Yesterday we talked about a particularly nasty way reputation management companies have gone about “protecting their clients” in the past. Basically, they hacked reviews, making them disappear. This was clearly dishonest, clearly unethical and clearly doomed to stop working eventually.
Today, a more common approach. One we won’t see going anywhere for some time.
Brute force. This is a term you’ll often see when it comes to all kinds of black hat Internet practices. Basically it means throwing a ton of data at something and seeing what sticks. It can be used to hack passwords, promote a page (until it’s found out) to the top of the search engine results page, or move a page way down the results page.
In the past we’ve talked about why black hat SEO doesn’t work for long. Brute force is an example of black hat SEO that is usually quickly found out and halted. Worse for the companies that are often sold this product without their knowledge, the pages are usually punished. But, when used to demote a page (instead of promoting) brute force is often quite effective.
This is one of the most common tactics of reputation management companies. They flood the search engines with pages that are intended to show up before “your business name review” or “your business name ripoff.” There is no concern about punishment because they can keep adding fresh content to continue to bury the real results in search engine pages.
These tactics are misleading, temporary solutions to what could very well be a permanent problem. Bottom line? Reputation management needs to be proactive. Firms that offer to hide bad reviews are using unethical tactics and doing you a disservice. If a client has a legitimate complaint, embrace their comments. If a former customer posts libelous material, consider letting it go and understand that one bad review out of ten can actually be beneficial. If it’s particularly hurtful and is indeed libelous, have your lawyer send a letter. But neither of these are your best options. Instead, try to get out front of your reputation by embracing social media.
The truth of the matter is, you can’t contain your customers. If someone has a bad experience and wants to talk about it, shout about it, there is nothing you can do to stop them. But, you can shepherd them. You can also respond to them. By providing quality forums or engaging users on the forums they already use you can open a dialogue with disgruntled users. You can identify problems earlier and you can avoid having to scramble at the last-minute to respond. You can also avoid those nasty black hat tactics that are just sweeping problems under the rug.
Almost every major hotel and airline chain has employees on Flyertalk.com. They actively monitor conversations, identify weak spots in their businesses and respond to upset customers. By being actively engaged with customers on a reputable community they can ensure that they have a quality conversation and take advantage of what is essentially a free market research tool.
You might not have a message board similar to Flyertalk.com for your business, but you do have Yelp, which provides tools for business owners to respond to negative reviews. Ripoffreport.com does the same. You can even start your own message board. Take a look at Amazon.com’s boards, they are full of customer complaints that were posted in a place where Amazon could take action on them, instead of a 3rd party. These companies don’t work like the BBB, they don’t require a response from you before posting a negative review. This is the fast paced, no holds barred Internet. So get out there, build your community.