How to Protect Your Online Reputation?

(Article from Forbes.com, Dr. Chris Anderson, Cyberinvestigation Services Inc.)

1. Protection. First, businesses need a program to regularly encourage satisfied customers to write reviews. From there they need to build out additional content on the Internet so that positive material eventually occupies their first page results on Google. Anderson notes that it is much more effective to focus attention on prevention than on trying to fix the situation entirely after a negative situation occurs. Anderson also notes that these actions of protection also serve as positive marketing and substantially helps a business’ credibility when potential customers “Google” their brand. He also notes there are additional advanced protective techniques available that small-mid companies should consider such as requiring employees and sometimes even customers to sign contracts ensuring that they won’t post detrimental materials to the web.

2. Monitoring. On the topic of monitoring, Anderson stresses the importance of uncovering online problems quickly. Entrepreneurs can frequently solve problems easily if they find the issue right away, but issues become much more difficult or even impossible to deal with as time goes by. In his practice, Anderson has seen businesses sometimes wait until they’ve lost 50% or more of revenues before they come in to seek professional help.  At that point there is much less remedy available because of the age of the material. Anderson recommends doing a complete scan of your brand name weekly to include first page results and review sites. I would suggest going further still by putting a Google search in place that brings forward new mentions of your company’s name instantly, as quick as the new items appear.

3. Defense. According to Anderson, the hardest issue of all lies in defending your brand when you come under attack. Suppose you wake up tomorrow and find something negative online about you or your business. It is sticking out like a sore thumb and the material is 100% fictitious. What do you do?
Anderson suggests the first step is to take a deep breath. The moment you become aware of an online problem is invariably scary. You will feel helpless but will also feel a strong need to act quickly. This is a scenario where PR and reputation management council is necessary, but in short, you need to rationally assess your ability to handle the issue.

According to Anderson, your options include the following:

  • Doing nothing
  • Crafting a polished written response
  • Trying to resolve the issue with the poster
  • Asking the website to step in
  • Identifying an anonymous poster
  • Using legal letters to threaten the poster
  • Filing a lawsuit to seek damages and force removal

If you (or your team) react badly, you can quickly make matters worse. Your decision may feel a bit like a high-stakes game of poker.

What can businesses and consumers do? The good news, is that reputation management attorneys are becoming more skilled at vetting out the information that is likely to meet the legal definition of defamation if tested in court and are increasingly efficient at getting the bad content removed from its source.

It is also getting easier to locate publishers of false information through their IP addresses (and some sites even publish the information directly). In the cases where a cluster of negative reviews appears suddenly, victims may often have an instinct or at least a fair idea of who is perpetrating the information, making it easier to locate the sources and get the activities stopped.
In the meantime, if your business has not yet taken proactive actions to support and protect your online reputation, now is the time.