When Facing Reputation Threats, Beware of Fast Fixes

October 2, 2018

If there’s one thing communications professionals seem to agree on, it’s this: Building a strong reputation for a business and repairing reputation problems when they occur take time and effort. Where reputation is concerned, patience is a virtue. Change doesn’t happen overnight, at least not good change.

The internet has produced many myths about managing business reputations, the most common being that online reputation threats can be erased as quickly and easily as they appear. According to these claims, you only need a checkbook and an “online reputation-management specialist” to scrub away stubborn stains from a company’s reputation — guaranteed!

Such myths are dangerous. I regularly hear from PR practitioners who, despite seeming levelheaded otherwise, expect a one-hour reputation laundry for some perceived online threat. Best case, they’re still open to discussing more practical solutions. Worst case, they’ve already been lured into believing the fantasy of an easy fix, and need someone to clean up the resulting mess.

Take, for example, the prominent internet lawyer (oh, the irony) who spent nearly six figures to push a few relatively benign mentions of a past legal dust-up off the first page of Google search results — only to see them replaced by a considerably more embarrassing collection of nonsensical “articles” on random legal subjects attributed to him and his firm.

Or the health-care system that was promised a steady flow of five-star reviews from actual patients, and instead saw dozens of glowing testimonials it had previously earned on multiple review sites flagged as fraudulent. Competitors were quick to exploit this blow to the company’s reputation.

And then there was the real-estate developer whose website was held for ransom after he tried to terminate the contract of a reputation-management company that he caught charging him to remove negative content the company itself had fabricated on web pages it controlled.

In each of these cases, the so-called “solution” created far more serious and potentially longer-lasting dangers to the organization’s reputation than whatever problem it was supposed to eliminate. In retrospect, all three organizations would have been better off had they kept their pride and emotions in check and done absolutely nothing — an option too often overlooked in times of crisis.

This is not to suggest that all online reputation consultants are cut from the same cloth. But unfortunately, discerning the well-intentioned advisers who promise only what they can deliver from the digital charlatans is easier said than done.

When your organization’s online reputation is challenged, consider these three questions before deciding on any course of action or engaging professional help:

Do we really have a problem?

When people or organizations feel unfairly maligned, the stress that results can cloud their judgment and instill a dangerous sense of urgency to “do something.” Overreacting is the quickest way to draw attention to content that few people would see otherwise.

Is the problem fixable?

If a threat to a business’s reputation involves legitimate news such as an adverse legal decision, attempts to bury it through search-engine optimization (SEO) techniques will probably have little or no effect.

The same goes for content on websites whose domain names end with “.gov,” “.edu” and “.mil,” which are especially resistant to attempts at influencing where they appear in internet searches.

And when trying to counter a reputation threat, remember that pumping out content to douse the immediate flames might have long-term negative consequences for an organization’s online reputation and search results.

Do we already know what to do?

More than likely, the answer to reputation threats is already in your grasp. The only proven way to protect a business’s good name online is to deliver a steady flow of relevant, high-quality, backlink-worthy content on your websites and social media, amplified by smart tactics for earned and paid media such as news coverage and advertising.

To address online challenges to your organization’s good standing, forget about sleight-of-hand and Google-gaming. Nourish your online reputation with a consistent diet of wholesome content. Your search results — and your own mental health — will reap the benefits.

Jon Goldberg

Jon Goldberg is founder and chief reputation architect of Reputation Architects Inc., a reputation risk-management and strategic-communications firm dedicated to building, protecting and restoring reputations in a world of diminished trust. He serves on the Executive Committee of PRSA’s Counselors Academy.


Ken Jacobs says:

Great post, Jon. Wise, practical, and informative! Most helpful.

Oct. 9, 2018

Steve Dunlop says:

What’s really striking is how the so called reputational “cure” of SEO can be worse than the disease. Caveat emptor. Thanks for the enlightening post, Jon.

April 22, 2019

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