This is the fourth and final part of a 4-part series explaining the importance of maintaining ownership of your various web properties and how to keep them under your control. This section will focus on your social media pages and public business listings.

Want to read from the beginning? Read the intro here.

I already have a Facebook account. Why do I need to read this?

By social media, I am not referring to your personal Facebook profile, but rather to your company’s brand pages or accounts on websites designed for social interaction, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and other such sites.

Other profiles that are relevant to your business are those in business directories such as Yelp, Kudzu, and Google+ Local (a.k.a. Google Places for Business).

Why it’s important to own your business’s social media profiles

Social media is one of the most trusted sources consumers will go to learn more about your business. By engaging with consumers where they already are, you have the opportunity to appear more relatable to your customer base and build greater brand loyalty. It is an opportunity for you to prevent a more personal side of your company than you might show on your website, with content more directly targeted to specific sectors of your customer base.

Consumers also use brand pages on social media and business directories to find information about businesses such a promotions, locations, and phone numbers, sometimes without ever going to the company’s primary website. For this reason, it is absolutely essential to maintain up-to-date, accurate information on these pages.

Imagine you find yourself in this scenario:

Your marketing company sets up your Facebook page for your business and manages all posts. Through their efforts, your business earns hundreds or thousands of followers, and engagement on your page is high. However, when your contract with your marketing company is up, you decide not to renew. A few weeks later, you realize that you have no way of accessing your company’s Facebook page. All posts cease, and your brand effectively “dies” online. If your previous company does not agree to transfer the account to you, you will have to start over with a new Facebook page, an inferior new vanity URL (because facebook.com/YourBusinessName will have already been taken for the page set up by the marketing company), and 0 fans… with no way of alerting the fans of your previous page about the switch.

One does not simply recreate a Facebook page

The same scenario holds with your Google Places listing, or Kudzu, or any other profile. These listings are very important for local businesses, as consumers often go straight to these directories for information instead of visiting the website for the business. If your business changes locations or phone numbers, and you don’t have any way of updating the listing because it’s owned by someone else, you will not be able to convert the potential customers looking for information about your business online.

Now, in most cases, your previous company is probably going to be willing to transfer the page to you. But if you take ownership of your social media accounts from the beginning, then you’ll never have to take that risk.

How to set up your own business profile or directory listing

As always, the best way to make sure that you are not relying on another company more than you should is to set up your social media and business directory pages yourself. There are so many different social media and business directory sites that to try to list the setup steps for each one would be impossible, but this is a general overview.

For social media sites, you will either need to create a separate account (for sites like Twitter) or just a page (for sites like Facebook or Google+). For many social media platforms, you can then add additional managers. This is the best way to allow your marketing company to manage your social media without giving up control.

For business directories, you should first search for your business. Often, your business will be listed even if the listing is unclaimed. Next, you should look for a link that says something like “Claim your business.” The exact wording will vary from site to site, but the gist of the process is pretty similar no matter which directory you’re on.

What if another company already set up the public profiles for my business?

If another company created your accounts or profiles, the first thing you should do is ask them for access. For Twitter or Pinterest, you’ll need the account login information. For Google+ (and merged Google+ Local/Places for Business pages) or Facebook, you can simply request that they add you as a manager or transfer the page to you entirely.

For directory listings, it can be more complicated. If a unique account was used to set up the page for your business, you can request the login page for that account. If this is not an option (for example, if the marketing company used an account that they also use for their other clients), you will probably need to contact the support department for the website to either request that the listing be transfered to you or deleted so that you can create a new listing. Again, this can vary considerably from site to site.

If another individual or company is actually impersonating your company online, you should immediately report the page or account as abuse. While it is not very likely that this will occur, you should act as quickly as possible if it does happen.

In conclusion

This concludes my series on taking ownership of your business online. I hope that it will be of use to small business owners seeking to grow their business online. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you take the steps from the beginning to keep your web properties under your control, you can feel more confident moving forward with your Internet marketing company, knowing that you are ultimately the one directing your business, both on and offline.

If you have any additional questions on this subject — or suggestions that I may have left out — please chime in in the comments.