Protecting your rep and cred on the web

How to protect your rep and cred on the web? That was the question that arrived in an email a couple of weeks ago. 

This poor guy was being smeared by some folks who were apparently upset he had evicted them from their free space at his shop because he’d caught them stealing. They started saying bad things about his business and accusing him of being a pedophile. Unfortunately, they knew how to get their results high in the Google rankings so his family and customers could see the smears. He called Google, but Mountain View couldn’t be bothered and so was at wits end. I referred him over to a firm that actually wrote the book on how to deal with this problem.   

I later shared this experience on TWiT during the Cranky Geeks reunion and received a ton of mail from watchers asking for the name of the firm because they either had or knew someone that was having a similar issue.  

The problem could be sourced from an ex-spouse (common), renter, co-worker, ex-employee, pissed off neighbor, kid who hates your kid or just a nut and often the poor victims couldn’t even be sure who was destroying their reputation on the web.  While the book is an easy 45 page read I thought I’d summarize some of the big takeaways this week because this could happen to you as it clearly happened to me a few years back. 

Ripoffreport and Complaintsboard

It may not surprise you  that there are places that people can post their negative experiences on a company that pretty much give the firm no reasonable way of eliminating the bogus bad reviews. Apparently the only way to get this problem fixed is with some kind of court order because, if you go through the site’s process (which often costs money) all you may get is a little note that most won’t see at the end of the now confirmed negative post that it is false. 

Once you realize this and hire a typical lawyer, it may take him or her months to figure out what to do to correct the problem so your best first step is find someone who has experience and isn’t learning on your dollar, they will be cheaper and be able to get the false review removed more quickly so the damage can be substantially reduced. In addition, they often know how to recover any costs from the person who did this to you and you might even end up with punitive damages as a bonus.  

Competitors and Ex-Spouses Will Go to Great Lengths to Badmouth You

Over the years I’ve run into this a lot. On a site that is supposedly capturing customer comments about your products, and this might even be your own site, you’ll get a series of nasty comments from someone who appears to be a customer with a major problem. Only thing is when you run it down you’ll find that it wasn’t a customer at all but a competitor that is trying to ruin your business.

When I was growing up it wasn’t uncommon to see an ex-spouse go to great lengths to badmouth his or her estranged partner. Strangely enough this can be done just as aggressively, in my experience, by someone cheated on as it is by the person who cheated- the last clearly adding massive insult to injury.  My guess  is because the cheater now feels rejected or has rationalized that his or her behavior was the result of something their partner had done to them. This can be some of the nastiest stuff out there and proving it to a court to get it to stop can be very difficult.

In both cases, finding an investigation firm capable of tracking down the person or company attacking you and convincing them to take down their posts is a major part of the initial effort. However, you clearly need a combination of Internet skills and regular old private investigator work to both identify the attacker and collect enough evidence so they can be motivated to stop to avoid legal penalties. This is obviously not trivial and you’ll need to employ a reputation protection firm that has the right blended skills. 

Really Weird/Nasty Attacks

In the book there is a story of the very strange extortion of a female executive. Apparently some old pictures (you know the kind) were acquired by her attacker who wanted her to have sex with him all night long and pay $10K so he wouldn’t release the pictures on the web. A former employee apparently got hold of the customer records and emailed all the customers that the female owner was very unethical because she was a drug addict.

Wrapping Up:  Some Easy Rules/Lessons

These are things you can do yourself according to the authors.

Monitor:  Make sure you search yourself regularly and see what comes up. They recommend doing this at least monthly and then occasionally look in places that might collect nasty reviews about you or your company. 

Create an Identity:  Make sure you have a web site that is properly indexed and pushed so that it comes up prominently when folks search on you or your company. You control this. 

Google Alerts:  Use tools like Google Alerts to see what folks are saying about you or your company real time.  

Content:  Actively post content that will populate the first few pages of a Google search.  

The Streisand Effect:  If you engage an attacker on-line it may make the attack much more visible (so don’t do it).  

Read the free book, it is 45 pages of information (much of it free stuff you can do) to both protect against an attack and properly respond to it. Finally if you are planning on attacking someone, think twice, the tools to find you are getting better all the time and the awards, actual and punitive, can be massive. 

Good luck to all of us in what is clearly becoming a very hostile Internet world (I can’t get over the guy that actually thought he was going to get sex and $10K), and special thanks to Cyber Investigation Services for providing the book, helping the guy that wrote me, and walking me through the process of protecting a reputation.