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Online Reputation – Repercussions of Managing It By Hook or By Crook

When Samsung paid people to criticise HTC’s products, little would the former have realised that it is inviting trouble.

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Much to everyone’s surprise (and to Samsung’s dismay of course!), the mobile phone giant paid a heavy price for what they call astroturfing, a popular under-the-counter online reputation management technique. Samsung was fined, plain and simple. Ironically, what the company did came out in the wash for obvious reasons, but there are many others who engage in such activities. As a matter of fact, there have been cases, where companies were found of guilty of paying people for writing fake reviews. Take for example, the much-publicised Operation Clean Turf that resulted in as many as 19 companies paying a whopping sum of more than 350,000 USD as (combined) fines.

With instances like these becoming a common scene, it is obvious for others, especially those who go the white-hat way, to ask if it makes sense to manage online reputation at any cost. Now that’s a million dollar question. To find out the answer, we need to first of all discuss what kind of techniques or activities companies generally resort to, when they don the so-called black hat (pun intended).

Going Overboard (and Killing It)

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Which of the two would you want to see as a response when you write a review for some restaurant that you ate at, say last week? Well, we all know the answer, but let’s find out what’s wrong with the second one:

  • It’s OVER-promotional
  • It’s sure to drive you away
  • It shows the restaurant’s desperation
  • It may make the matters worse if the restaurant already has some negative reviews

Some companies are no different than this restaurant that we are talking of as an example. They overdo it and that doesn’t do any good, if you know what it means. Even worse, their reputation goes for a toss.

Supressing the Voice of the Customers (and Digging Their Own Grave)

It is funny how some companies have found a unique way of dealing with reputation woes – making sure there are none, by eliminating the source, i.e. the customers. Yes, you may not believe it, but there are companies that don’t let the customers speak. Why they would do that, you may wonder.

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Or so they think. When the customers are not allowed to voice their opinions, they turn to review sites. And when they pour their heart out, they make even the biggest of the companies bite dust – they have that power – after all, customers are (were, will be) the kings, remember?

Attempting Review Removal (and Falling Flat)

Companies, well, some of them, not only gather selective information about website reputation management, but also interpret it in a biased way. In short, they display what is commonly referred to as confirmation bias. For starters, they like to think they can get the negative reviews removed. High hopes. Not that it is next to impossible, review removal that is, especially if libelling is involved, but it is not easy per se. But why companies try to get the negative reviews off the search results in the first place, you may think. They always look for a shortcut, simple. They know what they need to do is to push down the negative reviews and make way for the positive ones, but that takes time, something they believe they are always running out of. So, they choose the easy way out.

Or so they think. They fall in a trap – one that they are never able to come out of. The reviews, still there, continue to damage their reputation.

Losing Cool (and Losing Customers – once and for all)

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Let’s say these reviews are posted by your customers. Be honest; did you just kill them in your head? Did you? If you did, you are no different from companies that forget the customers have every right to vent out their anger (so they believe), shout and say bad things (and they are not wrong).  But the companies, well, they need to stay calm, even when they are pushed to the limit.

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Yes, at times, the customers may say something that is completely intolerable, but then there are other ways of dealing with it, lawsuits included. That being said, there are companies that mistakenly treat themselves at par with the customers and think that it is okay to lose cool. It is not, period. Customers don’t like it when someone talks back. Also, it is not news that some of the negative reviews are posted by miscreants (read: disgruntled employees and competitors). So, when companies show anger, these miscreants get that golden opportunity they always wait for – the opportunity of sabotaging the reputation further.

Painting a Rosy Picture (and Raising Suspicion)

Here’s a short story:

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In short, Tom didn’t collect any feedback from Mary and tried to trick other customers into believing that Mary liked the pizza. Maybe she did, but who knows? Some companies are Tom. They are of the opinion that some things are better left unsaid. That’s their way of dealing with website reputation woes – telling everyone that all’s well.

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They don’t realise that feedback is for their own good and can in fact, help them handle reputation issues really fast. After all, it is feedback that leads to corrective measures, which in turn, lay the foundation for almost every reputation management strategy. Companies that do not value customer feedback often find themselves in the public eye.

Going Legal at the Drop of a Hat (and Drawing Flak)

Companies, when libelled, have the option of submitting legal take-down requests. Agreed and understood; but, what if they seek legal intervention every now and then? Yes, there’s no harm in playing safe and not responding to customer reviews in an agitated manner, but that doesn’t mean it is okay to drag them to court for something that is not an attempt to libel in the first place. Customers get back at such companies, i.e. companies that think going legal is the best way, damaging the latter’s reputation beyond repair.

Publishing Content Left, Right and Centre (and Making the Matters Worse)

First things first; positive content is what is needed to push down the negative results. Fair enough. But, some companies take it way too seriously, not that they should not, but when they submit content to just about any site, they often land in soup. Perhaps what they don’t know is that content does help in case of online reputation, but only when submitted to authoritative websites.

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That’s because these are the sites that pave way for brand promotion. However, content submission to every other site creates an impression that the companies are trying too hard – and that’s not a good thing, at least not in the eyes of the customers.

Using Spam Bots (and Putting the Final Nail in the Coffin)

With reputation management taking the centre stage, companies are leaving no stone unturned to look good online. However, some of them go that extra mile (hope you get the sarcasm!) and use spam bots. These are the same companies that vanish into thin air. Poof!

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And then there are companies that play it smart and do not think twice before resorting to denial-of-service attacks, continuing their journey on the path to self-destruction.

A Quick Recap

Online reputation, if damaged, can affect your bottom line like anything. But that doesn’t mean, it can be fixed any which way you want – yes, you can take control, but virtually screaming at your customers is fatal and so is filing a lawsuit against them, when there is no need to. The idea is to calm down the agitated customers, see what can be done to satisfy them and ensure that in the future, they don’t find any reason to complain. However, if you see them as rebels and try to stop them, well, they are going to fight back. And boy oh boy, they can fight. They have their ammo ready, word-of-mouth included.

A Way Out

If you list down the top 10 things that are better left to experts, website reputation management is sure to feature among the first 5.

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Simply put, don’t take the matters into your hands because chances are that if you do so, the situation is going to take a turn for the worse. Let the experts (read: professional online reputation managers) step in.

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