Online Brand Protection: Covering up the Social Stench

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brand_security_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — The rise of the social side of the Internet has ushered in a time when truly everyone has a voice.

Brands, products and people are discussed ad nauseam with very little regard for the imprint being made on a reputation. With relative ease, I can join a discussion and watch my comments rise to prominence. For example: I had dinner out last night and the service wasn’t very good. As a matter of fact, it was pretty bad.

I can go online and post comments about my experience. The next time someone Googles that restaurant, there is a good chance my comments will be found. With that one simple move, I can forever alter the perception and equity of that restaurant. No ID check and no validation I really ate there, all hidden behind the cloak of my online alter ego.

The social world, with its roots in forums and chat rooms of the past, is meant to foster discussion and the exchange of ideas. But in many cases, what is found is more of a diatribe than a two-way conversation. Let’s also not kid ourselves into thinking it is not being manipulated. Any solid brand manager with a modicum of online experience is engaged. They’re out there rebutting claims against them and starting new conversations about their strengths and the weaknesses of their competitors. Of course when they do this, they rarely leave their name and title!

So how do you combat this? You can’t remove it, and in most cases, rebutting each claim against you does not really undo the damage. What you must do is look at the inherent weakness of the attack against you. Think back to my negative restaurant review. I can write it. I can be as mean and as vengeful as I need to be to assuage my irritation for dropping $200 on a mediocre dinner for two. But in the end, the ability of my comment to have a meaningful effect on the business requires that it be found. In other words, you can’t remove the, um, filth, but you can cover up its stench!

So how do we go about truly combating the negative conversation that is taking place? We don’t. We simply engage in a louder, more orchestrated, positive one. My agency has been engaged in online reputation management services for some time. As an offshoot of our SEO offerings, we help companies that face the occasional negative commentary stay hyper-engaged.

What does this mean? Instead of focusing on gaining rankings for just the client’s website, we focus on a stable of assets that may include upwards of 25 web properties. We’ll use social sites like YouTube and MySpace. We’ll penetrate industry blogs and trade groups. We’ll even go after personal assets like the alumni page of a key executive. In the end, what we are trying to do is provide Google a multitude of positive options to choose from when deciding who to award the top 10 spots.

Once you have established the foundation and have a portfolio of assets all penetrating the top organic results, you simply monitor the landscape and react when necessary. When done properly, you end up engaged in the most social of exchanges; a dance. And while you may not lead the dance, you must skillfully respond to each movement and make it all look natural. The strategies vary widely.

Negative videos need to be countered with other video assets. Consumer review sites and sites that handle petitions require unique strategies. Blogs can be countered in a number of ways depending on how they operate. There is no single silver bullet and there is no way to make it all go away.

What is needed more than anything is a keen awareness by the business that customers are making decisions based on the reviews and comments of anonymous “experts”. These days, anyone can seem authoritative and strike fear in your constituencies, impacting whether or not someone transacts business with you. It is your obligation as a steward of the business to bury the, um, filth, as deep as you can, so its stench has no opportunity to penetrate the noses of those who seek you out.

— Express your opinion, comment below.

2 COMMENTS

  1. “I can be as mean and as vengeful as I need to be to assuage my irritation for dropping $200 on a mediocre dinner for two.”

    Well Marc, in that case I think that the right to exercise one’s opinion may be justified. But “bury the stench” because you and your Clients haven’t the means or the desire to address criticism in a forum that has only recently become available to the public after decades, if not hundreds of years, of brands dominating any and all channels of any real scale or scope by simply purchasing a bully pulpit and a megaphone? Are you serious? Perhaps you might actually consider providing a neutral forum for these issues and, if you can’t address every one, at least address the common themes. You seem offended that a brand representative must identify themselves as such and the miserable consumer coward can just snipe from cover – arrogantly dismissing the many who may have very legitimate gripes about a brand’s conduct or the value of their products and services. Continue, if you must, my friend to bury dissent, but realize that the fester you wish to cure will not go away of its own accord and that the sensible consumer will, after speaking out and perceiving that they are not heard, vote with their feet and find a restaurant that offers better value and a less arrogant maitre d’.

  2. Kevin,

    I appreciate the comment, and I agree that creating a forum to address REAL customer concerns would be a wise move for any brand.

    The problem with the web is that it is difficult to distinguish what is real, from what is embellished or completely false. It is not uncommon for competitors, pissed off ex-employees, and others who may never have actually transacted business, to pose as customers in order to launch a barrage of attacks as a means to discredit a business.

    I do not advocate removing the ability for me to vent my displeasure with the restaurant. Nor do I think you should be kept from sharing your displeasure with my article. What I do advocate is a vigorous and effective effort to join the conversation. As with everything else in the evolution of the web, if it doesn’t serve the people well, it will be forced to adapt. I help brands adapt with it.

    The web has ushered in a time that many call the “death of authority”. I recently helped a family member buy a new LCD television. Within the reviews of the TV we ended up purchasing were people who called it the worst TV ever, and others who spoke of it as if it were delivered directly from heaven. I’m smart enough to realize that these reviews are far from expert opinions. But many hold these up to be the gospel. Scary thought!

    Respectfully submitted,
    Marc J. Wymar
    WebMetro

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