Thursday, 25 August 2011 16:14

How to Fix Your Damaged Online Reputation

In an article in July’s Autobody News I wrote about Yelp and how shops have objected to the way this review site seems to perpetuate negative reviews on shops unless they’re members of the premium (paid) user program. If you missed it see www.autobodynews.com and search: Yelp. The question for many shops in this situation is: what can I do about it?

Okay, let’s assume your name and the reputation of your shop has been thrown under the bus and now you want to fight back. Maybe it’s a bad review on Yelp, or maybe a disgruntled former employee has trashed you on the Web and posted a collection of half-truths coupled with some outright lies. Or, maybe one of “those customers” that is never be happy is posting negative things online about you and they are beginning to get noticed and starting to affect your business.

Okay, it looks bad and it can be very frustrating, but don’t panic—there are some strategies you can use to defend yourself online and clean up your damaged reputation in the process.

To get started, you can initially do some things on your own that can distance you from the snarky online comments or bad reviews about you and your business. If you have any even rudimentary computer skills, you can help yourself considerably by making the right moves. The basic rule here is always take the high road. Don’t’ respond directly to anything in a negative or combative fashion. If you jump in the mud with your online accusers, than all you’re really doing is adding credibility to their claims.

Focus on disseminating positive information about your shop and get it on as many websites as you possibly can. Put them on your Facebook page and other social media sites, such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, and Netlog, to name some of many. Join as many as you can and maintain them, inviting customers and friends to join. Eventually, your involvement in these sites will start appearing in search results, and pretty soon, you’ll notice that the bad reviews will begin to migrate down the list.

If you really want to get proactive in defending your company online, you can take it a step further and start your own blog. Blogs are popular, because they’re simple and posting stories and photos on there is a snap, even for the cyber-challenged. You can link your blog to your website and it will also provide a wide range of SEO advantages over your haters.

For example, BlogSpot (blogspot.com) is a very popular blogging site. It’s easy-to-use and absolutely free. Posting stories on your blog doesn’t require a lot of time and even with just casual computer skills you can start and maintain a blog within a short time.

Now, of course, you might be asking yourself—how do I find the time to do these things online? You’re probably already working 50 hours a week—fixing cars, dealing with customers, insurance companies, vendors and employees is your priority every week, so how can you do it all?

Some body shops call upon a front office employee to assume the role of the company’s IT person. But, if you don’t have anybody currently on your staff like that, you’ll need to hire a company or an individual to assist you in salvaging your reputation online and defending you in the future.

Some body shops have hired public relations firms to perform these duties. If you can afford them, it’s a sage move. Bruce Miles is a public relations specialist who has worked for companies such as Cisco Systems, Apple Computer and a wide range of startups in Silicon Valley. He offered me some tips for how to position your shop in a good light and reap accolades that can offset any bad reviews or negative content about you and/or your business online.

“Start a list of all the things you do well and leverage those items,” Miles said. “Collect testimonials from your satisfied customers and get their permission to use them. If you’re not currently helping the community that you’re doing business in, start getting involved. It’s a win-win, because it will help your business and attract more customers. Too many small companies don’t see the big picture and concentrate solely on profit, payroll and the bottom line. Those things are obviously crucial, but establishing a solid reputation especially in your area is paramount.”

Press releases distributed to the local media is one way to get the word out about all of the great things you’re doing, Miles explained. “Hire a PR person and have them generate one press release every couple months. Any positive news is good news and local community papers love to run upbeat stories, because most of the headline news out there is grim, as we know. Maybe you’re mentoring local students who want to get into collision repair? Maybe you fixed a rare, unique vehicle? Or maybe held a dinner for the local Little League team you’re sponsoring? Good public relations specialists will find the story ideas for you, and by using their contacts with the local media, you’ll start seeing your name in print and online in a positive vein.”

If you have a really negative perception on the Web you may need to go further. For many body shops, a good solution is hiring a company called Reputation.com (formerly ReputationDefender.) Located in Redwood City, California, the company sells online reputation management (ORM) and Internet privacy to companies and individuals worldwide. ReputationDefender was founded six years ago to help parents in shielding their children from damaging their reputations via embarrassing postings on social media websites, but Reputation.com has shifted its business model to defending adults online as well and continually monitoring web content about their clients. When damaging content is found, the company tries to get it removed from the offending websites through methods like contacting the site owners and requesting that they remove the content in question.

In 2006, Susan Crawford, a cyberlaw specialist on the faculty of Cardozo Law School in NYC, says that when contacted in that fashion, “Most people will take materials down just to avoid the hassle of dealing with possible litigation.”

Reputation.com also leverages the positive approach, by writing 200-300 word articles praising their clients and posting them throughout the Web. By building a reservoir of positive feedback out there in cyberspace and continually acting as a watchdog, Reputation.com can help you to offset bad press or disparaging reviews that you’ve received and keep the good word coming, so that you’re ready when and if it happens again.

“Be prepared” is the Boy Scout motto, but we can’t all be Eagle Scouts all the time, so when disparaging things appear about you and/or your business online, the worst thing you can do is ignore the situation. If negatives are out there and you know it, you’ll never know who’s not coming to your shop because they’ve seen a bad review. Silence is deafening and people will readily form “guilty until found innocent” opinions unless you respond. But keep it positive, build good will by doing things that benefit your community and hire an expert or a company to defend you online if you’ve really been maligned.

Had success in turning your online reputation around? Contact me at era39@aol.com and let me know how you did it. I’ll pass that along to shops who may find themselves in the same situation.

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