This piece was originally published in 2015.
It’s every business’s worst internet nightmare: you head over to Google, tap in your company name to see how your web presence is coming along, and there in prominent position is something far from positive about your brand. Deserved or not, this entry could be damaging your business with every passing second. .
Depending on the context, there are four main options available to you when faced with the threat of brand trashing: address it, remove it, bury it, prevent it.
Let’s look at bad mouthing. The power of the internet means that you can’t possibly control what people write about you – but your reputation can be made as much by how you respond to criticism as by the criticism itself.
When you stumble across a bad review, your first action should be to assess the comments as objectively as possible. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Have we done something to warrant this review?”
It’s all too easy to jump in and post a reply that’s defensive and perhaps even aggressive, but answering badly can just make you look worse. Instead, keep emotion out of it and aim to post a considered reply that answers the criticism calmly and factually.
If the review is warranted, it’s best to admit to any wrongdoing and say what you’re doing to fix the problem. This shows that you value your customers’ opinions and that you’re willing to correct your mistake. It’s then vital to follow up on any promises you have made.
It’s important to respond publicly, so even if you can’t give the full details, something as simple as, “Thanks for your comment, I’ve emailed you to find out more” could show that you’re working to address it and stop criticism spiralling further.
If you manage to resolve the problem at the root of the bad review, you can then post an update, and even encourage the original complainant to do so too.
If a review or comment on a public forum is completely untrue, you can contact the site owner with an explanation and ask for it to be removed. However this will usually be down to their discretion so won’t work in every instance.
Sometimes, even deleted mentions can remain present in search results in the ‘cache’ – a sort of snap shot of how the page looked the last time the search engine checked.
In the social media sphere, if you find someone pretending to represent your brand, sites such as Facebook or Twitter will usually respond quickly to remove imposters. Simply report the profile with evidence that it’s false.
If someone sets up a website with claims to be part of your brand, however, things aren’t quite so simple. If they won’t take it down on request, you next need to decide whether it’s worthwhile fighting it legally. In some cases, it might be that the fraudulent site has very little search engine visibility, so is only a minor threat that can be managed using a technique called ‘burying’.
If a reviewer or site owner simply refuses to remove their content, no matter how unfair or untrue, you might wish to bury it. This involves ensuring that when your company name is searched for, mainly good things come up.
Let’s say your last client has said on Trip Advisor that your service is rubbish. That review is here to stay and you don’t want other potential clients seeing it, so the objective is to dominate at least the first ten search results with positive things about your brand, effectively driving any bad mentions off the front page.
Social media profiles like Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as local listings such as Google and Bing are perfect for this. Make sure those profiles are well populated with regularly updated reviews and content to keep them at the top of the search engines.
As with anything, prevention is better than cure. Don’t wait until you’re faced with a negative mention to start ensuring good things appear when people search for your brand.
It’s wise to buy up all likely domain name permutations of your brand (particularly your own country’s domain, plus .com), and sites like http://knowem.com/ or http://namechk.com/ will help you similarly reserve your brand name on social media sites.
Next, make sure anyone responsible for speaking on behalf of your brand online understands what they can and can’t say as company representatives.
Finally, have your response procedure planned out in advance, so you know exactly how you will deal with any problems well before they arise. If things do go wrong, be ready to answer criticism, keep emotion out of it, request removals where possible, and bury anything unfair that remains.
Need some help with bad publicity online? Nikki Pilkington is the owner/founder of Nikki-Pilkington.com, an internet marketing company based in the UK and France – drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and see if she can help!