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Planning an Online Reputation Defense Strategy for Your Business

Updated on November 16, 2012

Reputation Management Defense Strategy

You Need a Reputation Defense Strategy

With the increasing access to the internet for consumers across the country and the world, people are more than ever consulting the internet to check up on a business before they ever make a purchase. One customer can destroy your online reputation with a few clicks of the mouse. When and if this ever happens, a solid defense is necessary to protect your reputation. Whether you are a large corporation or a small business, you need to have a real plan in place to defend your online reputation.

The Best Reputation Management Defense

The best offense is a good defense! When you google your name, your brand's name or your company name, only great things should show up on the front page of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) in Google. Great things that you control. Building a great offense against an online reputation attack is the first step to a good defense. The more excellent your reputation, the more difficult it will be to attack you. The first part of a reputation defense strategy is to make sure you have a strong internet presence and an already excellent reputation.

Reputation Monitoring

Before you can defend your reputation, you need to know what people are saying about you. A reputation problem left ignored may become worse, so you want to catch negative remarks about you or your company as soon as humanly possible. You should set up a google alert for your company name, your name and related terms. However, this is not enough. Google alerts can take days or even months to alert you, so it should only be one tool in your arsenal.

You should use another tool to monitor buzz about your company. Tools for "listening to the internet" vary in price and scope. You may want to do research to see which works best for your company or niche and it's specific needs. Check out this list of social listening tools. You should also be checking and monitoring your SERP pages on a monthly basis, or as often as you can. You should also be checking out your company on the popular online review pages. Social listening tools are great, but none have been demonstrably flawless, so be proactive. Predict what websites your customers are most likely to go to with a complaint and check there frequently.

Have an Online Reputation Management Defense Plan

Your online reputation defense plan should be a written plan. The first thing that must be determined is exactly who will do what in a reputation crisis? Who will be the monitor who catches it? Should they immediately respond or contact an upper level manager? Your employees need to know what the policy and procedures are. Determine exactly who should be the responder in a reputation crisis and then make sure everyone is aware that anything questionable goes to the designated person or persons.

The person you delegate to deal with your online reputation crisis should be an impartial third party, in an ideal situation. You want a public relations expert that will be able to evaluate the reputation problem and determine the best response without becoming emotional. Find an expert whom you trust to help you with these delicate online reputation situations. If you are the business owner, chances are that you have a strong emotional investment in the company. This means that you should probably not be the go-to person for online reputation problems.

Listen to the Complaint

The first thing you should do when faced with a possible online reputation attack is to listen. Does the poster have a point? If so, you may opt to contact the person making remarks and diplomatically resolve the dispute. In some cases, even if the company or brand has done nothing wrong, it is cheaper to indulge the complaint than it is to deal with the fallout.

For this reason, it is advisable to employ a technique that online business people have been using for years to avoid negative feedback on sites like Etsy or Ebay. Follow up with your customers with a written (part of the plan!) statement. Something along the lines of

"We want to make sure all of our customers are completely 100% satisfied with our product / service. If you have had a good experience with us we would love to read your feedback on our [XYZ review page]. If you are unhappy with our product / service or have a complaint for any reason, we would like to make it right. Give us a chance to fix the problem by contacting us at [phone / email]. We aim to provide complete customer satisfaction."

Make sure to provide an email address as well as a phone number. Many people do not like to complain and that is the reason they go to third party sites to complain. Allow customers every opportunity to give their feedback directly to you so that whatever the problem is can be resolved before a reputation problem occurs.

Please note, this means you need to actually resolve the complaints. Many companies hire ORM or online reputation managers to try and cover up their bad business practices. Not only will this not work, but it is also completely unfair to the online reputation manager. The best way to help that person defend your reputation by putting out fires is to stop starting the fires.

Determine the Threat Level

After you have determined whether the complaint is feedback for your company or simply an unhappy customer, you must realistically evaluate the reputation threat this person is posing to your company. The best way to do this is to simply look at where the comment is coming from. The forum(s) where the remark is posted will help you in determining the urgency of the threat to your company reputation.

  1. Low Threat: If the person has posted on a small internet forum, his personal blogger account, or sent a tweet to his 60 friends, it is unlikely that the remark will harm your online reputation unless that person decides to take it further. Consider the gravity of the remark (accusation) and the passion level of the person who posted it to determine if the comment warrants a response. (If you believe the person is likely to complain elsewhere, it warrants a response.) If the comment does warrant a response, do it publicly only if it makes you look good to do so. In most low threat cases, responding privately will keep the matter between the customer and his close circle of friends. Responding publicly may draw more attention and / or cause the person making the complaint to feel under attack. If you can, resolve the complaint privately at any stage in this process.
  2. Medium Threat: A medium threat is a situation where a poster comments negatively on one of your internet properties such as your Facebook wall, they @you on Twitter or attempt to bring your attention to the matter via another one of your own social networks. You should respond quickly to such comments, but be thankful that they have been made on a property that is somewhat under your control. Your main goal should be to keep that complaint on the controlled internet property. These complaints should be responded to and addressed publicly so that other followers of the brand can see that you are working to diplomatically resolve a complaint. Do not delete the complaint until it has been resolved and the matter is no longer fresh. This way, people saw that it was dealt with, but there is no reason to keep it on public record if it can be avoided. (You should have a separate action plan for each social channel.)
  3. High Threat: If the consumer is complaining about you publicly in forums that are likely to show up in search engines, such as Google reviews, Yelp or Ripoff Report, contact the person privately immediately. It is advisable to have a standard "first response" (pre-written) message that should be sent if the response person is unavailable at the time of the crisis. (This should be outlined in your written plan.) If you can possibly work the situation out at all, do so and then ask the customer to delete or revise the review based on the advice of your SEO. Sometimes it is best to update, revise or respond to the comment, but sometimes this will only add content to the complaint and cause it to rank higher in search engines. It all depends on the power of the site and the current search results. The value of a public response can only be determined on a case by case basis.
  4. Maximum Threat: A maximum threat is a public relations emergency. If your social channels, websites, etc, are being flooded by negative remarks from a number of different people, it is time to get the head of PR out of bed. These threats are usually a reaction to an ill-advised comment or action made by the company. The first thing to do in this case is to respond apologetically with a press release. Tell people the truth about the situation and then keep them updated. If you are "looking into the problem" update the public when you find what you were looking for. A maximum threat to your online reputation is urgent and should be responded to immediately. Your reputation management defense plan should call for the public apology and a meeting with the appropriate company advisors and you may possibly even have a crisis management person to come in and evaluate how you should move forward. You cannot plan your reaction to this type of threat, but you can make a plan for who should be called in to analyze and create a plan.

Online Reputation Management Don'ts

When you are involved in a crisis do not:

  • Respond emotionally or defensively.
  • Do not attack the complaint or the complainer.
  • Do not engage in arguments.
  • Do not make threats.
  • Do not delete or censor the complaint.

A good rule is to not respond publicly more than once or twice. If the conversation is not progressing positively then you should bow out gracefully. A Facebook wall can get thousands of comments within a few minutes. Do not engage if the posts are negative. Do not begin to delete comments, ban commenters or try and fight back or defend your company. Avoid censoring comments unless you must delete them for vulgarity or other terms of service violations. If you delete a comment, admit it. Then explain the reason and ask that commenters not to break TOS.

CONTAIN! Do Not Feed the Fire

Containment is the name of the game. The reason you should have an online reputation management defense plan is to make sure you contain the problem rather than fueling it. Even if you are under attack you should remain calm and composed at all times.

Websites such as ripoff report will not take down reviews. Note that you can try and compel them to delete something that is not true about your company. However, most lawsuits like this are losers and you will only be calling more attention to the very thing you wish to contain. If you are considering legal action make sure to weigh the pros and cons. Odd's are that it is not worth it.

Other review sites such as Yelp or Google can be persuaded to remove reviews that violate their TOS. You can flag or report comments about your company that are not productive such as "this company sucks". After the storm has passed there will be damage control and you may have to hire someone to help you clean up the mess depending on where on the internet the problem is.

If the Complaint is Anonymous

On any threat level if the complaint is anonymous you do want to try and find out who is complaining. If your company records do not show the person by name, you do not have access to such files, or you do not remember the situation in question, you will still want the person and the public to know you are trying to resolve the complaint. If you are able to contact the person via some kind of private mail on the website they are using, do so.

"Hello, my name is _____ and I represent [company]. 2I would really like to help you resolve your complaint about [xxx]. I assure you that your experience was against company policy and I would like to prevent such incidents in the future. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to find a record of you in my computer. Will you please give me a call at 555-5555 or email me at [@email] so we can address your problem."

If you cannot do this privately then do it publicly. Do both if you feel that it would be beneficial and not embarrass the customer. The danger of responding to an anonymous reviewer publicly is that he or she will respond back publicly instead of contacting you to resolve the problem. Weight the benefits of this. Sometimes it may be better to post publicly "I work for [company] and I am very sorry about your experience. I would like to see this resolved so I have sent you my personal contact information.

Important things to remember when drafting a response to a negative review or comment:

  • Make it personal. Give them your name and position in the company.
  • Make it clear that you work for the company and you are not just another call center goon.
  • Give them more than one way to contact you in case they want to passively complain.
  • Make them feel as if they would be doing you a favor by elaborating on the complaint.
  • Hint that the person or persons responsible will be held accountable or that the product will be quality reviewed.
  • Be non-threatening and respectful. You are just trying to get to the bottom of this and solve the problem.

After an Online Reputation Attack

After you have suffered an online reputation attack, it is probably time to hire someone to help you do damage control. This is done by running promotions, getting good press and otherwise suppressing negative media about your company with things that are positive. Having a plan in place and taking the proper steps when facing an online reputation management (ORM) crisis will make it easier to do damage control after the fact.


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