What You Can Do When Angry People Attack Your Client
Online reputation management covers many different communications channels, including news reports, advertising, consumer reviews, social media conversations, and the results that appear on Bing and Google for the names of companies, products, and individuals.
PR specialists know how to craft a positive message and promote verifiable facts.
Attorneys know when and how to send cease-and-desist orders, takedown notices, and explain libel laws to hostile parties.
These are not the easiest things to do in reputation management, but they are well-defined tasks. The less hostile content allowed to remain online, the better.
Some people may be legitimately harmed by a client’s past actions, even if unintentionally. Some people may have an axe to grind against the industry and just choose to make an example of your client. And some people may be irrational, perhaps falling for conspiracy theories.
When the client feels wronged, their instinct is often to attack the attacker. The conversation between the target of hostility and the hostile people behind the attacks may evolve into a never-ending round of attack and rebut or attack and take down.
Worse, search engine results may not change for months even when hostile content is removed from Websites. Your clients may grow frustrated with the apparent lack of change in the visible world around them names they care about.
Here are several things client representatives can do to improve the situation with minimal risk of making it worse:
Identify Positive, Acceptable Content You Feel Should Be in the Search Results
Whether it appears for the protected name or not, any news article, blog post, social media share, picture, video, or random Web page that discusses the client could be a favorable listing.
Why it’s not in the search results isn’t the obstacle. A search reputation management specialist can look at the attention less visible content has received and propose ways to improve that attention.
Before setting a goal of chasing down a hostile entity, you should have a list of what works best for your client.
The more existing content you work with, the better.
Favorable content may include social media profiles, client-owned Websites, and client-managed social media shares.
But every third-party site that contributes to the client’s positive image is worth considering.
Research the Impact that the Negative Activity Is Having
Are other people repeating and linking to a hostile article or blog post?
Are other people resharing negative social media content?
Are the people attacking your client building multiple accounts or websites?
Are they posting negative reviews on multiple sites?
Measuring the scope of the negative activity helps you structure a long-term action plan for your client. It also gives you a baseline against which to compare future alerts. Setting search engine alerts is always a good idea, but people may become complacent as older content occasionally resurfaces.
Construct Appropriate Responses Where Possible
Although review sites (as an industry) have earned a reputation for encouraging hostile and abusive reviews in the hope of soliciting payments from the parties being attacked, some sites allow and even encourage free responses from the businesses attracting hostile reviews.
A search reputation specialist may be able to help you or your client in writing or editing an existing response so that it has a better chance of being quoted in the search results than the initial complaint.
While this may not be ideal for all clients, it’s a fallback plan worth considering where the initial attack cannot be removed.
When responding to a media story about a hostile allegation, the journalists and editors may not accept editorial requests for how to phrase things.
The client representative will almost certainly be quoted in a follow-up article.
A search reputation management specialist may be able to suggest how to say certain things with the hope that – if quoted – they will be featured in search results.
You can’t do anything about the headline, but you may get to shape the story.
Consider Owning the Hostile Phrase
While every client’s situation is unique, some companies have successfully responded to conspiracy theories and hostile campaigns by creating content specifically around false and misleading statements.
The task may be as simple as writing a Frequently Asked Questions page on the corporate or client brand Website. It may be a little challenging if the content must be published elsewhere.
By shaping a response directly around the hostile statements, the search reputation specialist has a better chance of inserting the client’s perspective into the public conversation.
Older Content May Be Easy to Displace
While older stories on major news Websites may hang around for years, often the secondary content the original story inspired becomes less interesting and important to the search engines.
The reputation management team should determine which old content will be easiest to displace, assuming there is no legal recourse for having it taken down.
A preferred method is to publish new content that addresses how the client has handled or moved away from a negative situation over the years.
However, there may be many different possible approaches for creating new content that is relevant to an important search result that is dominated by older content.
Be careful to set reasonable expectations with your clients. Some things may be easier to achieve than others. Client branded sites and social media accounts may easily move into the first page of search results, but they may not displace everything that was there before.
When a Hostile Entity Attacks, Don’t Push Back Directly
If someone is determined to destroy your client’s reputation, they will respond to every strategy with new hostile content.
It’s better not to engage in a war of words with such people.
They not only thrive on attention, but they will also use it to their advantage.
Instead of directly responding to a sustained series of attacks, it’s more effective to ignore them as much as possible or to refer to them indirectly in future communications and published content.
Despite the attention that 1 person or a small group of people may be trying to direct toward a negative perspective, for most reputation management clients, the interested audience is usually relatively small.
It feels larger than it actually is.
The general public wants to know they are safe and that there’s no immediate threat to their privacy and well-being. They may take an occasional, casual interest in someone’s angry rant, but they don’t care for long about “someone else’s problem”.
Your client’s pain is real, but if pushing on and focusing on what they are doing that is worthy of public attention is more productive, then that should be the focus of any reactive strategy.
Reacting on your terms rather than the attacker’s terms weakens their visibility.
Only respond directly to hostile attacks when there is no other choice.
Change the Story
This is easier said than done.
But a reputation management specialist may determine that the subject of the negative attacks is an unwinnable battleground.
If your client has been convicted of committing a crime, there’s little hope of erasing that from the public record. Any attempt to do so may trigger further hostile attacks.
Instead of directly responding to the hostile arguments, the reputation specialist may suggest promoting or creating alternative content in the search results. The original story will have to be acknowledged obliquely. It serves no purpose to promote irrelevant content into search results.
Instead of creating a false story, the best response to persistent hostility is to enlarge the story and include new facts that show how your client has moved on from the past.
Some people will never leave the past in the past, but the client’s story can grow into more positive and generally acceptable anecdotes. While you cannot dismiss the public record, you can wrap it with a new activity, new attention-worthy actions, and show people that the hostile activity is unnecessarily single-minded and hyperfocused on an old, now-resolved issue.
The details of how to change the search results fall under the purview of the search reputation management specialist.
While some things may be easy to do, the potential negative consequences of every strategy should be weighed.
A strong reputation management campaign is built on verifiable and non-controversial information. When the facts are distorted by half-truths, lies, or innuendo the best response may be direct response. When the facts are outdated the best response may be to focus attention on more recent events and activities.
Your clients often have more options to consider than is at first apparent. Less obvious solutions prove useful in disarming persistent activity by changing the priorities of the public conversation.
The choices a client’s representatives make may be seen as manipulative but they don’t have to be. The more natural and reasoned the response to constant hostile attacks the easier it is to achieve the visibility your client needs to get on with life and business.