Fionn Downhill, CEO of reputation management firm Elixer Interactive and Attorney Geoffrey Wozman spoke in a session at SES Chicago called "Brand, Trademark & Reputation Management." Downhill says online reputation management combines marketing and public relations.
The web can be great place for a brand to thrive and pick up steam, but it can also go the opposite way. A single blogger can take down a brand. "That's the reality of the web," says Downhill. It can go the way of Dell or it can go the way of Tiger Woods (or somewhere in between).
Downhill's advice is to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to brand reputation. I take this to mean that you should be putting yourself out there with as much positivity as possible to begin with, as opposed to waiting for someone to trash your brand, then defending yourself. Even if such trashing is unjustified, like Downhill says, it only takes one blogger to hurt your brand, and there's a chance some potential customers will only see that side of the story. The more positivity you put out, the more likely they are to find something good to latch onto. If someone sees a lot of good things, then one bad blog post won't carry as much weight.
In fact, Downhill suggests never engaging brand attackers at all. If they're attacking you on blogs, forums, and social media, you might be better off simply addressing such complaints on your own blog and defending yourself from there, than using SEO to work on the visibility of your side of the story. Taking legal action, can be an expensive "black hole", she says. As far as as responding to attackers on blogs, social networks, etc. I would say it's a judgment call. If I'm getting trashed on a well-trafficked forum that attracts a lot of interest within my niche, for example, I'm probably going to want to respond accordingly.
Wozman adds that free speech is protected online by the Constitution (at least in the U.S.) and that only false accusations are considered defamatory - not opinions. You can call someone a jerk, but not a criminal. Commenters cannot be held liable because of the Communications Decency Act, and ISP providers cannot be held liable for commenters.
Downhill recommends buying domains like "yourbrand sucks.com" and any other version of your brand’s domain that is defamatory, that you can think of. Not a bad idea, but it could get expensive depending on how creatively your mind works. Either way, those out to ruin you can probably get pretty creative in that department.
At BlogWorld last week, I attended a session about brand monitoring. This was not so much about reputation management only, but simply being able to spot the conversations that are happening in relation to your brand, and getting involved in conversations (including positive ones regarding your brand). Ann Peavey, Becky McCray, and Sheila Scarborough gave some good tips. More on that here.
WPN's Mike Sachoff contributed to this piece.