Online Reputation Management Case Study


In December I witnessed the beginning of an ugly reputation management situation while sitting on the couch in my PJs. I was watching Tabatha’s Salon Takeover and for sixty minutes I got to capture the making of a small business brand disaster as Nikki Mallon of Brownes & Co. was portrayed on national TV as a heartless bitch. Whether those sixty minutes were scripted and edited or not, she made Rae look like an adorable puppy.

What follows is an online reputation management case study and some advice. Outspoken Media has no involvement with the brand, this is simply a look at SERP movement and Brownes & Co.’s reaction. If you are a small business owner, you will find actionable tips on what to do in the wake of a problem.

The Setup:

On Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, Tabatha (an incredibly talented, bleach-blonde contestant from another Bravo show, Shear Genius) finds struggling salons and “takes over” for a week. She gives the owner and their employees guidance on how to turn the business around. This involves tips on marketing, management, services and a physical makeover of the interior.

The real reason to watch, Tabatha’s a bitch! Like Simon Cowell on American Idol, we get to watch her tell it like it is. She will tell you that you are lazy, irresponsible and an asshole. It is fantastic! It is not just beat downs, people usually grow from the experience and I have cried during one episode. However, Tabatha sometimes runs into an individual who just doesn’t get it.

Meet Nikki:

Nikki Mallon, owner of Brownes & Co. in Miami, a high-end salon with a perfect location, did not get it. Nikki wired the salon with cameras and would watch her employees from her computer at home. She sent commands through instant messages to the front desk and only visited the salon once every couple of weeks. When she did come into the salon the affect was obvious, everyone was on edge and resentful and she barked orders and complaints without any positive reinforcement.

Nikki’s Audition Tape:

Tabatha vs Nikki:

The Backlash:

While watching the show, I got curious about everyone else’s reaction when one employee said they needed a death certificate to prove she was attending her grandfather’s funeral and another explained how she was told not to tell Nikki she had a child or she would be treated differently. I immediately searched Twitter and found:

Someone had already found the Facebook page, so I paid Brownes & Co. a visit. What awaited was the beginning of what would quickly evolve into hundreds of livid comments:

This was happening on Brownes & Co.’s own Facebook page! How was that possible? You only have to become a fan of a Facebook page before you can comment on it. Within hours the account, which allowed anyone to post to the wall had hundreds of new fans who only wanted to talk about how horrible Nikki was. This went on for at least twelve hours before an admin learned how to moderate comments. At one point an employee did jump into the mix, but she spoke broken English and acted defensive making the problem much worse:

The next morning, many of the Facebook comments had finally been removed and someone was now heavily moderating the page:

When I checked the search results for [brownes and co] Yelp was the only real social site ranking in the top ten, so I visited the Miami listing to see if that was taking a hit as well. It was:

It was not immediate, but Yelp did eventually get around to removing reviews from users that had not actually visited the salon. This was prompted by the Yelp community itself, which had a conversation about the show and those negative reviews. That night, Brownes & Co. had 44 reviews and two stars, today it has 23 reviews and three stars. Not much better, but at least it’s more natural.

In addition to Yelp, Facebook and Twitter, the virtual lynch mob hit sites like Citysearch and Craigslist:

The Search Results:

Watching all of this unfold was fascinating, but I was most interested in the search results. I wanted to see how things would shake out over the next 24 hours, week, month, etc. If you do a search for [brownes and co] today on Google, the suggested searches are not nearly as bad as I had projected, but the results listed for each have countless mentions of the show and Nikki:

As for the SERPs for just [brownes and co] on Google, the day of the show they looked like:

  3. POSITIVE – listing
  4. POSITIVE – Google Local Business listing
  5. POSITIVE – listing
  6. POSITIVE – listing
  7. POSITIVE – listing
  8. MIXED – and indent
  9. POSITIVE – and indent
  10. NEGATIVE –

Those results did not change much over 24 hours and even two weeks in there were still only moderate changes. It was not until January that I really saw a change in the brand-owned and negative listings. Today’s results look like:

  3. MIXED – and indent
  4. MIXED – Google Local Listing
  10. MIXED –

Lessons learned:

Monitor Your Brand. Brownes & Co. was not actively monitoring or engaged with their brand when the proverbial shit hit the fan. This could not have been a surprise, Bravo teased how horrible Nikki was for more than a week! It took 24 hours before someone tried to rescue the brand. They started monitoring their social profiles, responding to complaints and posting positive mentions like upcoming sales and specials.

The brand did not publicly address Nikki’s behavior (to my knowledge), but more competent employees than the angry Yugoslavian bunny started defending the business. They took pride in their work and were thankful for a job in this economy. That was enough to calm to the flames. Monitor your brand and jump into the conversation before it escalates.

Put Your Best Face Forward. Nikki Mallon used to have a Twitter account. That’s gone now and with good reason. Whether she actually is or not, Nikki was the villain of this situation and she proved repeatedly that she did not have empathy or respect for her employees. She should never have been its voice nor gone on public television with that attitude. Separating her from the business was necessary.

It may take years to recover from the damage done by her reputation, but there are dozens of good employees that work with Brownes & Co. who can salvage the business by simply doing good work and communicating effectively with their customers. Find that special person within your business who can effectively communicate your brand and then let them shine. Thanks for making us look awesome, Lisa!

You control your properties. Brownes & Co. already owned their Facebook page and Twitter account. You could argue that owning those social profiles invited a social reaction, but I assure you they would have gotten the reaction regardless. Having already established social profiles made it easier for them to bounce back and control their brand in the long run.

Register your domain and username, optimize your social profiles and learn how to effectively manage comments and privacy settings. If you need help with the basics, the reputation management guide is a great place to start.

You do not control review sites. No matter how badly you want a review removed, it is unlikely to happen unless that review breaks the Web site’s guidelines. In the Brownes & Co. situation, users broke several Yelp guidelines (not having first hand experience, not being relevant and personal attacks), so many of those were removed. Unfortunately, if those users had actually visited the shop there would be no recourse for removal. In those situations, you need to know how to respond to complaints, as well as, how to respond to positive reviews and when to respond publicly.

Brownes & Co. learned from their experience. Regardless of the search results, their doors are still open, which is a victory in itself!

Your Comments

  • Ross Hudgens

    Cool case study. Not much to say other than thanks for the post.

  • Rhea Drysdale

    Thank you for the thanks! :) I had fun watching things since the episode aired. Always awesome when we get IRL examples for our day jobs.

  • Rob @ ReputationDefender

    All I have to say is wow. Awesome post Rhea. Terrifically insightful, and a great example of why proactive online reputation management is so important. You’ve totally lit a fire under me to so some case study digging myself.

  • Kyle Webs

    haha, that’s funny. They shouldn’t be removing negative feedback from their pages unless it is a language issue. They need to learn to handle negative criticism and turn it into something better. If they delete it, people are going to notice and realize they don’t care about improvement. Most companies are far from perfect.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Kyle – agreed. I personally feel moderation of comments is fine, but removing every little complaint is ridiculous. Moderation should fit your guidelines, which usually only cover things that are off-topic or spammy. When they first started moderating the Facebook page, they seemed to just remove personal attacks and kept a few negatives, which quickly got buried by self-promotion. They didn’t admit wrong or grow from it, but they did “fix” the problem on a superficial level. Many companies only care about the latter, we tend to turn them away. :)

  • Susan Esparza

    Very comprehensive, Rhea. I especially enjoy that you took the time to pull out the lessons learned. Too many people skip that step in case studies.

    Also, clearly I need to add this show to my TiVo. Holy drama!

  • Frank Zimper

    Awsome analytical post!
    You clearly put a lot of effort in this. Thanks for sharing.

  • john andrews

    Nikki should capitalize on her fame. She’s clearly a unique personality, and there are plenty of small business owners receptive to the approach she takes… her employees have jobs solely to keep her from having to get one.

    She could easily sell Dan Kennedy’s books and programs, for example, if she would just stand up to all the whiners ;-)

  • Todd Heim

    Awesome post Rhea!

    I’d love to see how this effects sales. I’d guess there’s a certain boost from the “I want to go to the place I saw on TV – despite what I think of the owner” crowd, but that would certainly subside. The long term outlook, however is likely much more grim due to the negative reviews and down-votes.

    Follow up post? ;)

  • Kae Kohl

    Thank you for this. Very instructive to see the ripples from that rather large pebble. We appreciate the time you spent to lay it all out for us.

    I just spent a half hour on the phone today, reminding my sales person that a potential client would be pushing a marketing rock up hill until his business’s online reputation was addressed. With four out of eight online reviews at 2 stars or less, it’s a gnat compared to the pterodactyl you described, but it’s a costly gnat for them. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance in the near future to make that point in person. It hurts my heart to see people spend money on campaigns, fail, and not understand the reason why.

  • Rick

    Nice post. An interesting follow up post for business owners would be, what policies they should have for employee’s posting on social networks about the business.

  • Brett Pollard

    Well done, Rhea. While most small businesses won’t have the opportunity to ruin their reputations on television, you make good points regarding the response to the situation. I especially liked how you tracked the Google results over an extended time period to determine how it affected the brand.

    Merely having social media accounts isn’t enough to consider your business socially savvy. It’s nice to see a specific example of how not “getting it” can affect a business in the short term and the long-term.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      I feel so negative with this post. Maybe next time we’ll look at a positive example of “getting it” to show the brighter side of social media. Would that be fun or does everyone want to read us tearing people apart?

  • Gil Reich

    Wow, Lisa is the person in your company most capable of sending a positive image? So no truth to the rumor that not only did she win the SEMMY for best rant, they’re also going to name that award after her in the future? What do the rest of you do, eat puppies for breakfast? :-)

  • Glen Allsopp

    Similar to the first comment, Rhea — not much to say but “thanks!”.

    Clearly you put a lot into this and I thought it was great that you covered so many sources where they / Nikki were being tarnished.

    Tweeted :)

    – Glen

  • fionnd

    Great case study Rhea. Online Reputation Management has become a nightmare for small business. The absolute best way to deal with it is manage the reputation before its damaged. There is an alarming trend in fake reviews and dont get me started on the truly evil ripoffreport. The problem the small business has is time of course. Many samll business have to multi task and there is often little time there for social media and managing reviews. But its not just the small business that get caught out look at Tiger Woods.

  • Jonny

    @fionnd I agree its unfair for small business especially since they have don’t have the resources to fight back. The BBB is just as bad.

  • Josh

    Your online reputation is so big. It’s almost as big as what you actually do as a company. Whatever people think of you is pretty much what you are. Work to have a great online reputation and you won’t have to work as hard in other areas.

  • Anita Clark

    Protecting our reputation is paramount, especially for business’ that generate a bunch of online business. Very thorough and well written analysis…kudos!