This is a guest post by Christian Arno, founder of Lingo24. See Tristan’s thoughts in the comments below.

For any company, organization or individual, your reputation is one of your most important assets. You might offer superb products and services or occupy a unique niche. You might have wonderful staff and a visionary marketing strategy. If your brand conjures negative connotations, however, it can undermine everything else.

Your reputation is one of your most important assets but it’s also one of the most fragile. The advent of the Internet has undoubtedly opened up a host of new opportunities but it’s also made it easier for rumours, falsehoods and negative views to spread like a viral, updated version of good old word-of-mouth. Monitoring and managing your online reputation has never been more important and, when you factor in the added complications of a multilingual web presence, there can be even more to get to grips with.

Go global…think local

While English remains the single most widely used language online, it still only represents around a quarter of total usage. Localized websites can help you penetrate foreign markets and can also have a bearing on your SEO and online visibility within these markets. A fully localized site can also help engender trust in your services. In their book International Marketing: Analysis and Strategy, authors and marketing experts Sak Onkvisit and John J. Shaw state that visitors are three times more likely to make a purchase online from a site in their own native language.

Make yourself accessible

Whether you maintain separate, fully localized sites or a single centralized site with localized content, good translation and clear navigability is a must. Automatic translation programs offer a free and easy option but they are prone to errors and can lend your content an amateurish feel – hardly ideal if the goal is to engender trust and enhance your reputation. Native language translators will help avoid translation errors and any potential cultural faux pas.

It’s also important to offer customers a way to contact you directly, preferably via email or contact forms. Toll-free telephone lines are great for domestic customers but few foreign visitors are likely to call an international number and it’s far better that they address any complaints and queries to you before posting them directly to the web at large.

Monitor the conversation

It’s not enough to simply monitor your own sites and social media profiles if you really want to keep abreast of what people are saying about you online. Google Alerts is a great free tool, allowing you to enter a search term such as your company name. Google will monitor the web for mentions of your search query and send you the results via email. You can set the frequency of emails, from as-it-happens to weekly and, if you don’t want a bulging inbox, dedicate an email address specifically for this purpose. You can also specify various language settings for this monitoring service.

Google is the single biggest search engine worldwide. There are only five countries in fact where Google is not the dominant player but, if you do business within those markets, you may want to check whether these other search engines offer a similar service. Baidu outstrips Google within China, for example, while Yahoo! Japan has the largest market share in Japan.

There are also a number of services, such as Boardtracker [currently under re-construction] and Boardreader that are specifically designed to trawl message boards and forums for your keywords.

Find the best social media platforms

Social media sites offer ideal platforms for monitoring and maintaining your online reputation but just as Google is not the market leader everywhere, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter aren’t the top dogs worldwide.

Russian Facebook-clone Vkontakte, meanwhile, claims to be Europe’s largest social network, with over 100 million active users. Most of these are based within Russia itself but VK also enjoys a major market share in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Moldova. If you’re not active within these Eastern European markets, maintaining a VK presence is hardly going to be worth your time and effort. If you do conduct business in these territories, however, it may be well worth setting up a profile.

Encourage reviews and discussion

Online reviews can be a good way to enhance your reputation but don’t forget that reviews can be negative as well as positive. One way to encourage reviews is to offer incentives such as discount vouchers but these should be awarded to all participants, regardless of the positivity or otherwise of their review. A perception that you are offering bribes for good reviews can do more harm than good to your reputation.

You should also be proactive in your social media activity. Start conversations as well as responding to existing ones. Automatic translation can certainly be handy here but, if resources allow, you may still wish to enlist native speakers to communicate on your behalf.

Monitoring your online reputation can take a lot of work, especially when you’re crossing linguistic divides. A tarnished reputation can cause untold harm, however, and managing and protecting it can be worth all the time and effort you put in.

About the author: Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, a leading translation agency. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 has worked its way to becoming the web’s favorite translation company, working with more than four thousand translators and clients in over sixty countries. Follow Christian (@l24ca) and Lingo24 (@Lingo24) on Twitter.