Social media and interactivity are a major focus of many companies’ outbound communications efforts—but what if some of that interactivity is hostile? What if people leave nasty comments on your blog or spread rumors about your company? What if your company name is ABC Corp. and someone sets up a nasty website called “abccorpsuckspondwater.com”?
How Walmart Manages Reputation
For years, Walmart has faced a barrage of online criticism from a broad spectrum of critics, including customers and employees. More than one site has been set up for the purpose, including walmartsucks.com, which publishes tales of horror from just about anyone who wants to voice their hatred of the firm. Another site, forrespect.org, was set up by Walmart employees to express their dissatisfaction with Walmart’s human resources practices. A film called “The High Price of Low Price,” which accuses Walmart of driving small operations out of business, is widely available on the Web.
Yet when you Google “Walmart,” the first negative hit doesn’t appear until the bottom of the third search page with a Wikipedia entry titled “Criticism of Walmart.” Forrespect.org doesn’t show up until page 4. As of page 7, walmartsucks.com hasn’t yet made an appearance. The rest is primarily various websites, portals and pages set up by Walmart itself.
How did Walmart make that happen? With the widespread negative chatter about the corporation, it seems nothing short of a miracle—especially when you consider that Walmart launched an online counter-offensive designed to improve its image only this year (therealwalmart.com, accompanied by some TV and digital ads).
The answer: search engine optimization (SEO). Walmart made sure that its own presence on the Web thoroughly smothered the voice of opposition.
Use Search Engine Optimization to Manage Your Reputation
It is not effective to directly confront critics and tell them that they’re wrong. This just draws more attention to the negative. Instead, reach out to your audience with positive messages and experiences—lots of them. Much that happens in Internetland is not under your control, but there’s a lot that is, so take advantage of it where you can. Populate the Web with positive news, placing it everywhere possible, from local directories to creating specialized portals. Walmart sets up portals for job seekers, Walmart credit card holders, Black Friday shoppers and more. Build out a complete profile on every social media site, and keep that pipeline full of positive news and information. Set up a blog (or blogs, depending on the nature of your business) and build a following by posting information that is useful and interesting to your audience. Reach out to other blog sites and offer to do guest blogs. Make sure you are featured in industry-specific wikis.
How To Monitor and Manage Your Reputation
It is important to monitor what’s being said about your firm in social media feeds and the blogosphere. Services such as Trackur will help to monitor your online presence. Services such as Cision help to monitor your presence in the media. If a complaint is valid, address it directly and attempt to set things right. Apologize if your organization was in the wrong. This usually will cause the complainer to at least stop complaining. Ask the individual to please set the record straight once you’ve made good. Many will be happy to do so, because they will feel they have been heard and acknowledged.
When someone makes false accusations or is just out to make trouble, nothing will be successful. Engaging with drama queens only draws attention to the negativity and encourages the person who is creating it.
Keep your outbound communications house in order. While traditional public relations is less controllable as it depends on the press to act as gatekeeper, remember that getting a positive story in a publication such as the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal may pull higher ranking in a Google search than your company site because of the author authority established by prominent media outlets. Be consistent in your messaging, and make sure your online presence is in line with the messaging. Your site should be attractive, easy to navigate for users and easy for search engines to crawl. Build author authority for the site and for your blog(s), which will improve your Google PageRank.
Look for sites that are positive about your company and ask for links to your site. The more legitimate links to your site, the higher the PageRank Google assigns to it. For more detail about link-building, please download our free whitepaper, “Link Building: Staying Current in a Shifting Landscape.”
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