Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reputation is all: Could the internet kill your company?

"For someone who's not famous, to see my name on the internet amazed me. Granted I sell multi-million dollar jets but so what?"

Rebecca Posoli-Cilli is the president of Freestream Aircraft, a private jet dealer. In a business like this a good reputation, especially online, is vital.
But misinformation on the internet nearly cost her her business.

When Ms Posoli-Cilli left her former job, before setting up the new company, her old employers were less than impressed and proceeded to sue her. She counter-sued, and the matter was settled out of court, a result she was very happy with.

She could have been forgiven for thinking that the matter was now settled.

In the brave new world of the internet, where every comment, photo and errant tweet can follow you indefinitely, things have a nasty habit of popping up again.
When prospective clients looked her up on Google, she says, details of the case popped up on that all-important first page.

"All you saw was this docket, that I'd been sued. But it didn't tell the whole story, it comes up as a black mark, but it didn't talk about the settlement."

Ms Posoli-Cilli's customers are among the wealthiest consumers in the world. They rarely appear on commercially available mailing lists, and they value their security and privacy.

So this was potentially devastating. One firm stopped doing business with her, despite a good working relationship.
Besting the bullies

Her experience is not unusual. In some cases it goes beyond misinformation, to comments that are malicious, or designed to hurt individuals or businesses. So what can you do about it?

One option is to get some help. is a company that helps businesses and individuals protect their privacy and manage their online reputation.
The Silicon Valley-based company was formed in 2006, and has customers in more than 100 countries. It won a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer Award in 2011. The venture-backed company does not release financial information, but founder Michael Fertik says the company grew 600% in just the last year.

"All of a sudden the message of being able to control some of your data was one that seemed to get some kind of response, and then it turns out that companies want it too.

"We're trying to put some of the toothpaste back in the tube, actually a lot of it, and also we're trying to prevent the rest of the toothpaste from gushing out of the tube."

In Ms Posoli-Cilli's case let the company know the suit was resolved, and helped them verify this by further searches.

Giving her a social media profile, and making sure the positives were promoted put the offending entry into context, pushing it farther down the search pages.

Ms Posoli-Cilli was hugely relieved.

"I paid a very small fee and got very, very big results."
She says that following the settlement her former employers are now amicable business rivals. And her company is going from strength to strength.
Ad break

When you sign up, the first thing is to find out what there is out there about you, including information not on the open web.

"A lot of our IP [intellectual property] is around how to find out our Fiona Graham rather than another Fiona Graham. It's a hard problem to solve, it's called an entity collision problem, it's been called the John Smith problem, I think the NSA calls it the 27 Mohammeds problem."

That done, they work on protecting your reputation - and your privacy.

There are some things they won't do. Unfavourable blog posts can't be removed, the company will not attack other people on your behalf, and they don't make anything up.

The company says they can make sure, through the use of among other things search optimisation technology, that the positives are properly promoted.
In terms of privacy, they remove you from databases and block ad networks from harvesting your data. is also behind two free tools for Facebook. Privacy defender checks privacy settings and suggest changes. encrypts anything you post on the social media site so anyone unauthorised can't see them - even Facebook.

When asked how the site is likely to react to being unable to access that data Mr Fertik says it's not clear. "There's a conversation going on".

There is also an ethical code.

"We actually won't even serve certain customers. We won't serve customers convicted of a violent crime, anyone even accused of harming a child."
Swift turnaround

Not everyone is so particular, according to Herb Tabin and Craig Agranoff, CBS News Tech Correspondents, entrepreneurs, and authors of the book Do It Yourself Online Reputation Management.

They were inspired to write the book in part because they were concerned that people who were not so internet aware were being taken advantage of.

"As the web gets more social this is only going to get more prevalent for people, as more and more information is being shared, more and more damaging information can also be shared," says Mr Agranoff.
"Most businesses don't realise that there's this entire virtual community taking place in their establishment, and they have no idea what's being said about them online.

"We felt there were so many charlatans who will slowly migrate over towards the reputation management field, and try and charge thousands of dollars a month."

They're quick to distance and Michael Fertik from the organisations they're referring to. "He's a very admirable guy in the field, he's got a good reputation.", says Mr Tabin.

So what can companies do for themselves?

Mr Tabin says it's not magic.

"In business and in life you're a brand, I think that it's important that you're proactive in the sense that you have to have info out there that you want people to see. You want to have a good part in forming your own reputation online."
He recommends keeping abreast of what people are saying, and responding quickly.

He gives the example of a restaurant that only found out that their first entry on review site Yelp was a picture of a cockroach, when someone came in and told them.

"I'm not saying go out there creating fake reviews, you actually have your customers start doing it. Explain to customers coming, could you please post something nice about us if you like the service."

The idea is that the more positive feedback there is about you, it will dilute the bad. But if you leave it till something bad happens, it could be too late.

"Especially restaurants and doctors," says Mr Agranoff, "It's too late when you botched somebody's surgery to say, oh, can you help get this stuff off me."
Both sides of the coin

Some negative comment is of course merited. But can you always trust the reviews you're reading? Some of the most well-known review sites have come under fire from both sides for offering businesses paid-for premium accounts that allow them to remove unfavourable entries.

Pushnote is a service that allows a community of users to post comments and "like" websites, using a browser plug-in that can be seen by other community members when they visit the site. Digital entrepreneur John Leaver founded the start-up in 2010.
"We felt that there were lots of unnatural restraints on comments on the web prior to Pushnote. You can't comment anywhere, when you do comment you're subject to editing from the site owners. You can't always trust the comments you're reading are genuine or unfiltered."

The site launched recently with the backing of Twitter uber-user Stephen Fry. Moderation is done by the community, with the most popular appearing highest.

"We felt that it would be great to turn the web into one big democratic comment platform, so that you remove all of these barriers so anyone could comment anywhere, it's just up to the users to rank those comments."

Despite concerns in some quarters that the service could provide a ready platform for spammers and malicious posters, Mr Leaver is confident that the way the site works means they are in a better position to deal this.

"We can track people wherever they comment around the web. Whereas for individual websites, users can jump on, make some kind of abusive comment and it's very difficult to deal with."
Permanently connected

It seems unlikely that internet usage is going to decrease - so should we all, businesses and individuals, be more concerned about our online presence?

"I think online reputation management could become the next social media term where everyone's using it, everyone's saying they're doing it."

"If I had to predict the future, I think you're going to see hackers switching into the field, because they are the only ones that are going to be able to take down any site about you, even a government website. They're going to thrive in this type of world."

His colleague Herb Tabin agrees.

"Anyone can write anything about anyone, and if they know what they're doing they can be really damaging. The most damaging thing is a person with a lot of time and a lot of hate."'s Michael Fertik says that your reputation is "everything"
"Digital reputation is now your reputation, whether you like it or not. It's now the truth about you.

"We didn't vote on that fact, it just turned out to be true. The standard of conviction in the court of the internet is just to believe it enough to not take a risk on you."

Note: This was originally published on BBC News by

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Social Media - Handling Negative or Deceitful Comments

How does one handle negative comments or outright lies being posted on social platforms across the web? This is becoming a greater and greater concern and the root problem is that social media cannot truly be "controlled".
The best defense is of course a good offense. Providing consistent company information and keeping engaged with your community can go a long way towards building and retaining loyalty even under attack.
But what happens when your brand is targeted from competitors, political or environmental groups and the negative impacts begin to take on a life of their own?
The first rule is to remain calm! Do not respond immediately, do not try to stop the discussions.
Read through all of the comments and take the necessary time to thoroughly understand the issue or issues being raised. Research within and beyond your company and gather factual, accurate information about the true situation. Honesty and accuracy are your best weapons.
Once you have all of the facts it is important to be transparent. Do not defend your brand but do offer up accurate, factual information for those who wish to learn more. You may want to create a special page on your website that includes factual information and links to other documents or public information including better business ratings, the company guide to business conduct, ethical practices statements, public financial records etc. about your company that would get the real facts circulated.

If you discover there is a partial truth contained within the lies admit any error on the part of your brand. Stress that the company wants to be responsive to their community's concerns and takes them seriously. Follow that up with what steps your company is taking to deal with the issues and remedy the situation. Keep your community informed regarding your progress.
Another option to counteract incorrect or false information about your brand is to consider providing a special phone number (hotline) community members can call for additional information.
The goal of such steps is merely to provide open, factual information and allow your community to see that your brand is committed to transparency for their constituents.
Make certain that the reputations of your employees who are responsible for social media within your company are spotless-personally and professionally. You want your brand represented by professional, ethical, honest and caring people.
Anyone that does not rise to this level of professionalism should be reassigned away from any social media activity on behalf of the company.
Always put your best face forward in social media. You do not want to provide detractors with any ammunition they can use against you.

Rely on your loyal customers and fans to help set the record straight. Know and develop strong relationships with your influencers and customers. Let them help you balance the playing field by posting related positive comments and links to information that addresses the facts of an issue. If they have a personal experience that contradicts the issue being raised encourage them to share it.
If negativity is high it may be a good time to add additional video testimonials to your site or a video that addresses current events affecting your company. This provides yet another way of providing disseminating factual information to the community indirectly without posting anything defensive on social platforms.
Some of the things you must avoid are postings that appear to be defensive - regardless of whether they are true or not.
Do not make negative comments about any company or person who posted negative comments about your brand. This begins a campaign of mud-slinging that will only further hurt your brand. It is non-productive and will not be received well by the community.
Do not pull your social media pages. Do track and use daily alerts so you can monitor comments and stay on top of the chatter. If something negative is posted, deal with it quickly (after doing your due diligence) to avoid it escalating into something big.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Manage Your Company's Online Identity

Your LinkedIn profile is diligently maintained, your blog is free of comment spam, and you tell your kids to wipe their Facebook pages clean of party photos. You work hard to maintain control of your personal online identity. But do you give the same attention to how your business is portrayed online?

The online identity, or "o-dentity," of your business can help or hinder its bottom line. Yet, too many executives fail to safeguard their company's online reputation. If you allow disgruntled customers or bloggers with a grudge to speak out unhindered about your company, rest assured your competitors will pounce on this opportunity to spread the (negative) word. Following are the five most common mistakes top executives make regarding the management of their company's o-dentity, and some advice on taking control to prevent a downward spiral.

1) Delegating o-dentity and holding steadfast to the "it's not my job" attitude. Many top executives see managing the link between CEO voice and corporate brand as something their PR and marketing firms do, along with managing a blog and the company's Twitter feed - that's why you hired them, right?

However, control of a company's online reputation can no longer be outsourced without further thought -- or worse, kicked downstairs to IT and the SEO management team. Noise from the online world is too loud, complicated, and fast-moving to delegate this task. CEOs need to proactively communicate with potential customers or investors in social media outlets such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

If you're not making a connection between your voice and views as a CEO, and your company's brand, you'll become a corporate dinosaur. Think of Steve Jobs and Apple Computer, or Jeff Bezos at Amazon, execs who truly live and breathe their brands. The presence and voice of the CEO is now more important to branding than the right logo, tagline or campaign.

2) Clinging to one-way communication with customers. In the old days (that is, before 2003 or so), you talked to your customers and they didn't talk back - or at least they didn't talk back in a way that could result in a crisis in a matter of hours. If customers were unhappy, they called customer service, their problem was solved, and the CSR rep closed the file - end of the story.

Nowadays, customer communications has morphed from a one-way street into a multi directional super highway, and CEOs who ignore this fact do so at significant peril. Top executives who are engaged with customers and online influencers on a daily basis can rectify problems before they turn into crises.

To get a handle on the dialogue surrounding your company, you need to spend time reviewing the top 10 thought-leader blogs and Twitter feeds covering your industry - don't rely on summaries from assistants or wait until they tell you about the negative buzz. You and your company should be engaged daily in two-way conversation with the top influencers in your industry, whether these are executives of other businesses or vocal customers.

Granted, this won't be an easy transition for executives who aren't comfortable with such direct (and possibly confrontational) contact with influencers - it's easier to deliver a speech and be done with it.

Nevertheless, you need to ask questions and listen to what influencers are saying. Don't talk "at" people -- talk "with" them.

3) Underestimating the power of insights from unhappy customers. Building on the last point, not all CEOs are willing to accept the fact that today the power of one voice - that is, a customer - can provide valuable insights on products and services. Before social media changed the world, a disappointed consumer could only tell a handful of other people about their experience. Today, one viral posting about lousy service (like the infamous recording of an AOL member's argument with a customer service rep) can result in thousands of social media posts or even stories in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

Learn from Dell's example of retooling customer service: After getting hammered in the blogosphere about poor response to online customer complaints, Dell created a "social media swat team" that monitored blogs for negative posts about Dell's products. The posts are routed to this team, which can then quickly respond before the negative post gains traction.

And be proactive: Don't wait for complaints to come in through the toll-free number before you do anything about them - contact unhappy customers before they can negatively influence other customers. Airlines, often roundly criticized for poor service, are getting smarter about fast response to customer problems via Twitter and other social networks. Delta Air Lines now has a special team, @DeltaAssist, that monitors Twitter for passenger complaints.

4) Believing that customers understand the difference between The Wall Street Journal and a blogger. Executives think consumers can differentiate between a respected media outlet like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times - whose staff are governed by a code of ethics, and whose lawyers ensure reportage is fair and accurate - and a blogger with a few readers who could be backed by your competition.

Today everyone with a Internet access can be a "journalist," regardless of whether they have had training and answer to a team of editors, or simply started a blog using free software. Don't assume consumers can discern the nuances of journalism - if your customers take bloggers or Twitter users seriously, then you should too.

When Sean Parker, an entrepreneur and the first president of Facebook, was concerned at how his portrayal in the movie "The Social Network" was damaging his online reputation, he didn't just sit still. He reached out to Henry Blodget, CEO of the online business publication Business Insider and a Huffington Post columnist, to tell his side of the story. Thanks to Blodget's posts, as well as tweets to his 24,000+ followers, Parker was able to present an alternate picture of his life and accomplishments.

5) Sending out inconsistent messages to external and internal audiences. Do you tell customers that you pride yourself on exemplary customer service, then fail to offer them a toll-free number for questions so they can speak with a real person? Do you proclaim your company as an innovator, yet tell your employees that you're pulling back on R&D?

You need to represent the company internally in the same way you do to your customers. Two excellent examples come to mind: Nordstrom and Gilt Groupe. Nordstrom is legendary for its in-store customer service, and has successful extended this experience to the web. Likewise, Gilt Groupe, the discount designer fashion website, projects an image of exclusivity and stellar customer service. Both embrace consistent messaging. There's no disconnect, because the image is reality.

When you make a mistake -- like shoe retailer Kenneth Cole did recently by tweeting, "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online," -- quickly apologize and communicate that the message is at odds with the company's image, both inside and out.

Cole tweeted: "I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I've dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate."

Avoiding the "don'ts" above can help you gain visibility into and control of the online dialogue surrounding your company. Remember, if you don't take charge of your o-dentity, the competition will be happy to do it for you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Max Thomas of Thunder SEO to Speak About Online Reputation Management at SMX West 2011

Search Marketing Expo has announced their keynote speakers, panelists and final agenda for its upcoming SMX West conference taking place March 8-10, 2011 in San Jose, California. Max Thomas, founder and president of ThunderSEO, based out of San Diego, California, has been selected as one of the featured panelists for the Marketing Track panel “Up Close With Google Place Pages”.

Max Thomas, Thunder’s founder and president, was early to the Web, starting his first online e-commerce venture in 1997. Since then, he has a proven track-record of developing online search marketing strategies for building audiences and sustainable revenue for clients wishing to create an Internet presence. With over 20 years direct experience across multiple market segments including e-commerce, online newspapers, health services, consumer goods and travel/leisure,Thomas has managed online and offline advertising campaigns for companies such as,,,,, Sheraton Hotels, Chemical Bank, and Bankers Trust.

Moderated by Chris Silver Smith , Director of Optimization Strategies at Key Relevance, the Marketing track session will commence on March 8 starting at 1:45p.m. and features Brian Fitzgerald, Carter Maslan and Gregg Stewart along with Max Thomas. The panel will focus on Google Place Pages and Local Search. Panelists will be discussing “controlling your own destiny” and gaining valuable search traffic on Google Maps and through local search.

This Article was originally published on