Reputation Management on the Net, SERM

Just recently there was a thread about reputation management on WebMasterWorld. Reputation Management seems a big enough business to be on its own nowadays, although it is probably more likely part of a professional SEO company.

People or businesses can run into reputation problems because of many reasons. They may be accused of real wrong doings, they may run into a nutcase who feels his job is to do as much damage as he or she can, a smart competitor who knows how to manipulate websites in such a way that bad reputation starts to increase or even dominate search engine listings, etc.

Usually, when reputation damage is done, its not easy to clean things up. In the WebMasterWorld thread someone mentions a pet food producer who at one time made a mistake and this mistake caused pets to die. In the search engine results the producers site was still number one if searched for by company name, but the 9 results below that were all warnings about the producer. These kind of results may stay for a long long time, even after the unfortunate problems are solved. The internet is a place where mistakes stay glued to you, and may cause you to loose a lot, or your complete business. Search Engines are becoming more and more popular for reputation research, and equally as dangerous.

In the case of the pet food producer you may say, that they got what they deserved, but if a few years later the search engine results still display those results about this one mistake, the company has a problem, may loose a lot of money because of it, and may be producing the most natural healthy pet foods of the whole world at the moment.

Very dangerous for companies are frustrated people (ex employees) with some computer knowledge. Just recently there was a member of the official Google Webmasters Forum banned because he caused a lot of trouble by talking to people as if he more or less was from Google, and was often corrected because of his bad and uninformed advice he gave to (new) people. He still has his own group somewhere else on Google and his own websites where he now out of revenge bashes Google employees and the people he thinks are responsible for the ban. Google thinks, at least for the moment, he has the liberty to say what he wants to say, but says to take legal action if one thinks this is necessary. This guy may be able to do some minor damage here and there, by leaving traces in the search engines about people and websites.

And then, the competition. They may look for little dents in your reputation, maybe create a few themselves, and start to manipulate the search engines so those bad reputations get higher rankings for certain search key phrases. It may be just a “little thing” that creates a problem, but some things can also cause a snowball effect. I don’t know if you often look at product reviews, but I have seen a few where I thought hmmm, something stinks here. There are enough people who let themselves be manipulated into buying the “other product” instead of yours. It may cost you a lot of money, and what does that guy costs who places bad reviews per month?

On one of my own websites, there is a little tragedy. A product has got a lot of bad reviews. The product itself may be not so bad, but there are other issues that cause people to post those reviews. They are all genuine reviews, but the manufacturer of the product started to motivate people to post good reviews on the site and reviews on their own site without almost any criticism, therefore decreasing trust even more. I had to shut down the reviews of this particular product.

I think its not a bad idea to at least realize what could happen if…. While its hard to do any work beforehand in the non digital world, it may be possible on the internet to do so. If something goes wrong somewhere, for whatever reason, you have can have some control about what is visible via the search engines. This sounds manipulative, but I think that no company should suffer more for their mistakes then necessary. If pets die because of your company, they die, and its wrong. But if after you corrected the mistake, and you are still tortured in the search engines after some time, you have my blessing to have something done about it.

A simple sample of precaution reputation management I saw of a hosting company, at least that’s how you could interpret it. Besides their company website they also have a forum, a blog, and some strong affiliate websites. If something ever goes wrong, they still have the first positions in the search engine results, and this may be a reason why they can survive in a reputation crisis.

In the Wiki:

Bookmark at:
StumbleUpon | Digg | | Dzone | Newsvine | Spurl | Simpy | Furl | Reddit | Yahoo! MyWeb

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.