Protecting Your Brand From Online Attacks

December 1, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Reputation Management

The Wall Street Journal scared the bejesus out of me this morning. If you missed it, there was an article about The Dark Side of ‘Webtribution’ that detailed exactly how easy it is for someone to destroy your hard-earned reputation in a matter of minutes. The article told the story of a jilted ex girlfriend who sent a mass email calling her boyfriend’s new flame a home-wrecker; a wife who logged into her cheating husband’s Facebook account to air all their dirty laundry while pretending to be him; and another female who took to her blog to embarrass her newly-engaged ex-boyfriend. [God, girls are bitches, eh?]

The article says it’s the ‘online disinhibition effect’ that’s to blame for people acting badly on the Internet. When it goes toxic, it turns normally mild-mannered folks into an angry mob capable of doing and saying things they’d never commit to in real life. And if you’re a business owner, you know this. Thanks to social media, you now live in fear of what an angry Yelper, Twitterer or blogger may say about your brand. But you shouldn’t. Instead, you should be taking proactive steps to protect yourself.

We offer a full-fledged (and free) online reputation management guide to help business owners protect and repair their online reputations. But here are some proactive steps you can take today to help lessen your chance for ultimate brand disaster.

Step 1: Work on claiming your SERP

When you own your SERPs it puts you in a much better position to defend against possible brand attacks. Make sure you’re running some good defense by claiming and building out your vanity domain name, and taking steps to build and protect your brand. Do this by spending time creating media that will rank, registering your social media accounts (even if you don’t plan to actively promote them), rocking the guestblogging, speaking where you can, etc. For most businesses, it’s not going to take an enormous amount of effort to dominate your Google 10, you just have to go through the proper hoops. I mean, steps. You have to go through the proper steps to solidify your presence. Exactly.

Step 2: Ramp up your customer service

Don’t be Comcast. Don’t enter social media, say all the right things…and then leave me waiting 22 days for cable hookup. That’s not cool and it hands people a bat to beat you with. Go back to being human. If you know you can solve a customer’s problem, just do it. Don’t make them run in circles before you get out of your chair. Treat your customers and clients better than they expect to be treated and you’re far less likely to create the jilted customer who wants to blog about what a jerk you are. Successful social media and ORM campaigns have always been rooted in good customer service. I wish it was more complicated, but it’s not. Just be fair to people. That’s all their asking for.

[Justin Kownacki advises brands to watch out for the fallacy of social media customer service and makes a lot of great points. While it’s very true that 140 characters of hate does not entitle you to a pony, any interaction with your company should entitle them to be treated like a human. There’s a difference.]

Step 3: Build your listening station

Do not underestimate the value of a good listening station. Knowing what customers are saying is a great way to calm down angry people before they take to the streets to air their grievances. If someone’s getting loud on Twitter because you didn’t give them a light bulb with their newly purchased light or you make it harder than it needs to be to unsubscribe from something – get in that conversation. Chances are they’re not going to calm down on their own. It may seem like a trivial issue to you, but it’s not to your customers.

Free tools like Google Alerts, Google Reader, Twitter Search, and Social Mention make it really easy for people to stay in the loop and casually ‘overhear’ what people are saying about them. It’s also really important in helping you to manage customer reviews, as well. Your listening station and good customer service are the two most important tools you have in fighting off brand attacks. If you can reach out to someone who left a negative review that’s ranking in the SERPs, it’s very often worth your time to reach out – especially when they update it to mention the great new interaction they just had with you. But you can’t put out fires you don’t know exist.

Step 4: Learn when to duck and when to punch

When your ex-girlfriend emails your social circle and accuses you of cheating on her, that’s bad. However, when a customer or competitor uses their blog to call you out…it’s not always bad. It may give you a forum to address a larger problem or maybe it’s just giving folks a reason to talk about you and build brand awareness. Learn how to use negative press and how to tactfully bring the conversation over to your house. Sometimes there’s a clever way to capitalize on the attention. And sometimes you simply need to just say something so that the Internet moves on and stops talking about you. Learn the difference.

The article that ran in the Wall Street Journal was a little frightening. It makes it seem like it’s the loud people who are in control of the Internet. But that’s not necessarily true. While you can’t control every conversation people are having about you, you can impact your part in it. And often, that’s enough to keep both you and your brand safe from angry customers, jealous competitors and even crazy girls everywhere (holla!).

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