Protecting Your Good Name

Your online reputation is a delicate creature. You can put in years of hard work nurturing it, only for one rogue review to dash it to pieces. What can you do to protect it, and is there any action you can take if things go wrong?

Bad reviews and fake news

While the Internet offers a quick and easy way for a business to promote itself, it can be a double-edged sword. Negative publicity can range from a bad customer review to more malicious, targeted action by a disgruntled employee or business rival. An online smear campaign can involve defamatory articles, anonymous websites and blogs, tampering with information about the company on other websites and posts on social media. The ease with which people can hide their identities and the speed of dissemination make negative content difficult to tackle.

Don’t be an ostrich

If you encounter these online tactics, don’t bury your head in the sand. Negative content can take on a life of its own, so you need to minimise the damage. If you’re dealing with bad reviews, respond politely (even if you believe their complaint is unfounded) and offer solutions. Tip. Try to respond specifically to the reviewer’s concerns as standard replies can seem dismissive. You’re not just addressing the reviewer - many others will be judging how you respond.

Be direct. Reviewers and bloggers are often willing to correct mistakes or take down the offending material, so it can be worth contacting them directly if you can identify them. The web host or domain name registry may be able to pass on your communication to an anonymous poster. Failing that, reporting their activity may result in the material being removed by the platform if it breaches their T&Cs.

Get serious

In cases of malicious online activity, you may need to take formal legal action. Options include: enforcing your intellectual property rights; suing for defamation, either against the author or the web host as publisher of the material; taking action for breach of contract, e.g. against an employee, or for breach of confidentiality, e.g. against a former employee; or bringing an economic tort claim for unlawful or lawful means conspiracy.

Prevention is better than cure

Use brand monitoring tools to keep track of online reviews and search results. The earlier you know about a potential problem, the quicker you can nip it in the bud. Tip. If you regularly produce positive content relating to your business, this will push any rogue reviews from disgruntled customers further down the search results.

Keep the customer satisfied. People are more likely to share a bad experience than a good one. Make sure that your customers have a good experience in the first place and encourage or incentivise them to leave good reviews. If a customer does have a poor experience, deal with it as positively as possible - paradoxically, this is even more likely to create a loyal customer than one who had a positive experience from the start.

Keep your own house in order. Make sure that you have a clear social media policy so your staff know what is acceptable. What starts off as a joke or an employee venting after a bad day can quickly snowball into real reputational damage.

The key to dealing with negative material online is to tackle it head on. Be seen to be reasonable and address any genuine complaints and concerns but take robust action when necessary to protect this asset.