While I’m certain she wasn’t pondering online reputation management, Taylor Swift had it right when she sang “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate” in her hit single, “Shake it Off.” Online hate remains a major problem for businesses, and sadly, we can’t always just take the pop starlet’s advice and roll with it.
Hate blogs and hate websites can pop up overnight, and if written by clever authors, can quickly rise to the top of search results. Reputational and economic damage frequently follow.
When confronted with negative online content that hinders your business or damages your organization’s reputation, the best advice is to remain calm and make a sound assessment. While the first reaction may be to blast away at the hate blog, defamatory post, negative news article or nasty review, brand managers have found that it makes more sense to slow down and develop a strategy before confronting the sourc, assuming you can figure out who posted the negative information in the first place.
You have the right to remain silent. Though silence can be a big mistake when dealing with a traditional public relations crisis, that’s not always the case with online issues. An impetuous response to the negative search result may add credibility to untrue allegations and fuel the fire of a renegade blogger. If your business receives a negative review, a response may be warranted, but in most cases, silence is a good first step. Determine if you want to develop a legal strategy, removal strategy, or suppression strategy. Review your options and then move forward. Do it quickly, but not in a hurry.
First, do no harm. Every complex online reputation issue is a little bit different. Some site owners, when confronted, will comply with requests for removal, while others will stand firm. Some have developed processes to handle removal requests and will only follow their own in-house procedures. Make sure that whatever your first step is, you don’t make the situation worse.
Can it be removed? Contrary to popular belief, you can remove negative Google search results. It’s not always possible, but there are situations when it can be done.
1. Go directly to the source. Google is the gateway to the Internet, and you can get rid of bad search results if you can get the original site to take down the offending content. We have had success reaching out to site owners and negotiating with them to remove negative posts. For instance, a website that publishes nightclub photos had images of a client in an “inappropriate” pose. We contacted the site directly and asked them to take down the photos. They complied. In some instances, it’s helpful to have a third party ask on your behalf. If the content is truly defamatory, we might suggest a legal approach, but negotiating directly with the source does work.
2. Go to the parent company. In some cases, negative content is posted on a message board or forum-style site. This content is indexed by Google and ends up in search results. The website owner may be unaware of the type of content that is being published on their site, and might be surprised to learn of inappropriate content. On several occasions, we have contacted websites hosting negative posts and negotiated for removal. With the right approach, it often works. Once the content is removed from the site, it will eventually fall from search results.
3. Take a forensic approach. Every website host and blogging platform has thousands of terms and conditions they must comply with to continue publishing. We have found that many negative posts violate these terms and conditions, and we have had success getting them removed from the site completely, or removed from Google search results. This approach isn’t easy or inexpensive, but it can be done.
Before jumping into any strategy or tactic, assess the situation and develop an action plan with the best chance for success. Believe it or not, an assessment may suggest that you just live with the negative result as it may not be as bad as you think. In those cases, take Ms. Swift’s advice and “shake it off.”
John P. David is founder and president of Miami-based media relations firm David PR Group, and represents law firms, financial institutions, insurance companies and technology start-ups. He also serves as a partner with online reputation management firm WebFactCheck.com, a website that enables businesses to effectively respond to negative internet posts. (Image via)