September 23, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Online Reputation Management Part 4: What to do When Something Goes Bump on the Net

Online Reputation Management Part 4: What to do When Something Goes Bump on the Net

Knowing what to do when you find negative information about your brand online is one
of the most important, yet least understood steps in a first-class online
reputation management program.  As you
will recall, in prior steps, organizations lay the groundwork first by:

  1. Understanding
    that reputation
    management is not quick and cheap
    ;
  2. Determining
    the
    voices that matter in your reputation
    or your issues; and
  3. Aggregating
    all of the content
    that matters in one place
    .

Once all of that is done and you find a piece of
information that you think may present a threat, you have to have a process and
even methodology in place to a) assess the threat or opportunity posed and b)
calibrate your response to it.

Again, I harken back to my days in the agency world, during
which we would uncover an unflattering or profane posting, web site or some
other material, and our clients’ knee-jerk reaction would often be what I would
call “killing a fly with a sledgehammer,” e.g.
calling in the legal department.

Bad move.

There are indeed times in which litigation is necessary, but
understand that it is often the last resort. 
Trying to sue someone to take down something that you deem offensive
only adds a lot of gasoline to a fire that may be merely smoldering.

So after taking a deep breath and encouraging others within
your organization to do so, there are some basic steps that you can take to
determine when – or if – to take any sort of action.  I suggest:

  1. Take a
    look at the credibility of the site, blog or board on which you are being
    attacked.  Check their Technorati,
    Google Page rank, BlogPulse or Alexa ranking.  If all else fails, do a backwards link
    check and see how many other sites link to them.  If no one reads it, as they say on the
    “Sopranos,” “fuggetaboutit.”
  2. Think
    carefully about the importance of the online venue with your
    stakeholders.  If you are a meat
    packing company with food sanitation issues and it comes up in the Journal of Accountancy, you are
    probably just fine.
  3. If
    negative information appears in a place that appears to have some
    credibility, take a look at the level of visibility within it  (e.g.,
    on home pages versus deep within the site).  It’s just like being above the fold in
    the New York Times vs. on page
    C47.  Big difference.
  4. Examine
    the viral nature of the information. 
    If it’s negative and slams you, it’s one thing, but if there is a
    call to action like a petition, boycott, protest or something similar,
    start sweating.

If the information that you find, after examining all of the
criteria above, is still something that you need to worry about, it’s probably
time to take some form of action.  It’s
critical, however, to remember to calibrate your response with the threat posed.  Again, don’t kill a fly with a sledgehammer.

  1. Maintain
    goodwill with your publics that give you the societal license to
    operate.  This could be on the cover
    of “Duh” Magazine, but if you have generally good relations with your
    stakeholders, when bad things happen, it won’t seem that bad.  Think about Tylenol and Johnson &
    Johnson.
  2. For
    non-threatening issues, take no active response except fact finding.  Check the box and keep it in your
    monitoring system if a blogger with a Technorati authority ranking of “1”
    says you stink.
  3. For
    emerging issues, use primarily a one-on-one response method, for example,
    if you find something on a consumer complaint site that attacks your
    company.  A good strategy would be
    to respond – on the blog or message board – with an apology, and offer to
    help along with your contact info. 
    Be sincere, present transparency, openness, and a desire to
    help.  The problem should go
    away.  Botch it, and
    you are in trouble: example.
  4. For
    expanding issues, begin to craft a public message strategy and seek the
    endorsement and support of third parties. 
    I could write ten other articles on online rumor control, but think
    about
    Procter and Gamble and rumors of associations with the “Church of Satan
    .”  They reached out to Snopes.com, a leading “de-bunking” Web
    site and got third-party validation that the issue was false.
  5. For
    “red alert” issues, begin to actively mobilize grassroots stakeholder
    networks.  You are going to need
    friends in a time of crisis that will speak out on your behalf.
  6. Finally,
    when it’s Defcon-4, it’s time to implement your online and offline crisis
    communications plan.  Online
    elements might include things like a dark Web site, blogger outreach,
    sponsored links, supporting statements on third-party sites (linked to
    yours) and another look at your search engine rankings. 

Finally, it’s important to understand that 99 percent of the
issues that go “bump” on the ‘net don’t require a full-blown crisis response; you
can often nip an issue in the bud with a politely worded email or blog
posting.

Mark Story is a
part-time, adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a full-time
communications professional at a government agency in Washington, D.C. Prior to
the government, Mark worked for 11 years in some of the largest online public
relations shops in the world.  Tweet him
at mstory123.

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