Reputation on the Front Lines

By Dave McAnally, Natural Search Supervisor, Content Solutions

We all need to protect the integrity and reputation of our brands. If you are a company of any reasonable reach, you have had to deal with some bad press (and if you haven’t, you will…sure as you’re born in these times of woe and want). Typically companies engage their PR firms for damage control, issuing press releases with a POV that portrays said company in a positive light given the controversy. Unfortunately, try as you might, you can’t suppress every single article that comes up on page one in Google. The Washington Post, CNN, or any number of highly trusted authoritative sites can run a story that consistently appears when one searches on “Brand” or “Brand and really bad thing that may or may not be true”. Panic ensues, midnight oil is burned, fists are pounded on desks, pacing commences etc etc. etc.

Well unfortunately, I can’t provide you with a turnkey solution that makes bad (and in many cases inaccurate) press go away. To my knowledge, nobody gets to say “Google, we really don’t like how the Washington Post tells people who search on our brand that we kill kittens and think Old Yeller had it coming. Since it’s not exactly true, could you please make that go away?” with any iota of success. Slander and legal issues are another story, but you really need to be going to the source on that one. Were Google to operate in such a fashion, not only would it severely compromise the algorithmic integrity of the results (thus diluting the quality), but that’d be all the quality control people do all day long!

I do, however, have some suggestions for how to minimize the impact of this publicity and meet it head on. Some of these may seem obvious, some not so much, but all are things any brand concerned about their reputation should engage:

  1. Monitor your brand with Technorati, Google News Alerts and Twitter , Digg and like-minded social media – You did set up that news alert for your brand right? Twitter and Technorati are rife with early adopters, ergo if something is going to break, you’ll hear about it here pretty quickly. This is rep management 101, but don’t wait until you’ve got a crisis on your hands to decide it’s a good practice. If you’re hearing about it from your customers, it’s too late.
  2. Make sure your press releases address your brand/product AND the issue in the title – We’ll just go ahead and assume you’ve already got a press release ready. It is crucial the title of that press release matches the type of query somebody may put in. So instead of “Talks of Killing Kittens Greatly Exaggerated” say “Brand Y does not kill Kittens, rumors based on false positive testing”. You may not outrank a huge authoritative site in the SERPs, but at least your messaging is consistent with the type query that would engender a result where this press release needs to appear. You may even detract clicks from the negative press if your title is boldfaced because the keywords align with the things people are searching on.
  3. Use buzz to assess the breadth of the damage – Google Insights for Search and Yahoo Buzz are great tools for assessing how big of a catastrophe you’ve got on your hands (forgive my generic non-descriptive example, but you get the idea). This is great way to understand what engines perceive to be ‘newsworthy’. A mass of ‘rising searches’ around a particular subject could indicate that engines will be showing articles relating to that nature for some time (and obviously -it shows you how people are searching, so you know whether or not the issue is on peoples’ minds). Bad press is prone to causing knee jerk reactions and panic (as anyone who’s been in the fray knows). While sometimes that is warranted, it can really help soothe nerves to have the facts on hand. Plus, thanks to how results are displayed in these buzz tools, we are able to get right to the root of the issue. In those cases, corrections, comments and replies can be used to further diffuse the situation.
  4. Don’t stop with one press release – That press release your agency released and sent to PRweb is great, but more often than not, you really can’t rely on a single PR to diffuse a fire. Now that doesn’t mean that you should carpet bomb the internet with your ponderings on the issue. But sometimes your very reaction can create negative press (depending on the situation). If this is a widespread issue, and Google Trends is telling me that my brand and its propensity to kill kittens is the hottest single issue around my brand, I better plan on being written off as dismissive by the most ardent detractors if I just produce a single refuting press release. That can make matters even worse! Rather, this calls for follow-up, statistics, cited sources, maybe even video press showing the lack of kitten killing in my factory. Don’t be afraid to try different angles to the issue. Eventually, a press release that provides a convincing and unique POV on the issue could be picked up by the AP and the Washington Post will run your story instead of your detractors.
  5. Align your paid campaigns accordingly – Obviously, a well thought-out paid campaign is the quickest way to get out in front of an issue. Generally, the negative keywords associated with the press aren’t going to be bid up very high. On that note though…make sure you land people on the right article!! Now is the time to get those queries to your POV on the issue. Don’t sidestep it by landing them on an irrelevant landing page (or worse yet, the homepage).
  6. Don’t bury your press release(s) on your website – If I write a great press release on how my factory doesn’t kill kittens, and it is buried in a press release section somewhere on the site, I’m missing out on a ton of opportunity to take advantage of the internal linking power of my site. There are a ton of articles about pagerank sculpting, which I won’t get into, but suffice to say, that press release needs to be linked from my homepage with DESCRIPTIVE text on the matter (verses ‘click here’ or ‘learn more’) if I want to give it as much of a chance as I can to rank in search engines. Now is not the time to try to suppress the issue (which lends fodder to a subset of negative press in and of itself). Your homepage is (usually) your strongest asset for internal linking. Don’t ignore it!

Obviously there are many more ways of handling bad press, but these are just some easy ways to get out in front of things quickly. Bad press is part and partial to being in business for most companies and so it’s an issue we all have to deal with from time to time. With the social nature of the web, things spread a lot faster than they used to, but the upshot is that we can use buzz tools and so forth to keep our thumb on the pulse of our detractors.

NOTICE: No kittens were killed during the crafting of this post and the author cried at the end of Old Yeller just like everyone in Stripes


Aaron Goldman said...

Great post, D-Mac. There is one other way to deal with reputation management issues -- offer to pay off the sites with negative content and high natural search rankings. Check out this post for how one Cash4Gold (which just bought an ad in the Super Bowl) went about doing this.

Dave McAnally said...

Hahaha I saw that too...actually passed around to the SEO brethren in the fort.

The best part is that clearly it is working with some of those consumer advocacy sites.

Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.