Reputation Damage Control

When discussing the major brands and companies that have experienced potentially destructive problems for their real-life and online reputation management, the list is long. Going back to the Industrial Revolution (and before), those corporate entities that could have benefited by some type of reputation management include: British Petroleum, Volkswagen and Jack-in-the-Box. But it’s no shorter for those brands tripped up by silly mistakes, such as Lululemon’s yoga pants blunder and 2013’s Burger King’s Twitter hijacking. As for individuals, there’s no shortage of celebrities who short-circuited (Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Brian Williams, etc.), requiring immediate, intense personal reputation management campaigns.

All companies, from mom and pop shops to massive conglomerates, can be hit by problems, whether self-induced or due to outside influences. While some of these situations may cause a few chuckles, others could result in drastic changes and even complete shutdowns. And yes, it’s easy to laugh at the downfalls of celebrities and big-name brands, especially when the issues are the result of their own poor decisions. But rehabilitating and recharging the media and online reputation of individuals, products, brands or companies is a real challenge. This is the nature of reputation damage control. With this personal reputation management process, poor critiques and harmful information  that have been spread online are overrun or overshadowed, effectively hiding from the public’s view.

The goals of both reputation management and damage control are basically the same. They strive to populate search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo) results with positive content when an individual, brand or company are searched. Both personal reputation management and reputation damage control originated as public relations terms and responsibilities. And with the Internet becoming such an accepted, essential part of our culture, both processes are  now more closely associated with online search results.

However, there are major differences to these reputation management campaigns’ actual processes, as well as their costs and needs for urgency. Personal reputation management is a proactive process. With these online reputation management campaigns,  news makers and their teams release positive news and announcements about individuals, brands or companies, beforehand. The goal is to shift the public’s attention shift away from possibly harmful content, thereby protecting reputations. But online reputation management damage control is a reactive process. Essentially, these personal reputation management campaigns are utilized once negative press has been published online, whether by competitors, disgruntled employees or unknown commentators.

This online reputation management is designed to be very powerful and effective. And the Internet’s speed is actually working against your efforts, particularly when it comes to search engines ranking (or search engine optimization).  You must first target the problematic content. Then, you must remove negative content from multiple search engines’ top spots (and pages). The next step is replacing and repopulating this unwanted material with more positive content. And while you can hire personal reputation management firms, you may find that they’re very expensive. Instead, it may be preferable to take your personal reputation management into you (and your organization’s) own hands.

Examples of reputation damage control

Despite the Internet’s all-encompassing reach and influence, it is still an unregulated landscape. There are countless options for people to offer their thoughts, whether wanted or not. And while some of these comments and other media are helpful and beneficial, an enormous portion are harmful and hurtful. To make things worse, these commentators are able to leave their content anonymously.

The people hosting these websites (individuals, companies, organizations) have no course of action. When it comes to the Internet, content lives forever, as there’s no requirement for websites to remove comments or anything else, good or bad, even if untrue or damaging. If concerned about your online reputation management, unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau and other organizations are helpless. And, legal action isn’t really an option, due to the Communications Decency Act, which states that website owners aren’t responsible for content placed there by outside sources.

As any business owner or worker knows, negative Internet reviews or any other content can take a serious toll, including that for customer loyalty and profits. Research shows that at least 30 percent of a business’ or service’s potential clients will search for them directly by name, brand, or business name. As such, there’s never been more of a need for online reputation management services, and specifically, those for online reputation damage control. To further illustrate the effectiveness of online reputation damage control , here are two examples – one serious and one light-heated – showcasing companies that clearly needed and benefited from these services:

  • The Ford Pinto recall – Introduced as an American alternative to entry-level imports, the Pinto sold 328,275 cars in its first year. But it was discovered that in rear-end collisions, fuel could spray into the passenger compartment and ignite. Connected to more than 900 deaths, on June 9, 1978, Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos and 30,000 of its twin, the Mercury Bobcat. Even worse, a news story revealed that Ford knew of the risk before the car’s production. But they felt that the $11 cost per car to fix the problem – and the $1 per car to prevent the fuel tank’s rupturing – was too expensive. In 1979, Ford became the nation’s first U.S. corporation to be indicted and prosecuted on criminal homicide charges.
  • Nutella – Since 2007, Sara Rosso has organized the global holiday, Nutella Day, honoring the popular chocolate-hazelnut spread. But in 2013, Ferrero, the company’s Italian parent company, sent Rosso a cease-and-desist letter, forcing her to cancel the special day, along with numerous social media events. Faced with negative media and online reputation feedback, the company stopped its legal actions, thanking Rosso for her devotion, The event continues to be held annually to this day.

Implementing a damage control plan

Now that you’ve seen how damage control can benefit an online reputation, consider putting your own processes in place. Despite your finest efforts, with the Internet and social media outlets’ 24/7 information flow, it’s a constant battle to monitor and protect your online reputation. And while you should have the personal reputation management equipment for damage control on hand, it’s just as crucial to retain a calm, level head, especially during a crisis. After all, you don’t want to have to turn to another firm, spending more than you wanted and being forced to follow their recommendations.

Mike Muhney, co-founder and CEO of the reputation management software companies Sage ACT! and VIPOrbit, stated:

Repairing a damaged reputation begins with an accurate assessment:  Who are you? What did you do or not do? What must be done to correct it? If you need, get a second opinion from a few trusted friends who can give you a more balanced viewpoint on what you’ve done and what you need to do to fix it

Put your damage control plan into action. Whether you need to reach out to specific people or publish information online, you have to follow through. And this must become part of the ‘new’ you. Ingrained, instinctive, and disciplined behavior will restore your reputation.

You should know that damage control of your online reputation is a major endeavor, requiring a good deal of time and effort. But the end result will be that you have the people, tools and knowledge necessary for reactive reputation management. Then, you can quickly take action to address and combat any negative critiques, comments or other user-generated content, including blogs, tweets, audio and video files and podcasts.

Some effective steps include:

  • Start from a good place If you and your brand or company have a good, decent online reputation, you’ll be in a better place should a crisis occur. Your customers or followers will be more likely to defend you and continue using your products and services.
  • Quick actionWhen damage control becomes necessary, you have to address any problems as soon as possible. These personal reputation management techniques include alerting customers that you’re addressing the current situation, and you’ll keep them updated. Come up with a list of websites you want to follow or avoid, including any potential keywords.
  • Confident and consistent – Show that you and your organization are on top of things, even when dealing with controversy. You have to provide an explanation and explain your damage control And for offline and online reputation management, you need to maintain stability.
  • Keep the negativity inside It’s vital to stay calm and quiet, without any emotional flare-ups. If you can’t, turn to a trusted, qualified reputation management source for damage control. And choose your words carefully; you don’t want to make things worse.
  • Take the initiative While damage control is reactive, you can still help with future campaigns. For instance, you could provide positive content about your online reputation, improving the public’s perceptions. You can also offer feedback on past attempts, to better your portrayal, including blogging and social media. You may want to write and submit your own content to well-regarded, industry websites, with your name and company included, for keyword ranking purposes. The goal is to provide so much content that you or your business’ names are associated with positive, authoritative content.
  • Utilize social media Again, damage control involves replacing negative mentions with positive ones. This requires real-time, consistent social media monitoring of any good or bad comments and critiques. The personal reputation management campaign could involve searching through websites’ “Comment” sections for any related mentions; news and email alerts may help, as well.
  • Track your reviews — You should search for specific names or terms (including your competitors) via customer review websites and apps, including: Yelp, Angie’s List or TripAdvisor.

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