Tuesday, February 26, 2013

‘Guilty by Association’ Why you DO NOT want to hire a ‘Reputation Management Company’

I was recently asked the ubiquitous question “what do you do?” and I answered that I work for a “testimonial and review verification company”.  I prepared for the usual “what’s that?” but instead he said “I just hired one of those companies because we were getting so many negative reviews online.”   He was referring to a ‘Reputation Management Company’(RMC) and for some reason people think that Testimonial Shield has something to do with that industry.  We don’t.  I explained that that’s not at all what we do, quite the opposite actually...  And, he was surprised at how adamantly I stated “get rid if them.  You do not want people to find out that you hired a RMC.”  He looked at me surprised, so I continued “...right now, somehow, they’re being viewed as a ‘good thing’, but they are not, and when people realize what it is they do you will be found guilty by association, and your reputation will be much worse off...  Hiring a reputation management company is tantamount to an admission of guilt.  The fair and reasonable assumption is that you have something to hide.  Why else would you hire them?”  RMCs are not doing internet users any favors, and right now I don’t think most people are aware of that yet, but once they’re ‘outed’, they’ll be seen in the same light as spammers, SEO guys, or any other pariah of the internet.  It is - in the vast majority of cases - without  question ‘black hat’ marketing.  

Lets look at how they do what they do - how they ‘manage’ your reputation.  According to Cliff Stein, CEO of reputationchanger.com,  in a press release published on Reuters “their service is to keep them [negative reviews] out of the public's eye.”  He also refers to reputation  management as “review suppression”.  So, their main purpose is to hide negative reviews about a product, service, company, or individual.  It has nothing to do with preventing or filtering fake reviews,  proving the truth, or clearing your good name, but rather burying the existing reviews by filling the web up with ‘positive content’.  Mr. Stein continues “[we] push those negative reviews -- whether fake or otherwise -- off the first page of a Google or Bing search page, and effectively replace them with positive, brand-enhancing content."  Where this positive content comes from I have no idea...   

And, that’s the gist of it: Reputation Management Companies own 100’s or even 1,000’s of websites, and they fill them - as well as other sites and blogs that that do not own - with positive, searchable content about you...  They flood the web with all this positive content thereby pushing all of the, dare I say ‘real’ reviews/content about you and/or your company to the abyss that is anything Google not on page 1.  It’s essentially the same way SEO/M (search engine optimization/manipulation) works.  Google doesn't like any companies that put content online for no purpose, or worse yet, the purpose of skewing the ‘real’ results of a search.  It makes their job more difficult and they do have black-lists of these sites and companies as they discover them, and if this happens, your entire brand online can disappear overnight and likely be blacklisted forever.  

While reputation management companies can be useful in providing a monitoring system, you can just as easily do that for yourself for free using ‘google alerts’.  

So, what should one do when he finds a negative review?  Respond to it.  The internet is a transparent world, and in most cases one can always reply to the comments of another online.  Do that.  Use a matter-of-fact tone, don’t be angry or flip, simply tell your side of the story.  Offer to right the wrong...  Most people will understand, and a few negative reviews are normal.  No ones perfect, and again, most people understand that as well.  And the bottom line is this: if you are a person running a competent and ethical business you should have nothing to worry about.  It’s when you start to manipulate the web that you will begin to get into trouble.

Peter Monaco is the marketing director at Testimonial Shield, LLC., a third party review verification service.  TestimonialShield.com authenticate’s the reviews and testimonials proving to your customers that your reviews are indeed true.

Quote source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/26/idUSnMKW69224a+1c0+MKW20121226

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