As the old saying goes, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” But in the age of the Internet, almost all of the people have a forum where, when they’re not pleased, they can complain loudly and proudly. Whether it’s one cranky blogger denouncing your company because of its complicated instruction manuals or a concerted online movement smearing your company’s good name, as a PR pro, you need to be ready to handle online reputation attacks.
1.) Establish a Strong Presence from the Beginning – There are many reasons to buy a domain name, build a useful, informative website and make sure your site is search engine optimized, and handling online attacks is just one of them. What would you rather a potential customer see first when they run your name through a search engine? Your company website or an angry entry on Yelp denouncing some aspect of your company?
2.) Listen – Sometimes you will nip the situation in the bud by simply listening to the customer’s complaint. Perhaps a customer complained on Twitter that your customer service agent treated her rudely. Instead of allowing her to stew over the slight, answer her immediately. Resolving her problem quickly and professionally could stop her from taking the complaint elsewhere on the Internet or escalating her grievance.
3.) Know How to Assess Threats – One griping tweet will hardly break a company’s reputation. Even if you ignore it, it will probably disappear into the Internet’s constant stream of conversation relatively soon. (But remember – the Internet is forever!) On the other hand, what if others begin to answer that single Tweet with “Yeah, I’ve had problems with that company, too!” Or what if complaints are cropping up all over the Internet? If complaints are loud and long, there may be something fundamentally wrong with the company and this is your chance to listen and fix it. On the other hand, if the criticisms are unwarranted, this is your chance to respond and clarify the situation.
4.) Call in the Troops – When facing a large-scale online reputation attack, don’t go it alone. Call in company leaders and your legal counsel. If the situation escalates to legal action, such as a lawsuit or product recall, anything you say on the Internet can leave your company liable for damages or stiff fines. (Remember once again – the Internet is forever!)
5.) Respond on Your Turf – This is another appropriate response if the attack is on a large scale. While there’s no way you can respond to every complaining blogger, Twitter user, and Yelper, you can issue a statement regarding the attacks on your own company website. This will clarify your position and allow your attackers to see your side of the story.
6.) Ignore Unwarranted Flames – Sometimes flames truly come out of left field. Perhaps a blogger, who also happens to claim he’s married to a little green alien, has decided to make your company his personal scapegoat. We all know stranger things have happened. When dealing with this type of irrational attack, the best plan of action is generally to simply ignore the complaint. Again, without acknowledgement, this one lone voice of dissent will gradually wash away in the Internet’s stream of conversation.
The upside of the Internet is that everyone with Internet access now has a forum to advertise their businesses, share their philosophies, or voice their complaints. For companies caught in the crosshairs of a reputation attacks, that is also the downside of the Internet. If an attack should commence, following these six simple steps will help you respond appropriately.
This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download a free copy of the PR Checklist – a 24 point list of Press Release Dos and Don’ts here: http://www.ereleases.com/prchecklist.html