It's time to consider online reputation management into your monthly marketing budget. If you have never thought about reputation management for your business according to Wikipedia it's "the process of tracking an entity’s actions and other entities’ opinions about those actions; reporting on those actions and opinions; and reacting to that report".
With more and more user generated content online your company's reputation is under constant threat of attack be it from bloggers, review sites or even your direct competitors. A well planned marketing strategy can be completely taken down by a few well placed bad remarks.
Let's take one example I stumbled upon recently.
I was researching different car dealers in my area while looking for a nice new car. I did a quick search for a dealer, a friend of mine had recommended, in Google and the first two listings that popped up even before the dealer's own website were both from a review site and the review sites listings were not flattering. Below is sampling of this dealers search results:
(slightly changed to protect the dealer)
1. "ToyotaDealer - Worst Experience Ever"
2. "ToyotaDealer - Highly do not recommend!."
3. "ToyotaDealer 's own Website"
The sad part is that this dealer has more than likely lost a sale from me even with a personal recommendation just because he hasn't taken the time to review his search listings and diligently do online reputation management.
Now I know what some of you are thinking isn't this illegal or at the very least trademark infringement for these people to say these things about me using my company name? The Quick answer is No.
Review sites in the U.S are protected under the Communications Decency Act, which says in a nutshell says when a user writes and posts material on a website, the site itself will not be held legally responsible for the posted material. Along with this, 47 U.S.C. * 230(c)(1) states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Bloggers are also protected under the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 that basically says bloggers have the same rights and protections of a journalist.
So how do you go about protecting your company and your site? It's both easy and hard.
First the easy part, finding out what is being said about your company:
The easiest and least expensive way is with Google Alerts. Google will notify you whenever it finds a mention of your company on the internet and where. Just visit http://www.google.com/alerts and in 4 easy steps you'll have next to instant information on what's being said about your company.
1. Enter your company's name in the Search terms
2. Enter the type. I suggest Comprehensive so you get information from all sources
3. How Often: Go with as soon as it happens for instant notification
4. Enter Your Email
Or if you interested in a more comprehensive solution and don't mind a small monthly fee you can try Andy Beal's Trackur which monitors multiple sources and provides charts for tracking purposes.
Now the Hard Part:
You can't make a website take down, in most instances, negative information about your company so you have to fight it another way and the only real way to win the search engine reputation management game is to out rank them for the terms in the search engines.
A couple of the many things you can do for this are:
Perform Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing on your main site to bring it to the top of the listings when searching for your company's name.
Set up other listings through social sites such as Namyz or Kudzu that you control.
Create "sister sites" that use your name but that you control.
Notice on both those examples the keywords are "that you control" and that's because that's what it really comes down to. You need to be in control of your online reputation no one is going to do it for you and as much as you want all your customers to be happy customers there's a good chance a few won't be and it's easy on the internet to let all your frustrations out without fear of retaliation and in complete anonymity.