Tips For Online Reputation Repair

March 17, 2009

headinhandOnline reputations are becoming increasingly important and difficult to manage. As a result companies that were doing traditional branding are now compelled to change their approach and embrace new online tactics.

Companies that are serious about the perception of their brand should be prepared to include a reputation management campaign in their marketing plan.

Individuals who are concerned with their online reputation should be more conscious of what type of information they post online. On a small scale individuals can be proactive in promoting their own positive content.

For both companies and individuals, a professional reputation management company should be used to take control if the situation gets out of hand. Skilled reputation management companies are experienced in quick reputation repair which will limit the amount and extent of negative information exposure.

We specialize in online and search engine reputation management, offering a wide variety of custom solutions to repair, defend, and monitor corporate and personal reputations. With combined knowledge in search engine optimization, HTML, public relations, PPC, adwords, social media, copywriting, and software tools, our approach to branding delivers successful results for clients who are in need of best-in-class online reputation management.

Our main main goal is to drive negative results out of the search engines. The visibility of the negative information is then drastically decreased. We take a multi-step approach to online reputation management. For example, one step is to monitor online conversation and determine the sources of negative or unwanted information. The next step would involve promoting positive or neutral information while decreasing the visibility of negative information. Each client is unique and due the sensitivity of many of the situations our clients come to us with, we typically handle each project differently by deploying a customized solution.

Dealing with and repairing a bad online reputation isn’t easy. However, starting with some of the suggestions below, you can get a jump start on repairing your reputation. These suggestions are geared toward replacing negative information with positive information on search engine results.

Some Tips for Reputation Repair

Create Social Networking Profiles – Social networks like Naymz, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Squidoo, and Digg are a great place to start. Typically these work best for less common names. If your name is common, like “John Smith”, you will need to get more creative in how these profiles are used.

Write and Syndicate Articles – Most sites would love to have quality unique content available to them. Solicit the websites of a topic you are knowledgeable in and offer them unique and relevant articles in exchange for a bio on their website, to appear with the article. You can also ask them to link the article to a personal or corporate website.

Own Your .com, .net, and .org Domain Name – Buy any variation of domain names with your name in them. For example, JohnSmith.com, JohnSmithBlog.com, etc. Write a few pages about yourself for the website and soon this site could appear for searches related to your name. For companies, be sure to own all website variations for your company name and product names. You do not need to post pages on each domain name, but owning them ensures that no one else can purchase them with the purpose of slandering you or your company. By the way, this would include YourCompanyDomainNamesucks.com.

Contribute to Consumer Generated Websites – Contribute to forums, consumer review websites, and other places on which you have the opportunity to post content and create occurrences of your name online. Be sure to use your real name when registering and contributing to these websites. Blog comments on Blog websites are another avenue for your name to appear online.

Press Releases – Press releases are an easy way to publish a page of content about yourself or your company online. There are press release syndication websites that allow you to publish your press release at no cost. Try to make press releases interesting and useful for the best results.

Public Speaking – Speaking at industry events or local events can give you the positive reputation boost that you are looking for. You will most likely be featured on the event website, and you can also post the event on your own website and Blog or publish a press release to announce the event. These presentations should be recorded, digitized, and then be available for podcast distribution as well.

When negative information appears online it affects the way you or your company are perceived in the public eye. In fact, in a recent study (Creative Group), it was found that 7 out of 10 searchers do not make a purchase if the search they perform contains negative listings. This shows how much of an effect negative search engine listings can have on a person or company. Your reputation is a key factor in personal and business relationships. Both companies and individuals should be aware of the type of results that are appearing in search engines and how it is affecting their business or personal life.

An important point to note is that not all negative information is limited to standard search engines. Blog search engines, video sites like YouTube, social news such as Digg can be affected as well.

As you can see just from reading these simple techniques — there are many more — there is a definite need for professional, experienced help in online reputation management. There are many reasons a person or company should chose to enlist the help of a skilled online reputation management company. Some of the techniques used to combat negative information require technical or strategic expertise while other situations may be sensitive and should be handled with extreme care and knowledge to insure a long-term solution acceptable to the search engines. No “black-hat”, no footprints.

In addition, monitoring and defending an online reputation is time consuming. For an individual or a small company it can be a part time job while, for a large company, it can be a full time job that may require a dedicated team.

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Reputation 2009 – There Will Be Blood

October 20, 2008

I believe our online reputation management business is going to get better in the future. The country is currently already inundated with CEO heads rolling, SEC investigations, banking irregularities and more investigations, ninja loans, sub-prime slime, government’s failure at properly regulating the GSE’s, mortgage fraud, medicare fraud, credit card fraud, credit card repair fraud, car dealership misrepresentations, and the list goes on. There are always the proverbial celebrities, business brands and sport’s figures being tarnished, fairly or unfairly, but I am predicting a new wave of FTC investigations into the business practices of certain Internet marketing gurus peddling what the government will call “get-rich-quick” schemes, their code for scamming the public.

I don’t know about you, but lately, some of these so-called “experts”, and yes, some of them are that indeed – which makes them even a more likely target because of their high profiles – have been filling the inboxes of hundreds of thousands of consumers daily with high-priced programs promising huge profits anywhere from minutes to 60 days from the purchase. All these emails and ‘squeeze pages’ are beginning to look and sound alike, almost mirroring each other in style and substance with some minor twists and power headlines: maybe the guy who was a drunk or drug addict two years ago before discovering his online secret to now banking millions of dollars, or the out-of-work employee who was desperate and losing his home and cars before getting into his or her online marketing program, or reincarnations of the old Yellowbook and local online mall concepts we saw years ago, info products and ebooks, and on and on.

First we link to a video, hear the backstory, then we see the Clickbank or PayPal accounts with hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits, read all the testimonials, hear about the once-in-a-lifetime bonuses, and then we’re taken to the buy NOW button (that “may not be there again if we dare even refresh the page”). How about all those online teleseminars and videos recycling programs of years ago? I don’t know how these buyers have the time to keep up with all this. They can’t be holding full-time jobs, and I suppose that’s exactly what makes them so vulnerable.

Any idea how many failures this will produce causing frustrated buyers to point fingers at the sellers to rationalize why they failed and lost their investments, some of them quite substantial dollars. Yes, of course today, there are many more millions of people online globally than a decade ago, but my fear is that some of these gurus, who have done brilliant work and are to be truly congratulated for their successes, are letting hubris (and greed in some cases) set in and are dropping their guard in the over-the-top, grey-area ‘puffery’ being used to solicit these more vulnerable and desperate potential pool of buyers, mostly newbies, who are making quick emotional decisions before really doing their homework. Much like the mortgage and Wall Street peddlers that got us into today’s financial mess. These programs use psychological triggers driving the consumer to the purchase by appearing to limit the number of buyers and creating a certain exclusivity – actually a feature touted as a training technique being passed on to these buyers who are just not properly screened as to their ability to actually succeed with these programs.

How many times in the last 60 days have you heard the ‘teach the fish story’, or some version of that? Getting the picture?

Here’s the problem, and why ReputationDr will be looking forward to more online reputation management business. Many of these programs are really “business opportunities” in the true legal description of certain state law and the FTC Act relating to deceptive trade practices designed to protect consumers, but are operating under the radar screen of these state and federal business opportunity laws as if just “product sales”. This will not hold up if a complaint is brought by the government. Oh, by the way, in case you haven’t heard, the federal government is out of money. Agencies that will not receive any government cutbacks, I promise you, are agencies that have the ability to bring revenue into the treasury, such as the IRS, SEC, CFTC, and yes, the FTC.

The latter employs approximately 500 attorneys, a group of which just love to target the companies and individuals they believe they can roll over due to the high cost of litigation and, thereby, put a few success notches in their belt. There is no relationship between what the government will spend in relation to the final judgment they will secure. I have read many stories of them traveling in two’s to dozens of cities, after issuing subpoenas, to take depositions of all the buyers and spread fear into a seller’s customer base. Oh, and by the way Mr. Internet Guru, do not be surprised if some day in the future you find out that one of your purchasers is, in actuality, an FTC mole operating with an alias name, alias address, phone numbers and credit cards. You won’t know until you been served and read the transcripts of all the telephone calls that have been recorded, emails that have been exchanged, marketing materials that you have used, thousands of pages, really. No, sorry, the feds do not need to inform you that the telephone calls are being recorded when they are investigating you and preparing to identify you as a “target”. This could take them six months to a year, they are a patient bunch. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, as the expression says.

 Listed below are some general criteria that, if not adhered to by the sellers, may put up a red flag for them AND the buyers:

  1. A “business opportunity” involves the sale or lease of any product, service, equipment and so on that will enable the purchaser-licensee to begin a business.
  2. The licenser or seller of a “business opportunity” declares that it will secure or assist the buyer in finding a suitable location or provide the product to the purchaser-licensee.
  3. The licenser-seller guarantees an income greater than or equal to the price the licensee-buyer pays for the product when it’s resold and that there’s a market present for the product or service.
  4. The initial fee paid to the seller to start the business opportunity is more than $500.
  5. The licenser-seller promises to buy back any product purchased by the licensee-buyer in the event it can’t be sold to prospective customers of the business.
  6. Any products or services developed by the seller-licenser will be purchased by the licensee-buyer.
  7. The licenser-seller of the business opportunity will supply a sales or marketing program for the licensee-buyer that many times will include the use of a trade name or trademark.
  8. Any reference to “earnings projections” for the buyer, either orally, in emails, or in marketing materials.  

This is a short list, and any one of these points is enough for the government to make its allegations, let alone just one strong consumer complaint. I’m not even going to get into compensation and mark-up issues here, but these, too, are favorite FTC arguments as they make for very lively pleadings stripping away empathy for multi-millionaire defendants when presented to a jury of your “peers”.

Our research seems to indicate that when they do bring a case, not only will one’s reputation be irreparably damaged, but they should be prepared to disgorge to a redress fund, and the treasury, anywhere from five to thirty percent of their revenue in a final settlement IF one goes all the way through the legal process by deciding to vigorously defend themselves and go to trial in order to reach a final court ordered verdict. Most small businesses cannot afford the time – typically two years from filing – the distraction, the stress, and most importantly, the financial resources to prove the FTC targeted the wrong defendant(s). You could be talking a Million Dollars in legal fees and costs. The government knows this, so once they have the seller somewhat convinced that their chances of a complete victory are rather slim – remember, they are patient, so they will “pile on” first and take their time, maybe start by filing an exparte TRO freezing one’s assets before taking depositions and interrogatories – the sellers may not be offered a pre-trial settlement right away. It will come — the government victory is important to the assigned attorneys – but it will come at a very high cost in dollars and reputation.

So, to the point of my original thesis of this blog message: the online reputation management business is likely to grow dramatically because of the daily over-saturation of these online marketing pitches from those who need to pay closer attention to their trade practices and not let their past successes go to their heads, especially in the vulnerable times in which we find ourselves today.

So, how to always maintain a good online reputation?

First, of course, the obvious. Always treat the consumer fairly and ethically. This goes beyond offering money-back guarantees if not satisfied with the purchase. It means ongoing support and answering questions in a timely manner. Being transparent and truthful at all times. Know the difference between “shills” and references or recommendations.

Next, if you are a seller of a “kit”, “business-in-a-box”, training program, etc., costing more than $500, and you are maintaining an ongoing relationship with the buyer, I would strongly urge that ALL your marketing messages and materials be first reviewed by an attorney who is familiar with federal and state business opportunity laws. You may not be a “franchise”, although I have heard the words “business opportunity” and “licensing” used very loosely, but if you happen to fall within the ambit of FTC franchise and business opportunity rules, you could potentially have a problem if your advertising documents or legal structure has not already taken this into account. Also, if you don’t know, ask your lawyer if he or she knows what a state AIN is. If they don’t, you need another attorney.

Above all, your good name and integrity is truly your most valuable asset. Protect it, value it, and don’t allow a misstep in judgment, or, worse, a competitor or complainant, destroy it because you failed to implement sound preventative measures. If not, we’ll be hearing from you!

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Were You Bad (Cool) or Good (Uncool) In College?

October 2, 2008
Student Profile Search ResultStudent Profile Search Result
Random results for “Student Profile” search term found on MySpace or Facebook

How does your past behavior in college affect your job prospects relative to your online reputation? Let’s face it: the job market is very tough today and, typically, many, if not most, individuals change jobs more often in their careers than ever before. I have seen statistics that indicate it is not at all unusual to see today’s workers change employers six or more times in less than twenty years. Years ago the HR wonks and hiring executives would look at this in the interviewing process to determine whether or not this person was “unstable”, unable to even hold down a job, and dig deeper into their social lifestyle to perhaps discover some “problems”, real or imagined. I am probably guilty of having done this myself years ago with such a resume and candidate in front of me.

But wait! Speaking of “social lifestyle“, with the tools available today to that prospective employer not available as little as five years ago, “you better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why: MySpace/Facebook has come to town.”

We have recently had the opportunity of working with some late Generation X-er’s and early Generation-Y’s who have been shut down on some recent job interviews or resume submissions. They were great candidates, clearly qualified for the positions they sought. After getting blown out, these individuals spent some time doing deep searches of their own names, and guess what? The search engine results surprised them, but you know what happened: yes, today, they are great parents, well educated employees, community participants, maybe struggling a bit with desire for more income or debt reduction, hence, seeking the new opportunities, but they were JERKS in college. Just STUPID. Wait! Let me take that back a little and restate it so I do not appear so harsh. They exercised very poor judgement for whatever the reason may have been. Often they just had a need to appear “cool” to their peers and in their immaturitythe major culprit— were not capable of foresight and how their actions and behavior could possibly affect their future.

Okay, granted, we have all done stupid things in college, but twenty plus years ago, if you told me I would be carrying a telephone in my pocket the size of a playing card cabable of world-wide calls and viewing almost all the known information in the world, I’m sure I would have dismissed you and urged you find a new hobby other than science-fiction. Hence, in today’s new paradigm, we must be cognizant of this public dissemination and adjust our behavior accordingly.

So, when those old offline college chronicles were published and distributed on campus, or in the community, who would have thought those publications would be archived and converted to digital format for page upload to the World Wide Web? What if the article was negative: you got suspended; caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; arrested? And, pow, even if it is a decade old, or more, there it is on page ONE of the major search engines as a search result for your name. Bye, bye new job. Want to compute what this damage to your online reputation may be costing you? Many thousands, and more, between now and your hoped for retirement, so I’m not going to do the math for you to see because it is very disheartening.

So some of these “cool” ex-collegiates seem to now be searching for something new: online reputation management. Of course, all the work we do, the clients with whom we work, and the techniques we use must be confidential, for obvious reasons. However, we just completed a campaign whereby in less than thirty (30) days we were successful in removing 1999 negative web pages for our client from Google (and other SE’s) and replace them with all positive, informative web sites, positive buzz, and total reputation repair. An online search for this individual today will reveal a highly desireable candidate for any employer. And you know what? The client really deserves only the best! A terrific knowledgeable person, a wonderful family, and deserving of a great future. Just made that one mistake so many years ago. Yeah, real “cool“, right?

The point of this message is that whether this sounds familar to you as an adult now part of the working population, an entrepreneur seemingly being held back from getting your deals done or business growing, OR a collegiate who happens to be reading this blog, take this conversation very seriously and think smartly about the content and/or images you are posting to your social media Web 2.0 sites. They will be there forever! Would you want your chidren or potential future employers to see this content five, ten or twenty years from now? Did you exercise good judgment, a critical trait for employers, even more keen if you are in a professional endeavor. Or how about if seeking a political position? (heh-heh)

The images at the top of this page were easily found and publicly available…I have no idea who these people are and certainly do not seek to draw attention to them, only the important issue under discussion. And these are mild pictures…imagine what the “private” posts contain. Beware: “private” posts may NOT be private, the content and images could remain on those servers forever, or saved by others, and when you least expect it, or even remember them, “whoops” there they are!

Oh, by the way, it wouldn’t hurt to use these same rules on YouTube.


Online Reputation Management

September 26, 2008

Are you being attacked, boycotted, or flamed in cyberspace? Need  to remove negative web pages? Generally speaking, litigation, threatened or otherwise, is not the answer to removing negative web pages. Anyone who goes to the trouble of building or reporting complainant websites is likely dedicated to the destruction of your reputation and not likely to give you the time of day. One concept in removing negative web pages is creating counter-attack sites that give your point of view and provide platforms for positive spin that will achieve rapid top page placement in search engine results. For example, rather than focus on removing negative web pages, a long-term proposition, one strategy would be to activate a PPC campaign, which will bring immediate results.

So, how do you remove negative web pages? First, begin by registering new domain and sub-domain names which will contain positive content about you or your company. When properly spidered, these pages will distribute positive communications that will displace the negative web pages and postings from search engine results.

Second, participate in professional social network sites, such as LinkedIn. Share common interests and information with participants who can add endorsements that become visible amongst members and influence search results. There are many ‘secrets’ and ‘back door’ sites known by ORM experts for creating high page rank backlinks for quickly indexing your site on Google for top page placement. Again, the idea initially is not removing negative web pages, but pushing them down to page 3, 4, and so on. The good news is most users rarely look beyond page one of the major search engines. (Be sure to monitor these social networking sites!)

Next, make sure that your corporate site is fully search engine optimized and appears at the top of results lists for your name and brand. If you have more than one site, the same attention should be given to all your sister sites and corporate blogs. Also, be sure to encourage your employees to blog. They are on your side and these blogs can also be search engine optimized.

These are just a few techniques and strategies for removing negative web pages.

http://www.reputationdr.com/reputation_tips_tricks.html