No business or person is perfect. Even if you’ve done a good job avoiding trouble and staying on the straight and narrow, sometimes trouble comes looking for you. From an online perspective, negative comments, reviews or posts about your company or products can show up in several ways.
- Within search results for your brand. In the case of a weak online brand, I’ve even seen negative results outranking the brand website. That’s going to be terrible for reputation, because most people treat Google’s results as law, and a negative result on a search for your brand can look awful.
- Showing up in Google’s search suggest. If enough users search for a particular keyphrase, Google may suggest it to users before they even finish typing. Having a negative result associated with your brand name can do tremendous damage.
- Reviews on third party reviews websites. A negative review on a Yelp, Google Places, or other page is significantly less damaging than the two situations above, but is still something that you should address.
When it comes to brand, either business or personal, there are a few different options to consider.
Reputation Management: The Nuclear Option – Sue the B*****ds
I have this option first, because it should be eliminated as an option first. Is the comment/post/review illegal, violent or threatening? Is it untrue, hearsay, or outrageously false? Most comments or reviews, despite the insistence of the business owner, aren’t. Just because a comment is exaggerated or one sided doesn’t necessarily mean you can sue someone for making it.
If it is outright illegal or threatening, contact police. If it’s a clear-cut case of outrageous slander, talk to a lawyer. They’ll subpoena the website to tie the comment/post/whatever to an IP address, which can hopefully be tied to a person. Then you’ll have your opportunity to spend lots of money on legal fees.
Reputation Management: The Direct Approach – Take it Offline
When things go South, you’ve got an opportunity to show that although your company isn’t perfect, you care about your customers and you care about your company. If you watch a practiced company respond to bad comments on Twitter, it’s a thing of beauty. They connect with the complainant quickly, they say they’re there to help, and they take it offline. That’s important for two big reasons:
- It’s no longer public. What if the complainant was clearly wrong about their initial statement? If it’s in a public arena, their pride is at stake and they may not own up to it anyways.
- Most social media platforms suck for troubleshooting. Phone, in-person, online chat – almost anything short of a carrier pigeon is better suited to a dialog and conversation about something that’s gone wrong and needs to be resolved.
On third party sites, you need to make a decision whether you’re going to engage or not. If the complaint is fresh, a quick response can work wonders for both the complainant and your image. If it’s years old, it may be best to just leave it alone. That decision is up to you as the business representative.
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Reputation Management: What you should have been doing anyways – Building Profile and Content
The two scenarios I gave at the top of this post are really exacerbated by a company with little to no activity online. If your 5 year old flash website and a post about how one of your customers doesn’t like you are the only two things that Google can find out about your company, they’re going to show up.
If a customer complained online about Coca Cola, it stands very little chance of starting either of those scenarios. That’s because there’s so much good out there, that it’s hard for the bad to compete. This is the kind of thing you should have been doing anyway and will prevent minor issues from spiraling out of control. You’re probably already doing good for your company, but you may not be making that information available. You should:
- Have a decent website.
- Add a blog to that website and blog on it.
- Comment and engage with other blogs in your space. Keep in mind that the internet remembers the comments you make; and try not to use sarcasm or snark in your online communications because they’re easily misunderstood.
- Have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Google+ page, a LinkedIn Company page, and any other social media platforms that make sense.
- Use them!
- Link to those profiles from your website.
- Have listings on non-social media sites too like BBB, Yellow Pages, Chamber of Commerce, business groups that you’re a member of, and other local or industry-specific business directories.
- Write articles for other websites under your business or personal name.
If this is too much work or not your forte, hire a PR company.
Don’t react, build your brand online now
If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s that a well connected, well liked brand stands a much better chance of weathering an online PR problem than a poorly known or slightly disliked company. Which is your company, and how well prepared will you be when your PR storm comes?