You know what they say about word of mouth...One person tells two friends, who tells two friends, who tells two friends—and so on and so on and so on. (Yes, I took that from the 1980s Faberge Shampoo commercials.)

But when that friend goes online, they aren’t just telling two friends—they are telling anyone looking for information about your small business. It seems user-generated content is replacing old-fashioned word of mouth, in some instances. And a company called Marchex has set out to reveal the impact of this newfangled word of mouth mechanism on small businesses.

Marchex reveals that online consumer reviews and social network sites have a greater impact on the reputation of a small business than the company's own Web site. Marchex analyzed the search results from about 150 small businesses and found that more than 80 percent of search results did not point to the Web sites of those small businesses.

This study looked specifically at small businesses in the Northeast U.S. that rely on customer reviews (read: restaurants, travel, legal, beauty, plumbing, automotive businesses and the like). But the results probably ring true anywhere in the U.S.

The good news: user-generated content is driving revenue for companies. The bad news: if what users are saying about your company isn’t peachy keen, then you could be sucking lemmons. The lesson: You need to understand your online reputation—and manage it.

Your online reputation is what your customers and others are saying about you online. If they are singing your praises, it could drive new customers through your door. But if they are complaining about your brand’s poor service, they could be doing your local competitors a favor.

How do you find out what’s being said about your company online?

You could tap into reputation management software. Companies like Marchex and PR Newswire offer these tools. Or, if a software spend isn’t in your budget, you can put a Google Alert on your company’s name that will pick up mentions online, in blogs and in news articles.

Whatever you do, don’t stick your head in the sand. It’s better to know what’s being said about your company, even if it’s bad, so you can act on the feedback and provide the best possible service.

Just for fun, check out the 1980s commercial I mentioned. Does it ring any bells?