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April 16, 2008

Inside the Marketers Studio - Dealing with Negative Publicity

Editor's Note: This is first post in our new feature Inside the Marketers Studio (with apologies to James Lipton and David Berkowitz) where we ask savvy marketers for their take on the burning marketing questions of the day.

I've been thinking a lot about managing one's personal brand online after my last post on One Degree. I was particularly interested in how people who've established their personal brand online deal with negative comments or publicity. What happens when someone tries to attack, discredit or otherwise undermine you online?

So, as the host of One Degree's inaugural edition of Inside the Marketers Studio, I asked four marketers from across the country (Adele McAlear, Michael Seaton, Jay Moonah and Kate Trgovac) the following three questions:

  1. Have you ever had a problem with someone trying to discredit you online?
  2. What did you do about it?
  3. How would you counsel a client in a similar situation?

They've shared their experiences and insights below - please feel free to leave your own answers in the comments.

Adele McAlear

Adele McAlear is partner in 99directions, a social media marketing company with offices in Montreal and Vancouver.

1. Have you ever had a problem with someone trying to discredit you online?
Fortunately, to date, I have not had anyone try to discredit me online. But, regardless of how public or private you are on the Internet, there is always the possibility that someone will use any of the available outlets on the 'net to take issue with me personally or professionally. From Amazon wish lists that are public to blog comments, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, there are so many outlets for people to express their opinions, both positive and negative.

2. What did you do about it?
Being aware that there is negative or inaccurate information applied to you is the first step. I have Google Alerts set for my name and slight misspellings so I can track whenever my name pops up online. Once I know what is being said I can reply to the writer. It's always a good idea to thank positive comments. As for negative ones, it's best to try to address them as soon as possible.

3. How would you counsel a client in a similar situation?
I would advise the client to set up Google Alerts and absolutely respond to both positive and negative comments as soon as possible. Reply in an open tone, and take constructive criticism to heart. Offer to help the person with the issue personally, apologize if you've truly made an error, be open to discussion and be respectful. Do not, under any circumstances, enter into a flame war, no matter how inflammatory the disgruntled person may be. Stay patient and professional. If you are not given an outlet to clarify your position and seek a resolution, then do so on your own company's blog should you feel that the situation warrants that response.

Michael Seaton

Michael Seaton is former client side marketer that is now focused on delivering the digital goods for a diverse range of clients at Thornley Fallis.  He blogs at www.theclientsideblog.com.

1. Have you ever had a problem with someone trying to discredit you online?
I can’t say I have ever been discredited outright.  When I made the move recently to the agency side of the business, one blogger made a quip about me that I found out of line. It was a bit of a personal attack in a veiled way. My approach in this situation, as always, was to take the high road. I try to never lower myself to the level to which others stoop.  Not worth my time or effort. In a reputation contest, I’m quite certain my credibility and network of friends and colleagues who know me are my safety net from any such attacks.

There was, however, a situation a year or two ago where content was scraped from my blog without any attribution. Basically my content was stolen.  I felt that was a real violation of what I put out there into this space. I can’t pretend it did not upset me.

2. What did you do about it?
What did I do? I used the tools available. Through a combination of the advice from a group I belong to (CAPOW), my blog, LinkedIn and Google, I turned the situation into a favourable one for myself.  However, I did not attack the offender.  I tried to give him every opportunity to respond. Confrontation does not need to be ugly, it’s my way of getting to the truth of the matter directly.

I was very straightforward and transparent when I called out the offender to be accountable for his actions. I even gave him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he was unaware of what he did.  Several months later, he got in touch with me and apologized.  I appreciated his apology and accepted it. But that does not matter much. The real issue he faces now is that I own his name on Google.  Current search results for his name turn up his LinkedIn profile in first spot, and my blog posts about his plagiarism ranking in the second and third positions.  Not much either of us can do about that now.

3. How would you counsel a client in a similar situation?
My best advice if you find yourself in a similar situation is to count to ten and breathe deeply.  The initial response we all have is to get ‘em back – hit them harder than they hit you.  That is the emotional side of your brain at work.  Small problems only get bigger in a tit for tat battle. What you need is time for the logical and rational side to kick in. Think things through. 

I would counsel clients to start in advance of any issues. Meaning if you have an outlet like a blog or podcast to build an audience and establish credibility, you have a place to tell your side of the story. Being proactive is always a better option than being reactive.

Jay Moonah

Jay Moonah is the Digital Information Strategist at Toronto new media agency 58Ninety Inc.

1. Have you ever had a problem with someone trying to discredit you online?
"Discredit" is maybe a bit strong, but I did get some flack for a message board post I made a while back. 

I used to host the Toronto Independent Music podcast on blogTO.com.  My goal was to try and showcase new artists each week, 4 to 6 on average.  After about 30 episodes I was running a little low on talent to feature, so I posted an ask for submissions on a popular board frequented by many Toronto-area musicians and music fans.  Unfortunately, not being a regular member of the community in question, I received some flack for posting what was perceived as a "promotional" message.  Responses ranged from cynical to biting -- who was I, was this some kind of scam, was I too lazy to do the legwork of finding artists myself, that sort of thing.

2. What did you do about it?
By chance I was not able to respond immediately to these criticisms, and it turned out to be a lucky thing that I didn't.  As it happened, some of the artists I had featured in the past were well-established members of the community, and stuck up for me and for the podcast.  Once they did, I had an opening to clarify my intentions.  Things were smoothed over, and as it turned out I received some excellent music submissions from this community.

3. How would you counsel a client in a similar situation?

Try to establish yourself in a community before posting a what could be perceived as a promotional message.  The biggest mistake I made was not being more active on the board before trying to promote my own podcast, even if my intentions were well in keeping with the spirit of the community.

Wait and see if anyone will stick up for you.  If you really are providing value within a community, there's a good chance that someone in the community will come to your aid.

If no one comes to your defense, don't get defensive.  Try to engage with the critics and understand if there's something you can do in the future to highlight the value of what you are offering to the community. Critics generally just want to feel they are being heard, and if you engage them in genuine dialogue, they can sometimes turn into your strongest allies.

Kate Trgovac

Kate Trgovac is the President and Chief Catalyst of LintBucket Media, a boutique marketing agency - she's also the Editor in Chief of OneDegree.ca.

1. Have you ever had a problem with someone trying to discredit you online?
My situation wasn’t so much as someone trying to discredit me as trying to take advantage of my popularity and “google juice”.  I write a lens about laptop bags on Squidoo (a social networking/content creation site created by Seth Godin).  Each lens has its own unique URL (my laptop one is, not surprisingly, http://squidoo.com/laptopbag).  My lens is pretty popular and so is my name as a search term.  Well, it turns out that someone actually registered my name as a Squidoo URL and was using it to get traffic.  There were also folks using my name as a keyword in their lenses to increase their traffic (and subsequently their revenue).

2. What did you do about it?
I sent a note into the Squidoo folks and they were very prompt about turning the lens over to me and clearing out the rogue keywords.  Now, it certainly helps that I have a unique name.  If I were Jane Smith, I’m not sure if it would have been as easy a case to make.

3. How would you counsel a client in a similar situation?
So, it turns out that ego surfing isn’t just self-gratifying – it’s a necessity to protecting your brand.  Same with your clients.  Check on the major social networks, especially those that let you set up unique URLS or where the username is part of the URL.  Is anyone using their corporate name or product brand?  You likely can’t check every social network (there are hundreds), but you can certainly register on the top 2 dozen or so and protect those brand names.   

And if you’ve been putting off setting up those ego feeds for you and your clients, get to it!

Have you had an experience with negative publicity online? What did you do about it? Please share your story in the comments! If you'd like to host future instalments of Inside the Marketer's Studio, please drop us a line.

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Comments

It just amazes me how many corporations jump into the conversational bandwagon without thinking about strategy. Did you see the American Airlines debacle this week, with what was effectively a press release blog? (I blogged about it here - http://dailygrind.brandinfiltration.com/?p=53). It's so important for companies to think about at what grand scale one can mess with their carefully crafted brand in this space and the importance of approaching it with a solid strategy for dealing with the other side of the dialogue - both positive and negative.

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