Updated: Dealing with Negative Information About You or Your Business Online

How do you deal with the problem of negative information appearing about you online, especially when it is inaccurate? For dealing with Twitter abuse, see part 2 below. A wide variety of options ans sstrategies for business are covered in part 3 below.

UPDATE:  Tips specific for Twitter for businesses:

This comes from the great “How Twitter Amplifies a Customer Attack” at paulgillin.com. If an attack appears to be forming, look for the following:
  • Trending hash tags that include your company name (most Twitter clients display the top trending tags by default; Whatthetrend.com can give you more detail);
  • Keywords that indicate high levels of emotion or that refer to serious problems that are unique to your product category;
  • Complaints directed specifically at your company (denoted by messages that begin with your company’s Twitter handle)
  • Retweets of negative messages by people who are influential in your market

Standard crisis communications rules apply to your response, with some twists that are unique to Twitter:

  • Use a consistent Twitter account to avoid confusion. It’s fine to retweet via other accounts that you own or influence.
  • Address affected parties, not spectators.
  • If the problem affects just a few people, ask them to follow you, then send a direct message with an e-mail address or phone number to resolve the issue out of public view.
  • If you know nothing about the issue being discussed, send a tweet stating that you’re looking into the problem. Then tweet follow-up information as you receive it.
  • Show empathy, but stick to the facts. Don’t debate hecklers.
  • If the problem is systemic (such as an outage or recall), create a Web page or blog post with details about the situation. Post updates there and tweet them under your account(s).
  • If there are people with large followings involved, consider tweeting updates directly to them. It’s OK to ask for a retweet.
  • For a problem affecting multiple customers, consider creating a unique hash tag for updates.
  • When the problem is resolved, tweet that.

1. How and When to Respond: A Guide

But let’s start with a great infographic, originally designed by Captain David Faggard, Chief of Emerging Technology for the U.S. Air Force, that provides a great guide for how and when to respond across all social media (also available as a PDF):

Source HT @AccordionGuy (via blog)
Officially, this is the Air Force Web Posting Response Assessment v.2
from the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Emerging Technology Division
Phone: 703-696-1158 • Email: afbluetube at gmail.com

2. Abusive Tweets and Bullying

If the negative information is only in tweets, read Twitter’s suggestions here. You also may want to check these online resources with more information on bullying:

Note that you will usually need to seek a legal or law enforcement solution before getting Twitter involved directly.

3. What Businesses Can Do:

See also “Tips specific for Twitter” at the beginning of this post.

For information critical of your business, there is a lot you can do. I’ve broken your options down into six categories:

  1. Decide whether to respond at all
  2. Be in contact with creators of negative information.
  3. Create responses that are ethical and informative, consider creative PR responses.
  4. SEO for the SERPs, forums, blogs and other relevant touch points.
  5. Target influencers.

3.1. Decide whether to respond at all

3.2. Be in contact with creators of negative information.

  • Be proactive: assign someone to monitor information. Follow the example of Comcast’s Frank Eliason.
  • Open a dialogue with the producers of negative sites. Consider at first using a third party. Find out what motivates them before attempting to address issues. Sometimes you can bring their voice “into the fold,” other times address what is motivating them without needing to address the issues as you see them to bring about a positive change.
  • Ask the creators of negative information if they would consider moving the dialogue to a different forum. You can create a non-indexed (will not show up in search engines) forum on your site to address concerns, for example.
  • Respond to individuals who have complaints. Give them expanded service, or seek to bring their voice into a feedback forum, and off of a criticism forum.
  • Get a voice in the touch points (forums, blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.) that negative results appear in—this needs to be someone’s job. Comment with clarity, patience and humor wherever the negative information appears. Link to positive responses to boost the ranking of those responses in the SERPs.

3.3. Create responses that are ethical and informative, consider creative PR responses.

  • Investigate the publicity aspects of having mixed results about your brand in the SERPs, building on the old adage “all publicity is good publicity.”
  • If appropriate to have a response of integrity, have on your site a press release, blog, whitepaper or special section with your response. Explore other touch points to put your response onto (forums, blogs, twitter, etc.).
  • If you are making changes in response to the criticisms, promote those changes directly as well as creatively. A creative response can expand virally and overwhelm negatives as other sites take up the connections.

3.4. SEO for the SERPs, forums, blogs and other relevant touch points.

  • If any of your sites rank well in the SERPs, you can use internal link structure shifts to boost the ranking of your responses both inside and outside that site.
  • If you have multiple sites or touch points, strategically increase the number of results appearing above the negative, where possible.
  • Google’s universal search strategy means that a blog or YouTube video with lesser ranking “juice” can show in the SERPs alongside a web site with higher “juice.” This means a smaller amount of SEO is required to rank, in some cases.
  • Network with your partners and with the partners of your those putting out negative for links to boost the ranking of your positive responses.
  • Utilize a PPC (pay per click ad) campaign. Beyond rebuilding your brand and getting your voice out there, this can help you find how people are finding the negative result, and use that data to improve your results in the SERPs, such as by using ad copy in meta description tags to increase the frequency of clicks on your positive information, vs. their negative information.
  • Create other touch points on the web (YouTube, Twitter, Blogs) to influence. Use internal site linking power and assistance from partners to boost the ranking of those touch points.
  • Use viral marketing to increase the number of positive results in the SERPs.
  • If negative sites are using copyrighted content inappropriately, file a DMCA request to have their site removed.
  • Create similar content that is more appropriate and SEO it to rank higher than the negative content.

3.5. Target influencers.

  • The more people you have engaged with before negatives appear, the better chance you have to tell your side of the story.
  • Use Twitter/Facebook/comment in key blogs to head off negatives with key influencers.
  • Study the strategies at “Use Twitter to get influential people to help you.”

If you want to learn more, here’s a great article on reputation management and another on company crisis management.

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