Whether you call it reputation management, reputation optimization or reputation enhancement, it all adds up to the same thing: How can you preserve a great name while protecting yourself from undue negative publicity? Building a better reputation is more important than ever, yet it’s also become more challenging. The rise in social media, crowd-sourced review sites and SEO changes has made skilled reputation optimization vital even for companies that have never suffered an unwarranted complaint. For those that have been unfairly targeted, it is essential.
Reputation managers rely on numerous strategies to restore a dented reputation or polish an already sterling one. Through take-down requests, dilution of negative information with positive content and possibly even legal action, a company can minimize the damaging fallout from online attacks on its reputation. For companies that haven’t been the focus of a disgruntled customer’s ire or an unscrupulous competitor’s misinformation, taking a positive, proactive attitude will bolster reputation. Positive press releases, white papers and an active social media presence can give you protection from concerted efforts to harm your reputation and cushion the impact of the inevitable poor reviews that even the best companies sometimes get.
The Ethics of Reputation Management
No business wants to be at the mercy of those who want to damage it, but businesses must also respect the voices of those who have legitimate concerns. While some techniques for silencing critics are clearly unethical, such as denial-of-service attacks or camouflaging biased statements as facts from neutral sources, many others are benign. Encouraging your satisfied customers to offer accurate reviews, for example, can do an excellent job of counteracting a few less-than-glowing statements.
Using SEO to form a sturdy reputation with authoritative articles, regular blog posts and white papers is an effective form of passive resistance against negative information. With constant positive pressure buoying the good news about your business, negative information has nowhere to go but down on search engine results pages. Since 80 percent of searchers never look beyond the first page of results, this strategy is often enough to protect you from undue reputation damage. The unwanted information is still there, and you aren’t actively concealing it; your content team is just doing a good job of painting a larger and more balanced picture of your organization.
Are Paid Reviews Legal?
Content creation companies are sometimes approached to write falsely positive product reviews, but this practice is more than just unethical; it’s illegal. The Federal Trade Commission requires full disclosure of material connections and imposes fines on companies that don’t abide by these regulations. The FTC fined numerous review-buying companies a total of $350,000 for their practices of spreading artificial sunshine.
As David Streitfeld wrote in The New York Times, most of the counterfeit applause came from sources outside the country and were written by non-native English speakers who had never set foot in the businesses they reviewed. Reputation management companies and American content writers are familiar with the new FTC guidelines and abide by them.
Articles and blog posts on your own site aren’t subject to the same requirements as crowd-sourced reviews on sites such as Yelp, UrbanSpoon and Citysearch. You’re allowed to sing your praises on pages you own – and you should. Information-rich blog posts that inform your readers while shining a flattering light on your reputation build a strong, proactive defense against negative reviews. Because unethical paid reviews are the target of crack-downs, using ethical channels to polish your good name is even more valuable.
Do you donate products to not-for-profit organizations, take an active interest in going green or participate in charity events? Tell your customers about it! Corporate ethics are a growing concern for buyers in every industry, and by demonstrating how your company’s values align with your customers’, you earn their approval. A Google search that turns up information about your corporate responsibility and high ethical standards is a powerful reputation builder.
Too often, companies that quietly do the right thing maintain their silence about it because they don’t want to give the impression they’re only in it for the publicity. The people reading about your generosity won’t think less of you for connecting your name with a worthy cause; they’re just happy for your support. Don’t be shy about issuing a press release about your CEO’s participation in a 5K charity run or your recent donation of your company’s services to a local non-profit group. The approval you earn could inspire other local businesses to join you in improving your community, and that benefits everyone.
Whether you want to buff an already bright reputation to a higher shine or overcome some bad press in your past, ethical reputation management is a must. Social media, blogs and SEO are incredibly powerful tools; reputation optimization ensures they’re used to tell an accurate, positive narrative about your company.
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