Unfortunately it also provides a great medium for people to discredit businesses that have done nothing wrong.
I have seen people discredit businesses within forums and blogs for no other reason than competitor jealously, lack of understanding about the polices and processes of the business or trying to shift blame for their own mistakes, failures and misunderstandings.
The general public as a whole cannot separate the real negative “press” from the fake content generated by competitors and people intent on damaging a business that “wronged them”.
Reputation management is a strategy that businesses use to try reduce the impact of negative sentiment online.
While defining and implementing a reputation strategy for clients I have noticed the following 3 core mistakes that businesses make when attempting to reputation management online:
- It not just about SEO and in many cases you have an almost zero chance of affecting the rankings of search results. For example if a Page Rank 5+ forum which has been online for over 5 years contains posts that have negative comments about your business you will find it very hard to “knock off” these posts from the top search results especially if your site is Page Rank 0 or 1 which most small businesses sites are. Some professional SEO businesses offer “black hat” SEO which often has immediate results but is never a medium-to-long term solution and often backfires on the business via blacklisting.
- Trying to take on the person who wrote the negative post within a public blog/forum must be done with the upmost care. You first need to work out if your dealing with a person spoiling for a fight or someone who is receptive to communication. Some “Internet Trolls” attack businesses online for pure enjoyment and will love the chance to have a war of words with the poor business owner who attempts to address their “concerns”.
- If you are dodgy then no amount of reputation management will help you. The truth will always come out some way and bite you.
So how can a business implement reputation management online effectively?
Here are some tips:
- Work out if SEO will help knock off the negative comments from the search results. To do this you need to analyse the sites that are coming up in the first page of search results. If they are well establish websites that have a good Page Rank and have been online for a number of years then you may need to focus your efforts else where (as listed below). This also includes “long tail” keywords as well. You could try and counter their posts by having your content appear on their competitors website but keep in mind the cost and the potential to aggravate the situation.
- Research the author of the article/post and see if she/he is of a character that is receptive to discussion or someone who will post your private conversation with them online without permission. If they are receptive then address their concerns and try to fix the problem ASAP. Always treat the person with upmost respect and never snub them or start being condescending.
- Do not do anything sneaky or “black hat” because if you get caught out you can increase the damage to such a degree that your brand could be ruined.
- Do not attempt to discredit the author of the content especially in the public domain – this will inflame the situation and give people the perception that you are a bully or you have something to hide.
- Use social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to rally your cause (called “social buzz”) – again this can backfire if done wrong but can also be very powerful counter to the negative sentiment within the blog or forum.
There are a number of other tasks that can be done to increase the chances of reducing the spread of negative sentiment and even counter it but I don’t want to share it within the public domain. Like most successful strategies you need to protect them from abuse by others.
You need to work out if you have the skill and time to implement your own reputation management or engage people who do this for a living. SEO can be very expensive if done wrong and produce zero results.
Additionally if the negative sentiment is being nurtured within an online community such as a forum then you also need to understand how online community dynamics work especially between the group leaders (influencers) and the followers.