Business owners have contingency plans for certain scenarios. They have insurance for storm or fire damage to their headquarters, stores, or offices. They know to take certain measures if income gets tight. They’ve learned to seek legal advice from lawyers or in-house counsel if they get sued.
But what do they do if their brand is under attack by bloggers, reviewers, or other malcontents in cyberspace? There are no guides on business owner, lawyer, or physician reputation management that can be consulted to determine a correct response. Is there anything businesses can do to combat this problem?
Here are ten suggestions to repair your brand’s online reputation after it has been damaged:
1. Don’t be belligerent. Even if the claim against your brand is outrageous or insulting, the worst thing you can do is respond to the person or source with derision, outrage, or condescension. Even if you are right, others may still take offense and choose not to do business with you. So respond in the comments section or on your website in a cool and composed manner.
2. Respond immediately. Address the issue as soon as you are made aware of it. Calmly tell your side of the story, preferably on the same site as the source of the criticism or allegation. Don’t try to deny that your brand is taking heat – even if it is unjustified – because it makes you look clueless or indifferent.
3. Apologize. If your company has indeed done something wrong, own up to it immediately – perhaps by issuing a press release or adding a page to your website. Downplaying or attempting to justify an incident makes you look like you are trying to deny any fault. Extend your apologies to the aggrieved party – even if you feel you were right – and offer to rectify the situation if possible.
4. Work to have the damaging content removed. Most of the time, this means tracing it to the source and making a good faith effort to either persuade or compensate the individual who is responsible. If the person provided an email address, send them a message; then apologize, try to resolve the issue, and/or offer free or discounted service or product. It may not work, but it’s the most direct means of getting the content out of cyberspace.
5. Take legal action. If you can prove that a false allegation is the impetus of the hit to your brand’s reputation, then you may want to take legal action. So call the attorney that represents your company and ask whether or not you have a case. It’s possible to get a court order to have the content removed, or even to file suit and seek damages against the person or group who originated the issue. Just be sure that a potential lengthy court battle (along with hefty lawyer fees) is worth your while.
6. Drown it out. If you cannot get the problematic content removed, take steps to make it disappear from the first page or two of search engines (where most people won’t see it anyway). That means generating copious amounts of new, relevant content that paints your brand in a positive light. This content could be anything from blog entries and press releases to promotions and news articles.
7. Buy Web real estate. If you’re concerned about actual websites popping up to tarnish your brand, try to nip that in the bud. Purchase domains that may be related to your brand with different suffixes (YourBrand.org), spellings (Your-Brand.com), and even phrases (like YourBrandSucks.com). Do the same with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles. That way, would-be Internet trolls can’t have access to those domains.
8. Get a presence on review sites. A great deal of brand damage originates on websites that solicit reviews like Yelp, Amazon, Yahoo! Local, Google Places, or CitySearch. If you have an account with these sites, you can better monitor them for negative reviews – and more quickly post appropriate responses.
9. Get creative. If the damage is substantial, you may have to think outside of the box. Make a YouTube video that’s entertaining and informative. Offer discounts to people who feel they were aggrieved by the brand. Or even set up an interview with another blogger or media member to tell your side of the story.
10. Seek professional help. There are companies who will work to repair your brand’s online reputation for a fee. Check them out and see if they can help you.
Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes about topics ranging from information technology to consumer finance to home improvement.