Foot, meet mouth.
We all make mistakes, some of which haunt us long after we thought we’d been forgiven. And now that there’s a permanent online record of society’s collective folly, it’s critical to avoid further unforced errors. Here are five online mistakes to avoid for the sake of your reputation:
1. Ignoring a Negative Review
It’s impossible to please everyone all the time, but negative reviews still sting. It’s tempting to want to ignore those and focus on the positive ones. But on an influential site like Yelp or RipOffReport, it only takes one or two to change the public’s perception. Worse, the merits of a negative review are less important than the fact that it exists. Most people looking for information about your business lack the time or inclination to critically evaluate the reviews they read—they simply see a one-star review with angry capital letters and turn the other way. So, unless you want to lose clients, you can’t always ignore negative reviews. This is definitely one of the big online mistakes to avoid.
How to fight back: This is a tough call. Many online reputation management companies suggest that you always respond. But responding may 'refresh' the content of the review page, possibly helping it rise in search results. One way to approach it is to only respond on major bonafide sites like Yelp, but not on RipOffReport, or other review sites that really only exist to benefit from the spread of negativity.
If you do respond, don't use your search phrase in the response. That will make the page more relevant to search engines and can act against you.
2. Losing Your Cool
Quick: How can you draw more attention to a bad review or post, compounding its negative effect?
If you answered, “respond rudely, snarkily, and/or by disparaging the original poster,” you’d be absolutely correct. If you’re taking a hands-on approach—and you should be—to managing your presence on Yelp, Facebook and other social channels, you must act at all times like you’re in public...because you are. There are plenty of examples of business owners that didn’t heed this warning about online mistakes to avoid, and none turned out well for the business.
How to fight back: Don’t lose your cool, period. And if it’s already done, it’s never too late to apologize.
3. Posing for the Wrong Camera
It’s not just frat boys, folks. Anyone can be the subject of an unflattering photo or video.
And thanks to the power of the Internet, a momentary lapse in judgment can hound you for years. Sadly, there’s no way to travel back in time and prevent an image from being captured. So if you’re worried about an image or video that could threaten your public image, impact your career or harm your personal life, it matters what you do in the here and now.
How to fight back: Some photo aggregator sites (such as TheDirty.com) may not honor requests, even from the subject, to remove offensive or defamatory images. They cite part of a 1996 law that limits the liability of websites that allow users to post material. But this defense has apparently worn thin, and victims’ recent court victories may be setting a precedent for others. If your takedown request isn’t honored, legal action may be a viable option. On sites like Facebook and Instagram, removal requests tend to be taken more seriously.
4. Minimizing a Reputation Threat
It’s just one mention in the local police blotter, right?
Sure. But if there’s not much else about you on the web, it could be the first thing people see when they search for your name—and the only result they click on. Plus, a blotter item or news blurb about an arrest or altercation remains frozen in time forever, even if the issue was subsequently resolved in your favor. Newspapers usually don’t bother to remove or de-index these items, even if asked.
How to fight back: You have two options. First, to entice the publisher to remove the item, present evidence that the issue has been resolved (rendering the story egregiously out of date). If that doesn’t work, create fresh, positive content on your blog, personal website and satellite or third-party websites that connect back to your own. While this won’t produce immediate results, it could eventually push the negative mention far enough down in your search results as to be more or less invisible.
5. Believing All Press Is Good Press
Congratulations, your new business was just featured in a prominent local or national online newspaper. Sure, it’s not necessarily a flattering portrayal—it’s about how your clueless employee refused service to an elderly woman and her service dog. But now your company’s name will soon be all over the Internet, so that’s sure to drive traffic to your new Karma Gifts Boutique, right? Wrong. An unflattering narrative is like a rolling thunderstorm: Though it seems to take a while to gather, its arrival is an explosion that overwhelms your senses.
How to fight back: You need to address bad press at the first sign of trouble—well before the story gets out of hand and turns the first page of your search results into a morass of negative mentions. Again, your best bet is a blitz of positive content that utilizes every channel at your disposal.
Ready to Control the Conversation?
That’s a rhetorical question! Of course you are.
It may be painful just to think about the mistakes that can harm your reputation online. But like any bogeyman, it’s important to face these threats head on. By decisively dealing with the issue as quickly and completely as you can, you’ll save yourself plenty of agony down the road—and likely earn a few more customers along the way.