How to protect your company’s reputation online

The days when news was disseminated by only newspapers, radio and television is a distant memory. Today the Internet is king for disseminating information at lightning speed — negative or incorrect comments posted on the Internet by critics can spread quickly and damage your company’s reputation if left uncorrected or un-refuted.

The reality today is that content can be generated by your next door neighbor and stay archived online for years! That’s why it’s important to monitor, negate and neutralize damaging online comments or harmful stories before they cause a PR crisis.

reputationAbout 10 – 15 years ago, when we were dealing primarily with traditional media our ability to monitor and respond to the news was relatively straightforward. We had time, however limited, to organize our facts, develop a response, a course of action, then get the word out. But that situation has changed dramatically.

The proliferation of social media has changed the paradigm. With the popularity of blogs and social networking sites, both good and bad news, correct and incorrect information spreads like wildfire. Under the right circumstances, a miniscule blog can pump out information with the strength, reach and impact of major daily newspaper.

Some crisis communication experts say that the new acceptable level for a first public response to a crisis is 15 minutes. I think one to two hours is more realistic…but the sooner a company responds, the better.

Many companies have lost control of important issues by not taking steps to counteract seemingly insignificant bloggers’ negative comments. Search engines give blogs preferential treatment in their rankings because bloggers frequently update their sites and search engines love to give people fresh content. That’s why bloggers’ posts wind up on the Internet long before new information on your website sees the light of day.

So what should you do to protect your company against damaging or incorrect information?

First, under all circumstances, follow the Golden Rule of crisis communications:

  • Tell it first,
  • Tell it all,
  • Tell the truth.

Next, take these five steps to defuse negative information and prevent a crisis from escalating:

1) Monitor the Internet. Sign up to receive Google Alerts that tell you when and where someone has used your company’s name or keywords associated with your company or industry.

2) Immediately respond to damaging comments about your company. Don’t assume no one will notice. Respond directly to the source. Consider posting your response on your website and in your company’s blog and make sure you inform all key audiences.

3) Immediately correct inaccurate statements. The same rules apply as when confronting damaging comments. Respond directly to the source and through other media outlets. Post your response on your website and in your company’s blog. Inform your customers and other stakeholders.

4) Create a blog to disseminate important information. By creating a permanent or temporary blog, you can add postings and new content that search engines will find in minutes. This allows you to respond quickly to a crisis. Also, you can create an interactive environment in the blog. A website has no counterpart for providing such fast results or interaction. It may take weeks before a search engine surveys your website for new content or changes.

5) Generate as much positive publicity about your company as quickly as possible. Some PR pros say it takes at least three positive “hits” to dispel a negative impression. The lesson is, when you’re on the defensive, you must work much harder and faster than your detractors to counteract negative commentary. (Ideally you will have already generated loads of goodwill so that if a crisis hits, you have a bank of goodwill from which to draw.)

- Maria Loscerbo