How to manage your reputation online (4 of 4)

Responding to critical posts

People are posting very unpleasant things about you in social media. What can you do about it?

You have prepared well. You have registered all the necessary social media accounts. You have built up a strong online profile. And now your efficient social listening process has uncovered some unpleasantly critical comments.

But those unpleasant comments are showing up right at the top of Google’s  results when you search for your name. You need to take action.

Now, if the comments are untrue (as opposed to opinion) then you may have some legal redress: although that is expensive and sometimes self defeating if it casts you, or your organisation, in the role of a bully.

So if you don’t want to go down the legal route, or if the critical   comments are true (I am sure they are not!) what else can you do?

The first thing to accept is that you probably won’t be able to get rid of the comments completely. What’s on the web remains on the web. Even if you can somehow get the original source taken down, the chance is that the comments have been repeated somewhere.

Your strategy is to make the comments less prominent. And this means making sure they don’t feature in the first 4 or 5 search results and ideally taking them off the first page of Google’s search results: results here get 94% of clicks with only 6% on the second page and almost nothing on the third page.

Engage

So how are you going to do that? The first step, if the criticisms are justified, is to engage with your critics. Disarm the criticism by apologising for whatever you have done wrong and explain what you are planning to do about it; remember to take any discussion with critics offline if you possibly can. The intention here is to limit the damage so that further criticisms are not posted.

Try to take the links down

The next step is to try to get rid of the information or the links to it.

  • Ask for the page to be taken down by approaching the webmaster and explaining why the comments are unfair (OK this probably isn’t going to work unless the comments are libellous, but it is worth a try)
  • Ask Google to take the links down. As a rule they won’t unless the links lead to a page with highly sensitive personal information such as a signature, credit card number or a social security number. However, for European websites they are now bound to go further and take down links to content that is “irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate”. At the moment it is Google’s call whether to take the links down; there is no guarantee that they will and in any case as things stand at the moment the links will still be there on non-European versions of Google

Make sure your own pages rank higher

If that doesn’t work (and it may well not) then your next move is to try to ensure your own pages rank more highly than the critical comments you are unhappy with:

  1. Review your web assets and web profile: Do you have all the large social media accounts you could have? Do you have your own YouTube channel and a  Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter profile and have you optimised them, for instance making sure you have “vanity URLs” which contain your name rather than a long number?  And are your web site pages sufficiently rapid and mobile friendly?
  2. Analyse why those unwanted links are ranking well: if it is because lots of sites are linking to those pages you may be able to ask the owners of the linking pages to take down the links, or to give you a link as well. Some people recommend aggressively targetting the sites that are ranking well using “reverse SEO” techniques such as buying lots of dodgy links to them from link farms in the hope that Google will penalise them. I wouldn’t recommend it: there are no guarantees and you may make things worse (besides this isn’t ethical behaviour especially if your critics have a point)
  3. Analyse the words that the unwanted sites are using about you. Say it is “customer service”: you need to put a positive spin on this by developing new positive content around the key phrase “customer service”: This could be a white paper; blog posts; comments in media sites relating to customer service; you could also develop social media pages that contain your name and the key phrase; and you might even want to buy some new URLs with the along the lines of JohnSmithCustomerService.com and develop appropriate content for them
  4. Freshen up your own web pages with new content so Google is likely to rank them more highly: the more popular the content, the higher they will rank. Start adding a new piece of content a couple of times a week at least. Get more active on sites like LinkedIn – changing your profile, posting updates and entering into discussions within Groups
  5. Develop content for social bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicious and Squidoo: It needs to be new content, not a duplicate of articles published elsewhere but that shouldn’t be difficult if you think “lists”: favourite restaurants, books, flowers, dogs, capital cities, flags…the opportunities are literally endless
  6. Upweight your PR activities: seek to get quoted in the press
  7. Upweight your SEO activities: focus on building more back links from high quality sites through social bookmarking, article submission, guest posts, and comments on other people’s blogs and articles
  8. Identify your friends (happy clients etc) and ask them to engage with all your social media profiles, following you and sharing your content with their followers. Start to write testimonials for suppliers and customers and make sure they include the words you identified in point 3
  9. Look for other ways to get mentioned on line: Register a company in your name. Join a service that will list you as an expert such as nonexecutivedirector.com, opentoexport.com or liveperson.com. If you can afford it, pay to be a speaker at a large conference as these often rank very well
  10. Self publish: take advantage of Amazon’s search profile buy publishing an ebook and an audio book on the site

None of this is free: but then having your name appear below pages that are critical of you isn’t exactly free either!

And sadly none of this is guaranteed to work every time. If you have been caught out doing something unsavoury, and if the public or the press create a social media crisis for you, then there is little you can do to reduce your exposure on search engines. But if you are just trying to down-weight some criticism or reduce the prominence of an unfavourable stories, then taking the steps I have outlined should help.

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