shutterstock_17677981If you want to fix your online reputation, you’ll need to write checks to both as well as get your own house in order. can easily take back all the land you’ve ceded to negative reviews, rigorous and vigorous besmirchment, and terrible happenstance (life happens and a lot of it really sucks); however, this is all assuming you’ve been done wrong.

I call this scenario “the clean.” The crime scene may well be bloody and I may well need to don a hazmat suit, fill my bucket with Clorox bleach, and get scrubbing with my stiff brush until the apartment is again rentable. The crime is over, it’s unlikely to repeat, and my job is just to restore the scene to normal.

If, on the other hand, you’re a bastard who had deep contempt for the morons you serve, allow your resentment at their stupidity come off you like waves of heat and believe that the customer is always wrong and that all your products and services are pearls to swine. Yikes. And it happens all the time. So, instead of passionately working hard to service customers and clients with kindness, super-service, innovation, convenience and value, they just assume that good enough’s good enough.

lipstick-on-a-pigThis happens the most with monopolies and essential services. We all know who they are. And, they’re often lambasted, drawn and quartered, and tarred-and-feathered. While the fact that most of their clients and customers are being held hostage keeps these companies complacent when it comes to very expensive revisions in process, quality, and service, they’re not stupid. It’s cheaper to hire an army of crisis communicators, PR agencies, ad men, and online reputation managers than it is to turn a Comcast into a Zappos — at least for a while, that is, and especially when you’re still the hegemony, still control a monopoly. ORM does work but it’s an endless game of whack-a-mole.

I call this scenario “repair and repeat.” My analogy here is war. Some neighborhoods in Israel are the victims of chronic rocket attacks. Israel’s smart: they realize that if they allow these neighborhoods to look war-torn then settlers will never move there, will never stay there.

They have dedicated teams to come in, immediately after every attack, and quickly mend the damage, be it structural or cosmetic, from panes of glass to entire rebuilds — all in the service of making sure that people in these neighborhoods feel like they have a semblance of peace and security, even though they’re living a life or Russian roulette. This is very similar to doing ORM for a company that has decided to spend all their money on PR, ORM, publicity, and advertising without making sure it integrates with actual services, quality, customer care, and the ability to deliver on what was and is promised in those ads, PR, and publicity.

It’s putting lipstick on a pig.

Yes, maybe some accountants ran the numbers and decided that it would be cheaper to repair settlements than to make peace in the Middle East; maybe some bean counters decided that the amount of money resulting from settling on a number of deaths associated with a flawed automobile is less money than a recall; maybe it’s easier to care in public and on social than it is to really give a damn because you’re pretty much the only game in town. Yes, sometimes the numbers don’t lie and yet you do the right thing anyway.

pig-lipstickAnd now, maybe it will be worth it, even to the bean-counters. While the Internet is nothing new and we have been talking about the customers taking over the conversation that used to be controlled only by Madison Avenue since 1999′s Cluetrain Manifesto, it really wasn’t until Google went from playing catch-up and appeasing a corporate culture that liked to play Internet- and search-stupid (“we didn’t mean to do anything terrible! what’s ‘black hat?’ — my search guy said it was kosher”); now, as I have been saying week-after-week, Google’s refining and constricting and honing their search, relying less and less on a link-based algorithm that’s been around and mostly unmolested since September 4, 1998, and more on how content, information, sharing, clicking, viewing, and authorship relates to social networks, news and content platform, blogs and social platforms, and Google+. And while Google’s been twice-bitten and thrice shy, continually always loosening the noose again and again (ecommerce is surprisingly awesome at the game of chicken, at bluffing the hand they have and Google’s always folded until recently), they’re now taking two steps forward and only relinquishing one.

The rope’s tightening, so lazy SEO and ORM agencies are not only becoming less effective but they’re losing entire first and second pages that they had previously held for — and promised — their clients (though we ORM agencies are amazingly good at promising nothing as we know how unpredictable, mysterious, and fickle Google has been every step of every day of the last 15-years). And when you’ve paid $30k/month for years to an agency that has promised to turn a bloody disaster back into a pristine property, it doesn’t matter what the contract promises to not promise, I am sure clients can become quite irate.

Lipstick-on-a-Hairy-Pig-zorboard-FreakingNews-37282Why am I discussing this again? Am I a one-trick pony? Am I a parrot? Haven’t I said this sort of thing before? Well, there’s a story behind it.

I am up in NYC. I came up here to take my new-to-me 1995 motorcycle for a long ride to the city to visit friends — and I am still up here, two-weeks later — going onto three. While up here, I connected with Peter Shankman and we met last Saturday at the Union Square Farmers Market. When I arrived, I also got to meet both Peter’s lovely baby daughter as well as Bob Knorpp, host of The BeanCast Marketing Podcast.

As we walked amongst the heirloom tomatoes, organic kale, and plump fuzzy peaches, we discussed online reputation management, both in the context of hyper-active social media customer support and in the context of more traditional ORM strategies when it comes to search results, review sites, and online discussion.

We all agreed on two things: 1) online reputation management is essential and powerful and 2) it doesn’t work over the long term on its own.

While online reputation management can work using brute force and infinite resources (think $30k+/month ad, infinitum), there will be a point of diminishing returns as Google normalizes the ORM campaign (no matter how brutal) and the newest, freshest, and most relevant real, organic, authentic, and popular content will bubble to the top, especially as Google gets better and better at connecting organic social sharing with authorship, timeliness (real-time webbiness) and popularity into not just a contributing factor of Google’s search algorithm but the dominant source for emergent news and relevant content.

lipstick-on-pig(Remember, at the end of the day, Google needs to read the minds of the people who visit — based mostly on cryptic phrases written by normal folks and not by Boolean-ninja fresh from their degrees in library science. Garbage, garbage out, right? Well, if you temper the queries with popular news, viral content, and how their friends are searching, watching, reading, clicking, sharing and, increasingly, where and when.)

And since Peter Shankman is the author of, “Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over–and Collaboration Is In,” and” Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World,” I was preaching to the choir.

If you’ve simply been besmirched, write a check to; if, on the other hand, your corporate culture is circa 1953 in 2013, you feel like the customer is mostly wrong, you’re cutting essential services to maximize shareholder value and you honestly believe that huge retainers to Edelman, Hill & Knowlton, and Ketchum is enough cover fire to allow you to behave badly, then think again.

While writing huge checks to in care of Polly Wood via their Picasso product is an essential first step towards reclaiming your good name on Google search, if your company is being chronically pulled through the mud, you feel like you need to blame your customers for being idiots, you find your good self mocked and derided on Twitter, there’s an unflattering hashtag about you, and you’re a trending topic when it comes to suck, the evidence does not support that it’s your customers’ fault.

Lipstick-on-a-pig-1024x835You need to spend less time wearing makeup and spend more time not being a pig.

I recommend buying Peter Shankman’s book and then calling Pam Teagarden for advice on how to reboot your company from being insufferably entitled to being unendingly grateful; while it might seem impossible to revise your corporate culture in such a revolutionary way, evolution takes to long.

Good luck. And, if you’ve read this far, I hate to break it to you this way: it’s not us, it’s you.

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