses (44 percent) reported relying exclusively on human resources services to monitor their online reputation, including in-house employees or PR/reputation management agencies. 

By contrast, just about a quarter (26 percent) said they now use only digital resources—such as online reputation management tools, third-party review sites, and social listening software—for their reputation monitor efforts.

On the whole, small businesses remain more likely to rely on some combination of human and digital resources (30 percent) to manage their online reputation as opposed to using only digital tools (26 percent).

Digital reputation tools are especially popular among younger business owners. For small businesses owned or managed by Millennials, for example, the use of digital and traditional reputation management resources is about evenly split (68 percent traditional vs. 69 percent digital). Small businesses run by members of the Baby Boomer generation, on the other hand, remain more likely to retain human resources than digital services (81 percent vs. 34 percent), as are businesses run by GenXers (75 percent vs. 57 percent).

Overall, the survey found that 88 percent of small businesses monitor their band’s reputation online in some capacity at least quarterly.  

Clutch’s 2019 Small Business PR Survey polled more than 520 U.S. small businesses (employing staff of 500 or fewer) at the end of December.