In 2007, controversy erupted over the social network Spoke, with allegations being made that the site was collecting and selling personal information.
Following my post about the issue where I suggested that Spoke had a word-of-mouth problem, the question was raised about how companies can overcome negative brand perceptions. I went to LinkedIn and asked the following question: "When you do a search on the Web for your business name or brand and negative results show up, how do you go about changing perceptions and protecting your reputation?"
Quite a number of people responded and what follows is a digest of what several of the most knowledgeable had to say. (I purposely left off names and other personally identifiable information. You can see that info at LinkedIn, however.) Please feel free to submit your own.
Build my own blog to address the issue for two reasons. 1. To eventually beat out the other listing in the serps, 2. So that anyone who ever asks me about it, I can send them to the explanation I already have written.
This is actually a good thing in the Web 2.0 era. If you think about it, people keeping us businesses honest. But as far as unjustified comments, I would recommend the following steps:
- Make sure that the comments are indeed unjustified. You don't want to claim something that you are not sure about, so it is essential to know whether these people are telling the truth.
- Try to reach out to these people if possible to change their perceptions. See what their issues are all about and how you can resolve misunderstandings.
- Try to get your satisfied customers to help you out by giving you their feedback. Get involved in the community but don't bash these people as that is not good. If your focus is on customer satisfaction, then you need to show it. Bashing does not help that cause. Create a blog and try to communicate.
- Do not be defensive. That's what personally kills it for me. If you are defensive, you are not helping yourself or others.
The question is to know whether you have mainly negative answers, or just some. If it's just some, do not spent too much time on them, except if they appear on the very first result page. In that case only, try to find out what went wrong, comment on the blog/site where the bad news come from, join the conversation on both your behalf and your company's and try to correct the situation.
For the rest, building a reputation is a long road. Work on your client service first, and be sure to have a way to communicate directly with your customers online. The corporate blog is the ideal way for that.
There are lot of different ways this could be happening. Without more details, here is a strategic overview:
- Get in touch with the creators of negative information;
- Create ethical, informational responses, and explore creative PR responses;
- SEO (search engine optimization/optimize) for the SERPs (search engine results pages), forums, blogs and other relevant touch points;
- Target influencers.
(1) Open a dialogue with the producers of negative sites. Consider at first using a third party. Find out what motivates them before attempting to address issues. Sometimes you can bring their voice "into the fold," other times address their motivators without needing to address the issues as you see them to bring about a positive change.
Ask the creators of negative information if they would consider moving the dialogue to a different forum. You can create a non-indexed (will not show up in search engines) forum on your site to address concerns, for example.
Respond to individuals who have complaints. Give them expanded service, or seek to bring their voice into a feedback forum, and off of a criticism forum
Get a voice in the touch points (forums, blogs, twitter, etc.) that negative results appear inâ€"this needs to be someone's job. Comment with clarity, patience and humor wherever the negative information appears. Link to positive responses to boost the ranking of those responses in the SERPs.
(2) Investigate the publicity aspects of having mixed results about your brand in the SERPs. building on the old adage "all publicity is good publicity."
If appropriate to have a response of integrity, have on your site a press release, blog, whitepaper or special section with your response. Explore other touch points to put your response onto (forums, blogs, twitter, etc.).
If you are making changes in response to the criticisms, promote those changes directly as well as creatively. A creative response can expand virally and overwhelm negatives as other sites take up the connections.
(3) Many options here. A few that come to mind:
If any of your sites rank well in the SERPs, you can use internal link structure shifts to boost the ranking of your responses both inside and outside that site.
This week Google announced that they are reducing multiple results from single domains (specifically, TLDs), so having more than 2-3 pages rank from one domain, such as your main site, is no longer an option. If you have multiple sites or touch points, strategically increase the number of results appearing above the negative, where possible.
Google's universal search strategy means that a blog or YouTube video with lesser ranking "juice" can show in the SERPs alongside a web site with higher "juice." This means a smaller amount of SEO is required to rank, in some cases.
Network with your partners and with the partners of your those putting out negative for links to boost the ranking of your positive response.
Utilize a PPC (pay per click ad) campaign. Beyond rebuilding your brand and getting your voice out there, this can help you find how people are finding the negative result, and use that data to improve your results in the SERPs, such as by using ad copy in meta description tags to increase the frequency of clicks on your positive information, vs. their negative information.
Create other touch points on the web (YouTube, Twitter, Blogs) to influence. Use internal site linking power and assistance from partners to boost the ranking of those touch points.
Use viral marketing to increase the number of positive results in the SERPs. If negative sites are using copyrighted content inappropriately, file a DMCA request to have their site removed.
Create similar content that is more appropriate and SEO it to rank higher than the negative content.
(4) Twitter/comment to head off negatives with key influencers. Speak before negatives appear.
This is becoming an essential part of doing business on the Net and it applies as much to individuals and it does to companies. If the negative result is about a real problem in your company address it right away. Let the person who wrote about you know that you are handling the issue. Be willing to look at your mistakes and fix them. This can turn your worst detractors into supporters.
You can work at moving negative results down in the rankings.
Depending on who the negative result is from and what site it is on, it may
take a lot of work to move it off page one. To 'own' the search results for your name you need to create lots of good content and then link to it.
I am as pro-active as possible, and have set up RSS feeds for my name, ActiveWords, and other ideas. I reach out instantly, and engage the writer in a conversation, offer to solve any issues, and this has worked very well. My goal has always been to turn lemons into lemondade. We try to be brutally honest about our product, and are always asking people for input and ideas.
Your best bet is to get enough positive stuff out there on sites that will carry more weight/traffic than the ones displaying the negatives. Basically,you need a good SEO campaign combined with people that get viral marketing if you want to hire someone to do it.
In my case, my business is my name. The 1st thing I try to do is get past any name calling or insulting comments & determine what substantive complaint someone has. Then I think about it before answering the substance and ignoring the insult. If there is no substance as is often the case at places like Valleywag, I don't answer at all. There game is to build readership through controversy and I do not wish to play.
There are a few options here. At one level, if information is libelous and damaging you can consider legal steps against the source of the misinformation or the site displaying the offending references. This of course is costly, time consuming, and can often backfire.
In recent years, the blogging community has become a powerful voice and an alternative media that rivals traditional news sources. Many major corporations have tried bullying these sites and sending cease-and-desist letters threatening legal action. Bloggers then post these threats which draw even more attention to the issue that would have probably faded away on its own. In fact, companies demonstrating a sense of humor and support of the bloggers often come away with a much better public image.
One option that can be effective is to simply contact the sites directly and discuss the situation with them. If you can demonstrate why the information is wrong or misleading or at least offer your perspective, there is a good chance that they will either remove the offending article, or at least offer your response to get equivalent exposure.
For less-than-flattering, but not libelous information, you should develop your own statement and post it on your website. If your company was in the wrong, demonstrate resolution, discuss how you fixed the problem, or reimbursed the customer. Show that you care about your customers and are honest and straight forward with them. People understand that maybe your customer service rep made a procedural mistake, or the previous release of your software had a bug. Show the world that have or are addressing the issue.
Once you've established your position, you can take advantage of channels to propagate this to get the word out to your customers and to the people who will see the disparaging remarks. Interviews, press releases, etc.
Finally, if negative information shows up first in searches the best defense is to displace it with positive information about your business. Consider turning to experts in PR, SEO, and media relations to develop a strong, positive message about your company and be sure it rises to the top of the searches. This is not in retaliation to negative references on the web, this is what you should be doing every day to make sure the best news about your company comes from you and your satisfied customers.
From a press relations standpoint, I think that the best solution to attempting to quell negative perceptions about a business is to address them directly. Find the source and the reason for the complaints and, if necessary, make changes to the business model to appeal to the consumer. A customer that was turned away may find a reason to come back if the company genuinely seems concerned about its perceived image.
From a search engine optimization standpoint, the obvious answer is to manipulate the search engine results page to the favor of your company. Multiple search engine optimization strategies exist for having a clean front page across branded keywords, and it would be a priority for any search engine marketing staff in the employ of the company to enact strategies that will lead to the success and seemingly positive image of the company.
It is up to you to decide what approach to take. Some companies may find that both approaches work better; some companies may find that masking the bad with some good will go a longer way.
As someone who's built his personal brand on the web, I'd say being proactive in building that brand is essential. For e.g. when you google my name, the first thing you'll find is my marketing blog. In addition you'll also find my LinkedIn profile that protects my online reputation. For those who don't have the time to post content every day, a LinkedIn profile is a great way to maintain that brand with less investment of time.
As for businesses, the best thing would be to create your own online publication (a corporate blog being the easiest) that puts forth your point-of-view but also actively responding to other legitimate bloggers is also recommended.
It depends on the class of negative result. For example, is there because of ignorance? Or malice by a competitor? If so, these are reasonably easy to work with and they require a direct approach to the person responsible for the information.
On the other hand, if the negative information is justified in some way, attacking the source is the wrong thing to do. You need to go back to the reasons why you are being seen negatively. Is it a systemic problem? Was it a one-off? Is the forum public? For example, if someone had a bad experience that was not typical, and the post is on a public forum, you could post an apology and offer them some form of reasonable compensation (not cash).
If the problem is systemic, can you fix it? If the answer is yes, do so and then promote your changes. If the negative information is public, add details about what steps have been taken to correct the problem and add links to your press release.
Authors run into this all the time with negative book reviews. For the most part even a negative interview is positive since many people will buy the book just to find out if the publisher of the comment is correct. Spend less time on the negative comments and focus on the positive.
Paul, I answer this in my soon to be released free ebook "Effective Internet Presence." Here's a DRAFT excerpt: How to Bury Dirt About Yourself
Uh Oh, some bad stuff or at least undesirable or inaccurate things about you are high in the search results. Digital dirt is the term some people use.
What you going do?
- You can request to have undesirable things taken down, but that may or may not work. I'm sure Bosley Hair Replacement would love to have Bosley Medical Violations, an anti-Bosley site, go away, but despite Bosley's lawsuit it's still there. Similarly, I'm sure United Airlines, united.com, would love to have untied.com, an anti- United Airlines site, go away, but I doubt it will.
- You can bury the digital dirt in the search results. This is usually the best course of action. By generating lots of positive Internet content about yourself,, the undesirable results could be relegated to page 40 or so of the search engines results.
All the techniques we discussed before work well, but some negative search results just might not go away
- If "undesirable results" just won't go away, if for example you are OJ Simpson or allegedly embezzled a few billion dollars, there are two things you MUST do:
- Present your side of the story. That means some of the top ten results must be yours. You might directly refute the "undesirable results" or simply present yourself in an alternate and more favorable light.
- Know about the "undesirable results." There are plenty of anecdotes about people who had digital dirt they didn't know about that affected their lives negatively. For example, you might tell potential dates and employers, "I'm not THAT OJ Simpson." If you don't know you can't do anything
You jump in. If you can find (read, see, hear) the conversation where you're being discussed (bashed, defamed, praised, boosted, etc) then you can jump in (or on) that conversation. You'll see/read/hear what needs to be said, how it should be said. And you do it.
I'm not sure that I would attack it dead on, especially if the site or person in question has little authority. Rather, I think I would recruit advocates to promote my business or brand. I think it having your clients or colleagues speak to your strengths holds much more weight than you doing it yourself.
We're seeing a current 'blog battle' ensuing online right now between TechCrunch and BlogNation and I really believe that it's making both parties look terribly childish.
We actively pursue positive feedback and online recommendations from customer and business partners and then aggressively market those online just as much as anything else we do. You can find 11 recommendations for me on LinkedIn alone and then several other places such as Judy's Book, our website (www.TeamReba.com), and anywhere else we can post them.
One way we get the feedback and online recommendations/testimonials is by recruiting clients close to the time they've completed a transaction with us so we are still top of mind with them. We also send out feedback forms which have a section for comments that we then ask the client if we can use their remarks for marketing purposes. Most say yes. Others are even more responsive and ask us if we would like them to write something specific about our work for marketing reasons but we usually ask them just to write from the heart and their specific experience - we want these comments to be real and not composed.
While much of this can be time consuming it is very much worth the time and effort. At this stage we have our assistant help with the follow up although I will also personally ask some folks specifically for whom I'd like a testimonial.
Luckily I haven't really had to deal with this, although I have had clients who did.
The best defense may be a good offense in this case. I.e., having a Web page, blog, podcast, linked in page, etc., can push negative comments off the first page of search results.
I also recommend to people to have a blog; if someone's going to lob a PR bomb at me I'd rather have home court advantage.
If the result was somewhere where I could tell my side of the story W/O looking defensive, I might try that as well.
However, if responding stoked the fire, I might just let it rest.
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