reputation-repairThere’s an old saying frequently attributed to Warren Buffet that it takes years to build a strong reputation and just a moment to tear it down. We have seen this to be true time and time again.

The instantaneous communication and easy spread of news afforded by the Internet only makes this problem more pronounced. A couple of bad Yelp reviews, an ill-advised tweet, a defamatory headline or a malicious blog post are all it takes for an honorable company, celebrity or political figure to be plunged into reputational turmoil.

For those who work in PR and marketing, it is essential to know how to deal with a crisis of online reputation management. This process begins with the acknowledgement that there is no “undo” button on the Internet. When something negative or nasty is said about your client, there is nothing you can do to reel it back in, no wand you can wave to make it as though the thing never happened. What you can and should do is focus on suppressing the offending remark — whether it’s a review, a blog post or a major news story — by inundating the Web with positive, brand-enhancing content.

ORM in the Age of Google

Here we must pause to note that, for successful online reputation repair, it is imperative that you never cut corners. There was a time when it was easy and straightforward to repair an online reputation by essentially spamming Google with keyword-stuffed content, but the search engine algorithms have changed significantly in the past 12 months, and Google now works aggressively to penalize this sort of activity.

What does this mean for your online reputation repair efforts? It means that the only way to boost a client’s online image is to flood the Web with content that is positive and brand enhancing but also useful and informative. Simply launching an endless litany of keyword-stuffed articles and blog posts will result in Google penalties. Publishing newsworthy stories and genuinely engaging content about your client will add value to Google, which means it will be ranked high enough to help you suppress those negative listings and create a positive online presence for the client in question.

The Specifics of ORM

But what does this mean specifically? There are several particular strategies that can prove helpful when working to repair a client’s online image:

1. Producing blog entries that are substantive and informative can help you to amass strong Google rankings and push unwanted online reviews or defamatory posts out of the public eye. Create a blog that uses the client’s name in the URL, and produce valuable content related to the client’s industry or field of influence.

2. Social media is also important. Again, the best social media activities are the ones that add the most value to Google because these are the activities that will provide you with the highest levels of visibility. Facebook Fan Pages and Completed.com profiles are especially useful here.

3. Press releases that provide real news stories and are published via legitimate newswires are invaluable for taking greater control over a client’s online reputation. The more useful and pertinent the news, the more effective this strategy is.

Responding to Criticism

We might also address a common question regarding online reputation management, which is the question of when and how to respond directly to negative criticism. Though this may seem to fly in the face of conventional PR wisdom at first, we generally caution against issuing any kind of direct rebuttal or statement addressing a bad online listing.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that interacting with an unwanted online listing actually draws more visibility to it — and greater search engine traction. The more you engage with an unwanted article or review, the longer that article or review will linger on the first page of Google search results.

The other reason why it is generally imprudent to respond directly to unwanted online publicity is that it simply does no good; getting any particular listing removed from the Internet is close to impossible.

It’s better to focus on suppression than on cultivating the kinds of brand-enhancing content that takes control of the client’s narrative and restores the luster of that client’s online reputation.

Originally published Apr 23, 2013 1:00:30 AM, updated December 02 2014

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