Reputation Management: Utilizing Online Media to Control Your Image

Reputation Management: Utilizing Online Media to Control Your Image

More than ever, your life, and your company’s life and reputations are controlled by the Internet. Stories and clips about you or your company can cost you hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars; many companies have been put out of business. If a member of the public has to choose between two companies, one with bad reviews, who do ‘you’ think they will choose? More importantly, ‘anyone’ can destroy your reputation today; a simple post on, for example, can close your doors forever. Few people take defensive action, but today it is no longer an option: it has become a necessity. By the time negative information hits, it can take weeks or months to control and the damage in the interim can last a lifetime. You cannot control who reads it and who they share it with; even when removed, the damage remains… you cannot unring a bell.

For large companies, small businesses, and even individuals, online reputation management is becoming a vital tool in interacting with the public. Using search engines such as Google to research potential businesses to frequent, employees to hire, and dates is standard social practice. Some of the most common unflattering results of searches relate to embarrassing divorces or financial problems of the distant past. Ex-employees may post negative information about a manager, and that can color the brand of the firm. Although the company or person has moved on, the Internet does not forget. Just like preparing for an interview, managing your online reputation allows you to control how your image, and your company’s is perceived by others. As a matter of protocol, some companies are offering defensive reputation management as a benefit for some employees. In the end, not only does the employee win, so does the company.

Companies and individuals who have failed at protecting their reputations have felt the backlash of social media through their pocketbooks and their relationships. By misusing online media, some individuals and companies fail to respond tactfully to negative news about themselves or their business. Sometimes, the response itself can be damaging, especially if someone posts on Others do not maintain their online presence, allowing for imposters to actively damage that person or company’s name. And then, there is the power of online reviews. Websites such as Yelp and Angie’s List can be beneficial or extremely detrimental to businesses. Positive reviews can boost business and are sometimes even more beneficial than strategic advertising. But negative reviews can destroy businesses, even if they provide false information. Worse, Yelp, for example, will archive certain good reviews while listing the bad ones, destroying a company’s reputation.

As you’ve heard before, you can’t please everyone. Well, there are going to be some people out there with a chip on their shoulder about people in your industry; this is especially the case for lawyers and doctors. These people may call your company with an unreasonable request and no matter what you do or say, they cannot be pleased. They will be the first to post a negative review; their lack of financial ability means they have nothing to lose if you sue them, so they tend to be more free with their comments.

Fortunately, many of these damaging circumstances can be avoided or dealt with in a manner that minimizes negative effects using reputation management. Proactively creating an Internet presence that displays positive aspects and planning an online defense against negative news can save reputations. This presence is a multi-pronged approach and cannot be repaired with only one web site or one press release; it is a concerted effort that creates a net of your own, with proper ranking on Google, so that when a collateral attack comes your way, you or your company are insulated.

Misusing Online Media: How Unpopular Statements/Actions Can Become Debacles

The prevalence of the Internet and social media ensures that any person’s actions or statements, whether made privately or publicly, can be taken out of context and published online. Although preventing this is preferable, people make occasional slips and also assume their conversations are private. Additionally, employees are the face of businesses, and management cannot always control the way their employees represent their company. When these actions or statements are published, the online public can respond severely.

1. Papa John’s Reputation Management Issue
Recently, Papa John’s owner, John Schattner made a speech to Florida college entrepreneurs in which he discussed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. One of his statements about the health care act was taken out of context and spread across the Internet. Many people were angered by his statement and shared their outrage on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Through social media, the negative sentiment toward Papa John’s and its owner spread to respected online journals and venues such as: Forbes, television news, and comedians, such as Jon Stewart.

The brand of Papa John’s was damaged. Papa John’s rating on BrandIndex, a poll that determines how much positive and negative news is heard by the general public about a specific brand, plummeted. Schattner attempted to regain control over his brand’s image by writing an article explaining his statements more fully and releasing more of his speech that was supportive of the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, it did not gain enough online attention to make much of an impact on the public’s opinion of Papa John’s. Eventually, Papa John’s was able to recover because of the overall strength of its brand, but it took months.

2. Applebee’s Reputation Management Issue
An Applebee’s employee posted a receipt on Reddit, a social media website. The customer who signed for the receipt had left an unusually low tip and an insulting statement. Posting the receipt violated Applebee’s employee rules for social media. Applebee’s fired the employee responsible, beginning a long online battle between Applebee’s and the outraged public.

Once Applebee’s fired the employee, the public covered Applebee’s Facebook and Twitter pages with accusations and demands for the employee to be rehired. Applebee’s responded with ineffective and inflammatory approaches that only further angered the public. The social media sites that Applebee’s had created to boost their image now only showcased their mistakes. Applebee’s response was not organized and did not strategically use the online media available to them.

Losing Control: How Not Regularly Managing Online Image Can Damage Reputation

Although using social media must be done thoughtfully, not using it, or ignoring how your name is being used can be damaging as well.

1. Burger King and HMV’s Reputation Management Issue
Practical jokers managed to hack into Burger King’s Twitter account, changing the logo and images to look as if McDonald’s had taken over the company. In a short while, Burger King was able to shut down their site, but not before people all over the Internet enjoyed the joke. Although this was relatively harmless to the overall company, it demonstrated Burger King’s obliviousness to their own social media and to how their name was being used.

In comparison, the entertainment company HMV was not so lucky in how their social media was utilized while they were unaware. HMV was struggling financially and attempted to quietly fire 150 employees. The employees responsible for updating HMV’s Twitter account publicized the firing, even quoting statements, while they were being let go. HMV looked like a monster to the online community because their social media tools were not controlled.

2. Jonah Hill’s Reputation Management Issue
Individuals as well as companies need to be aware of their online reputation. Jonah Hill, movie star of films such as Superbad and Get Him to the Greek, was the victim of a fake Twitter account with his name. Mr. Hill claims that he does not use Twitter nor does he ever plan to, but someone else is taking advantage of his name and actively ruining Jonah Hill’s reputation. In one instance, the imposter insulted famous actor/director Jon Favreau, who the real Mr. Hill would like to work with someday. By not taking an active role in projecting and managing his reputation, Jonah Hill has lost control of how he was perceived by colleagues, fans, and the general public.

Depending on Reviews: The Power of Yelp

Websites that review businesses, such as Yelp and Angie’s List, are becoming the most used way potential customers and clients identify which restaurant, hair dresser, or plastic surgeon they will frequent. While these websites can be powerful tools that can be far more useful than advertisements, they can also destroy your business.

Research from Harvard Business School has shown that one star increase on Yelp can result in a 5 – 9 % increase of revenue. Considering that Yelp has 84 million visitors a month and 33 million reviews, the power that reviewers have over a business’ reputation is immense. Readers trust reviewers to be honest, although there is very little that can be done to regulate these reviews. Online review websites cannot be held responsible for false information provided by reviewers under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Therefore, it takes a great amount of effort to get false or exaggerated statements removed from these websites.

1. The Dietz Development LLC Lawsuit and Reputation Management Issues
Christopher Dietz of Dietz Development LLC experienced the full negative power of online reviews when a disgruntled client claimed that he damaged her house, trespassed, and stole jewelry in reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List. A police report demonstrated that Mr. Dietz cannot be linked to the missing jewelry, but the damage was done. Mr. Dietz claims to have lost $300,000 in business from loss of potential customers. After a lengthy lawsuit, Mr. Dietz succeeded in forcing the client to change part of the review and it is now removed from Yelp.

Negative reviews can potentially overwhelm positive information about your company, even if they are false. Getting the content removed is possible, but difficult. More efficient tactics for improving your reputation involve understanding review sites, search engines, and social media. The best way to control it is to create your own web of Internet real estate that protects you from attack in the first place.

Second, if something negative happens or cannot be removed (such as a listing) then what you can do is create such an infrastructure on the Internet, that the report is buried so far back that for all intents and purposes, it is unread and will not affect you; we have had to do this in cases where clients have lost almost a million dollars before realizing this was something more serious than they thought. The damage will occur, make no mistake. Reputation management should be a part or your regular company operations. Alternatively, ask yourself, what business do you think you can do if your online reputation is damaged…and what can your rivals do during that time? Can they capture clients that you will never get to service?

Reputation Management: How to Protect Your Reputation

Protecting your image, whether that image is personal or that of your company, can be both preventative and reactionary.

Preventative Tactics:
Taking the right steps ahead of time can prevent online catastrophes and minimize the overall effects to you or your company when they do occur.

  • A diversified web presence
    One of the most useful preventative strategies is utilizing a variety of online options to showcase the public image you want.
    - Most companies have webpages that provide basic information to the Internet public. Ensure that these are regularly updated, provide useful information, and direct people to other forms of on-and off-line communication.
    - White papers published by the company and customer testimonials should be easily found on your web site. Every page capable of being Search Engine Optimized, should be, especially the positive ones and the ones where company or individual names are mentioned.
    - Creating accounts on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In allow interaction with the public. Complaints can be heard and addressed before they become news. There is a whole art to this, and we can discuss it with you.
    - Writing blogs also allows you and/or trusted employees to discuss important issues with the online public and provides a caring impression.
    - Have a professional company such as us create an online web of your own to cushion you from attacks.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    Any information provided online should be optimized for search engines. Creating a diverse web presence is only useful if the webpages you created appear on the first page of search engine result pages. Achieving this involves using your own content to target high-traffic results relevant to your reputation. SEO should be taken seriously, addressed on a weekly basis, and your pages should be maintained regularly. Any new content should be edited by an SEO firm to make certain that it is rankable content. If your site is properly SEOd, you will also find that you will gain more revenue, while maintaining online credibility, which will help in both the short and long run. On that note, if your pages are in HTML, please consider moving them to Wordpress for much faster ranking by Google. As a third of web sites are Wordpress, it is becoming the standard. Previously used for blogs only, techies discovered that it was very useful for rapid web site ranking and decided to create ‘skins’ i.e. looks to disguise it, and voila, it has become one of the standards.

  • Maintenance
    Optimized results must be regularly maintained and websites and social media outlets must be updated. Additionally, regularly searching your name in search engines keeps you aware of what is most frequently seen. Creating a web presence that is diverse and optimized is only useful if it is maintained. Any company that generates $500,000 or more per year should check its web presence on the first two pages weekly for at least 5-10 search terms, including the names of all executives and staff that have any exposure to the public. It is possible that something that was written some time ago just now ranked will show up in the results. Addressing it rapidly and effectively will prevent it from anchoring a solid position. The problem with SEO is that you need to check multiple keywords, as you never know how someone can find you and then spread the word.

Reactionary Tactics:
If and when a crisis does occur, there are ways to minimize the impact. These strategies are much more effective if the preventative measures were taken beforehand.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    Once a crisis occurs, it is important to re-optimize the web content you have released on your websites and blogs to put your positive material farther up the search engine result page.

  • Public responses
    Releasing public statements must be conducted strategically so that they will be highly visible online and produce a positive response. Understanding the issue fully is the first step to producing a sensitive and effective public statement. The next step is understanding how to best use your diversified web presence and other online resources. Public responses are most often made through press releases and through social media and email.

    - A press release should directly target the issue and be submitted to reputable online news sources.
    - Social media is a more personal way to address the public. Statements and responses to comments should focus on the big picture, be organized, and not be petty.

  • Take-down requests and demand letters
    If false information is published on a review website or elsewhere, there may be ways to get it removed. Sending take-down requests and demand letters may work, but since review sites are not responsible for libelous information it can be difficult. The best method to achieve results is to target individual user pseudonyms that have violated the terms of service on these websites. Often, contacting a law firm may help you as discovery tools in a lawsuit can help obtain information about who posted the offensive information.

What Wolf Management Consultants Can Do For You
We have some of the best SEO people in the country working with us, and can protect you in a number of ways:

  1. A lot of professionals are asking for prophylactic control. They want to create a sort of a buffer around their image, and that of their top executives and managers ‘before’ something happens. There are a number of ways of doing this and we would be happy to discuss the options with you.
  2. If something has already happened to your company or executives, don’t hesitate to act. Every time someone clicks on that negative review, Google adds to it a higher relevance factor, meaning that its position on the Internet is higher, ‘because’ it’s being clicked on. The worst problem you can have is that customers and friends will be sending the link to each other out of curiosity, only increasing the article’s Google rankings.
  3. Our program will not only work with your web site, but we will also be posting press releases that offer positive information, and link back to your site. This will be a good chance to gain positive exposure on the Internet, so we will look to you for positive content, as well as pictures; our press department always gets picked up by Google.
  4. Many clients have asked us whether we can help them with SEO for their web site; of course we can; call us today for a complimentary evaluation; our head office number in San Diego is 858-638-8260.


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