Crisis Averted: Business’ Online Rights and the Power of Professional Reputation Management

The Value of Reputation and Crisis Communication Management

The moment you become a public relations professional, you also become a    firefighter (of    sorts.)  As the McCauley Marketing Services team has discussed in previous blog posts, managing the online reputation of a small business can be daunting, to say the least.  The generation and dissemination of content online about your business (be it factual and helpful or, um, not) has become almost effortless with the ease of use and anonymity afforded by the development of digital forums and online review websites.

That’s why the field of professional crisis communication management has been so prolific over the past couple of years. Crisis communication management is a PR niche that combines highly-formulated internet marketing and customer relationship management strategy with reputation management tactics to optimize a company’s “good press” and increase their customer retention.  Most sole proprietors and individual businesses (especially those in the arenas of general contracting, medicine, and law) obtain a majority of their clients through word of mouth referrals from past clientele.  These business owners know how valuable their reputations are, but are also the ones who are often least equipped (both financially and man-power wise) to extinguish the reputation fires that can erupt with “bad” online reviews.

What to Do If Your Company Receives Unwarranted “Bad” Press

The good news:  “bad” online reviews can eventually be overcome.  However, it’s a numbers game that requires a good amount of time and patience.  The most advisable first step is to attempt to directly contact the “poster” of the material, state your qualms (calmly), and see if they will remove the content in question.  Often, they will remove the content in order to avoid any further action/ legal dealings.  If this doesn’t work, your next step would be to file a complaint against the business through the Better Business Bureau (or similar organization.)

Filing a complaint will allow you to explain the situation thoroughly, and have the respected third party objectively present the material to the offending company.  It’s a good middle-ground to rest upon because it also starts a digital track of complaints.  That way, if the company does not respond to the BBB complaint, other consumers can be aware of past “misleading posts” the company is associated with.  Reviewing a company’s complaint history also acts as a good indicator of weather you need to pursue the issue further.

If direct correspondence and filing do not produce any results, and your professional reputation has legitimately been compromised through direct libel, you have the legal right to file a law suit against the individual poster of the content (e.g. – blog author, specific commenter, individual reviewers.) A big caveat to this though, you cannot (usually) bring suit against a third party hosting company (like the public medical, legal, and construction professionals’ review sites.)

The current litigation, detailed in section 203 of the Communications Decency Act, states that no interactive computer service (aka- blogs, forums, listservs, and review sites) can be held liable for the content posted on their websites; unless, they have clearly acted as “publishers” of the content and edited it in some way to show they have reviewed the material and were aware of the content’s nature and libelous message before they post.

How to Save Your Small Business from Future “Bad Press” Headaches

Even if you’re lucky enough to have the damaging digital content removed and/or receive some amount of financial gain from legal pursuits, the content is rarely gone for good.  Search engines archive all content (the good, the bad, and the ugly) for varying lengths of time, and bad “removed” articles and reviews can show up in search results if your business doesn’t have a lot of additional, newer online attention to cover it up (get it off the first couple pages of search results.)

This is where marketing companies adept in crisis communication management, like McCauley Marketing Services, can prove especially valuable.  By allowing a marketing company to generate new “good” press for your business through survey campaigns, informational blog posts, business website expansion, or placing press releases detailing how your business is positively contributing to its respective industry, it will better reestablish your professional credibility and (ideally) recover those new clients your business deserves to attract.  Additionally, a professional marketing service (should) remain abreast of the ever-changing communication law amendments, and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly: so, there will be one less thing you as business owner will have to worry about, and one less thing any client has to criticize in a poor review.

If you have additional questions about your online rights as a small business owner, or wish to consult with the McCauley Marketing Services team about formulating a crisis communication plan for your business, contact our office or visit our website.