How to survive an online smear campaign

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Your company’s reputation is everything. You’ve likely spent significant cash and employee time building your website and social media accounts. If your online presence is strategic, these sites are used to enhance your brand. So how should you respond to an online smear campaign that threatens your company’s reputation?

Fortunately, there are ways your business can survive an online smear campaign. The first tactic is to be proactive and develop a plan. Determine who has authority to manage the company’s online presence and train them on acceptable standards and behaviors. Social media posts should always maintain a positive tone. That’s true whether the company’s designated employees initially post to a social media site or respond to a post or comment by someone else.

Post content that encourages positive feedback from customers and clients. That way if an occasional negative comment or post surfaces, there is plenty of accessible content to demonstrate your company’s positive reputation.

If negative posts on your company’s social media sites are justified due to poor customer service or products, admit the mistake, find a way to offer compensation and take immediate steps to correct the mistake so it does not occur again. Quick and honest candor go a long way to demonstrate that excellent customer service is a top priority.

If a negative comment appears on a consumer website, the response tactic should be slightly different. If the post is warranted, apologize. If the complaint is unfounded, respond once in as neutral a tone as possible. You don’t want to engage in a series of confrontational, emotionally charged rants. Then beef up the positive content on your own website or social media sites. Potential customers are more likely to view your company’s online sites than consumer watchdog sites when researching your services and products. Therefore, it is most important to ensure that your sites are current and accurate.

In addition to complaints and comments on your sites, there are other types of negative posts
which may surface online – trolls and smear campaigns.

A troll is someone who thrives on negative online engagement, confrontation and disruptive activity. Tom Liacus, senior Online Reputation Strategist, wrote a series of blogs which offer solid advice on dealing with trolls. His primary recommendation is to define House Rules of acceptable and unacceptable behavior on your sites. And then enforce them!

Hopefully, your company will never experience a malicious online smear campaign. These often spring from personal vendettas so the perpetrator is highly motivated to spread lies and misleading information. If that happens, you should really consider hiring expert help from attorneys and/or IT professionals well versed in online presence techniques. In addition, don’t hesitate to contact moderators of the site(s) which contain content smearing your company and ask them to remove it.

April Joyner, reporter for Inc. magazine, recently wrote about one extreme online smear campaign and the steps taken by the owner of Veritas Prep to stop them. The end of the article includes advice from several experts which you may wish to consider if ever in a similar position.

In summary, have a well-developed plan to employ in the event your company is the victim of an online smear campaign. That plan begins with development of robust online behavior guidelines for your staff and those engaging on your sites. Don’t hesitate to enforce those guidelines. And don’t wait too long to hire expert help to correct online activity that is aimed at hurting your company’s brand.

Have you been the victim of an online smear campaign? What course of action did you take? What additional advice do you have to share? Feel free to post below or contact the Business Blog by reaching out to us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Delora Newton

Delora Newton is the Vice President, Advocacy for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. She has over 20 years of experience in state and local public policy advocacy and is passionate about building a business climate that supports economic growth and protects community assets. Follow her on Twitter: @Delora4Biz or G+

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