When you’re in high school it only takes one mistake to earn a bad reputation that sticks with you for the rest of your life. Run into an old schoolmate 20, or even 30 years later and it’ll be the first thing they ask you about. But the Internet is huge and most of the time you feel invisible. So how can you earn a bad reputation online? And what can you do to get rid of it?
Bloggers make big mistakes online, for all the world to see, every day. Most of them are because they want to be the first one to post some really hot news and they rush to publish without checking the facts. But whether you’re a blogger or a Fortune 500 company, online reputation management is crucial for any business.
Once you publish something online, or once something is published about you, it’s almost impossible to erase all traces. Links spread like wildfire – especially when they’re controversial – and there’s no way you can track down every single one and ask someone to delete the content. Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.
Obviously, your focus should be on doing everything within your power not to tarnish your reputation to begin with. Knowing how quickly – and how permanently – those links become embedded around the Web should be reason enough to keep you minding your Ps and Qs.
But it happens. All the time. Eventually one of your customers is going to be dissatisfied, or you’ll make some huge error in etiquette, or you’ll do something, sometime that somebody doesn’t like. And the links will start flying.
The first thing to do is nothing. Take a deep breath and relax. The worst thing you can do is get into an online boxing match. That, too, will be linked to and stay online forever and you’ll undoubtedly end up looking even worse. So stay out of the comments sections or social networks until you calm down.
Next, if it’s a minor offense and hasn’t spread far, contact the person who’s trash talking you and see if you can resolve the situation over private emails. If you can, then ask them if they’ll publish something to the effect that you stepped up to the bar and took care of the problem. If it can’t be resolved, then your next stop is your website.
Do not address the situation directly on your own site. However, if the problem has something to do with your site – maybe something to do with your images, or your product guarantee or your payment processing – make sure you quickly fix whatever the problem is. You’re going to have visitors as a result of this complaint and you don’t want them pointing fingers and gossiping about you on their sites, too.
Next, if you’ve done everything you can and still can’t resolve the situation, don’t panic. Remember, this is the Internet we’re talking about here and people have very short online attention spans. In a day or two Britney Spears or Justin Bieber or Charlie Sheen will do something newsworthy and your name will slip quietly from the headlines. Be patient and let the dust settle.
Now it’s time for damage control. People can still search your name or your company’s name and come up with all that negativity. You’ll never be able to get all those links wiped off the Web, but you can outrank them and bump them off of the page one results.
Do a search to find out all of the major keywords your bad reputation is ranking for. Google your name, Google your company’s name, and if there’s anyone else or any other company involved, Google them, too. Create some online content to compete against all the results you see. Then use high ranking article directories and Web 2.0 sites to publish content that will outrank the offending content. Be sure to set up profiles using your real name and your company’s name, whichever reputation you’re trying to defend.
Don’t worry about defending yourself in this content. Your gut reaction will be to fight back but online reputation management – not online reputation defense – is essential for any business. Create new content, on a positive topic, that outranks for those keywords. Anytime you start defending yourself online you’re just opening yourself and your company up to more online gossip. Your best bet is to just be patient and let it die down – because it really will die down – and then concentrate on re-building your good reputation.