Today, you live and die by your online reputation. What’s yours? Never before has the voice of the customer been as powerful as today. Since the Internet has replaced the Yellow Pages for most consumers, a few vocal dissatisfied customers can badly damage a company overnight. Conversely, delighted customers can boost a company’s business.
Most contractors are familiar with free review sites like Google and Yelp. While there are people who try to game the system by slamming competitors and/or enticing family and close friends to review their own companies, the bulk of reviews appear to be legitimate.
Many contractors have problems with some of the other consumer sites, which boast that no contractor can pay to get listed, while accepting (and soliciting for) advertising revenue from the contractors that are listed.
If bad reviews weren’t enough, business owners also have to deal with “slam sites” that carry the ravings of everyone from psychotic ex-girlfriends to irate ex-employees. Though the postings may contain lots of opinion and little truth, they can still be difficult, if not impossible to remove.
New York Times writer Graeme Wood reported on the anonymous victim of an ex-girlfriend, “He said that he considered suing, but since the site was posted anonymously, he found he had no one to sue. ‘You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘She writes one blog post, and I have to spend years living with it. This is asymmetric warfare.’”
Slam sites contain their own blackmail components. One of the largest offers an advocacy service where you pay them to defend you on their site. They also offer an arbitration service where you pay them to review a slam, which can get removed if found false. Another slam site offers reputation management services.
Eric Goldman from the Technology & Marketing Law Blog wrote about a slam site noting, “Its basic business model is to rank the negative consumer reviews highly in Google search results and then charge the businesses money to take the edge off that indexing.”
Mug shot extortionists
Where the slam sites leave off, “mugshot extortionists” take over. This slimy new subset of the $5 billion reputation management industry trolls for police mugshots of minor offenses and posts them so they appear in search engines with the offender’s name. Next, a company contacts the offender, offering to remove the mugshot for a few hundred dollars, only to have it reappear on another site.
Writing in Forbes, Cheryl Conner described the experience of a friend who paid to get a mug shot removed. Conner reported that, “Several weeks later the item appeared on a nearly identical site and she received an identical offer: Pay $400, and the new item could be removed from the web. By now my friend realized she was in an endless loop of extortion.”
What can you do?
First, check your reputation weekly. Search for your company and yourself. See what pops up. Address damage to your reputation differently, depending on the source.
Bad reviews from legitimate sites are something every business gets from time to time. When this happens, investigate to find out what occurred. If the customer is known, see if you can successfully resolve the issue and encourage the consumer to amend the review if satisfied.
Sometimes the best you can hope for is to respond online. Thank the person for making you aware of the issue, apologize for the lack of a delightful experience, state that you will investigate if the person will contact you (assuming an anonymous review), and ask what the customer wants. This tends to mute a negative review.
To overwhelm negative reviews with positive ones, ask your customers for email addresses as part of your service. Email a thank you, bounce back coupon, and request for a review, linked to the site where you need a positive review the most.
While difficult, ignore slam sites. You can pay their extortion, but are likely to pay again and again. Posting on their site only adds to the search engine relevancy. Instead, expand upon your social media and public relations activities. Send a stream of press releases to press release sites, local media, and the trade press. Drive the slam sites down in the search engine listings.
To countermug shot extortionists, flood the Internet with positive pictures. “Tag” picture after picture in social media (and make your social media viewable by the public). Utilize a variety of photo sharing sites to host images of you. You can’t eliminate your past, but you can bury it deeper than most people will look.
Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable, contracting’s largest business alliance. Check out the free downloads at ServiceRoundtable.com. For more information, call 877.262.3341 and ask for a Success Consultant.