People often think of the Internet as a huge impersonal collection of information. But it’s also a medium for creating communities.
When people lived in small villages, and merchant A said something rude to consumer B, the gossip mill carried that information to the edge of town, and sometimes beyond. Then cities grew, mail order houses proliferated, and you could have customers angry with you and no one knew.
Now, if you have a problem with a customer, it’s back to the gossip mill, but this time the gossip mill is electronic, immediate and potentially permanent. Irate customers can open a website just to complain about you or your business; post a bad review on any number of “post your review” websites such as Amazon, TripAdvisor, AngiesList or many others; or post their rant on their weblog. And it’s very scary when you see that happen.
There are a few steps you can take to help protect your reputation online. The least popular is “serve your customers well; treat your employees well; listen to their complaints; make good on your promises.”
But even then it’s almost impossible not to have someone think you’ve done them wrong in some way. So here are the other steps you can take if all of your excellent service and policies don’t work.
1. Either assign an employee, hire a internet reputation firm or pick a day each month and search the internet for potential problems. Enter all possible spellings of your name and your business name into one or two big search engines.
2. If something negative comes up, look at these things:
> What’s the URL?
> how far down in the search did the problem show up?
> When was it posted?
> Is there a “stats counter” that can tell you how many people have viewed the offending material?
> What kind of site is it on?
3. Determine if it’s worth doing anything. Consider:
> People know that it’s impossible to do business for a long time without any complaints, so DON’T PANIC.
> People understand that some people always post negative comments on review sites, most people ignore one or two low ratings.
> Few people dig deeper than one or two pages into search results.
> If your website gets a lot more traffic than the offending website, do you really want to respond and give the other site more traffic?
> If the website is a “reviews” type website for your industry, use the complaint as an opportunity to repair the relationship or at least show potential customers you tried and take complaints seriously.
> Use your weblog or social media to “bury” the negative comment by having new material appear at the top of any search.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive, or “one size fits all” list. Some defamation requires legal intervention, but most doesn’t. Many businesses and consumers don’t want to get involved with EITHER side when they see an online dispute. So the most important thing to remember is: often more harm is been done by fighting back without a plan than was done by the initial negative comment.