September 5, 2013

Why you must armor your online reputation

armadillo
Image by Mark Dumont on Flickr (CC BY)

Before a crisis hits, get ahead of the problem by steeling your defenses

Target audience: Online reputation management experts, marketing professionals, SEO specialists, businesses, Web publishers.

Chris AbrahamWhen high-end online reputation management experts like me get together and kibitz about prospecting new business, we always talk about how much all our clients would have benefited from taking our calls well before their sundry crises struck.

Long story short: hire me or someone like me if you don’t have a big pile of time but do have a small pile of money. Otherwise, spend some of your own time, talent and treasure doing a serious domain name buy, setting up a comprehensive array of sites, blogs, and social media profiles, and keeping them fresh through updates and thoughtful maintenance.

Yes, this could well be a pretty big project that will probably require special budgeting, a little hiring, some additional managing, or some personal time-management for the additional items on your own plate, for sure.

However, spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours now will help inoculate you against the inevitable aggressive online reputation attack that may well come at some point in the future, be it from something really stupid, evil, or illegal that you and your company has done or for no good reason other than your competitor wants to claim all your clients or because a simple personal break-up, perceived slight, psychotic former employee, permanently displeased former client, or inconsolable patient has made you into his or her own personal cause or jihad.

Something will eventually give you a black eye online

Aside from being perfect, noble, generous, and awesome all the time while making sure that all of your employees, past and present, and all your products and service are above reproach, something’s going to eventually try to give you a black eye online. The question is, how prepared are you and how armored are you in the search results so that when someone does a cursory search for your name, your company, or your staff, the only thing that comes up on Google are positive results?

Google’s not about judging the validity or gentility of the content returned but it is about delivery the hottest, freshest, most delicious donuts possible

The only two other options besides search engine hegemony are 1) nothing at all or 2) stuff about you by others. Either way, reputation abhors a vacuum. The reason there’s stuff up there about you now even though all you have up online at the moment is a brochure website and a LinkedIn page is because Google is the most co-dependent, people-pleasing piece of software on the planet. I believe it feels pain if it cannot give its visitors lots and lots of compelling and delicious content that is at the very least germane to the search and, at best, a sensational laugh-riot of gossip, intrigue, speculation, and embarrassment.

Google’s not about judging the validity or gentility of the content returned but it is about delivery the hottest, freshest, most delicious donuts possible, and if you’re a sleepy little brand, there’s nothing that can jack your traffic and drive attention than a hoary case of crisis.

And, once the cycle begins, it’s virtually impossible to stop its acceleration — the more people who click through to defaming content, especially through Google properties, the more prevalent on Google the content will become and the more people will click through, thus starting a feedback loop that will quickly color and influence universal brand perception of your brand.

Sometimes it’s temporary and sort of like just weathering a storm. Other times, however, after the storm is past, there’s a lot of destruction left in the storm’s wake and you’ll need to mortgage that house, sell that plane, and contact someone like me who can start your online reputation rebuilding process.

Repairing negative search results will only become costlier over time

High-end, high-profile online reputation management campaigns often cost well north of half a million dollars a year, not including traditional crisis communications, and take upward of half a year of constant work, savvy upkeep, support, and engagement before the tides change and we’re able to take back all, most, or some of the hills ceded to the crisis, depending. (Yes, yes, I know, not every business can afford the full works.)

There have been times I have told prospects, incredulous as to how much fixing their search results would cost, that they should probably consider selling a house, a yacht, or getting a second mortgage on their house if they’re really serious about repairing the gaping hole that bad first page search results put into their business revenue and potential for still existing in one calendar year.

Even if you’re just a regular schmo with an angry ex, the repair bill will be proportionally equally steep for you.

Attacking you, your business, your profession, and even your partners and family is free. There’s no barrier to entry — all it takes is some time. It doesn’t even take any skill as single-minded obsession with destructive intent tends to be pretty resourceful. The thing about single-minded hateful obsessions — they tend to be irrational, fearless, and willing to not only endure lawyering but willing to trash the attacker’s own personal reputation in order to destroy yours.

And it gets worse: Do you own your own domain names? Yes, all your domains? And the domains of your colleagues, board of directors, executives, family members, products, services, intellectual properties, as well as all the top-level variants: .com, .net, .org, .us, .co, etc. As well as all the above separated by hyphens as well. Yes, this will cost you hundreds of dollars a year. However, this is 1/1000th of the investment you’ll need to make if your domains are scooped up, instead, by your competitors, your exes, or even less-honorable SEO and online reputation management (ORM) shops.

“But hey!” you say, “it’s illegal for people to misrepresent themselves as me, my brand, my company, my family, or to squat on any of my domains! I have trademarks and patents and global ownership. They’ll fail as I will legally defend my brand and myself and use every anti-squat law and return all of these properties back to my fold.”

Well, that’s fine and well within your right in theory. However, how much will this cost you in both time and lawyering? Additionally, siccing a lawyer on an online reputation assassin can have powerful blowback with devastating results. The wasp bites resulting from an unmolested hive are bad enough but you haven’t seen anything until you start poking and prodding an active wasp nest.

Being proactive can pay dividends over the long run

When I am engaged to repair an online reputation, the first thing I ask is whether the reputation assault is over. Am I doing the equivalent of putting on my Hazmat suit, donning my yellow gloves, cracking open a big jug of Clorox, and cleaning up an abandoned crime scene? Or am I strolling into an active online reputation rocket attack?

When all’s quiet on the Western front, sending out your attach lawyers will almost immediately result in a rekindled reputation rocket attack, including recording and transcriptions of lawyer phone calls and voice mails, scans and transcriptions of cease and desist letters, and other completely irrational but amazingly effective techniques that can, at time, feel like online reputation terrorism by online reputation suicide bombers.

Even so, I know for a fact that you still won’t do anything. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, very few brands, companies, and executives ever get ahead of the problem, building the same sort of crisis prep and response plan as well as the kind of reputation armoring and defending that can act as a bulwark against all of the casual attacks, most of the medium attacks, and will act as temporary sandbags and first- and second-hit armor to even against the most serious attacks, at least to slow down the assault until you can activate your crisis response plan and engage in an active defense and even a counter-attack.

If you would like to get onto a call to speak more about online reputation management — be it in preparation for the inevitable attack, be it in response to an ongoing active online attack of your reputation, or to get advice on cleaning up one or more negative results on Google, Bing, or Yahoo! — please send me an email or give me a call. I would be happy to point you in the right direction.

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Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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  • CareerAddict

    Good post! Very useful! It is essential to maintain a good reputation online always but overall when you are a jobseeker. You do not want to experience an awkward moment in your job interview if someone ask you about your profile pic in facebook.

  • Colby Cox

    Great post Chris! Several of my recent conversations about our (RepEquity) capabilities have been around proactive measures to protect a brand. It is definitely smart to get ahead of the issue rather than waiting until the bomb goes off.

  • Excellent. Agree with Colby, acquired learnings is big weapon when matter goes on. Maintaining online reputation is quite difficult however that pro activeness is the solution.