Any public relations firm worth the money you pay to hire them will tell you perception is reality. They are absolutely correct. Whether you are evaluating a product based on its online reviews or you are reading a story about the latest corporate scandal, what you see on the page is likely to influence your thinking about the topic, even if you are skeptical about the source.
Once a business finds itself the victim of a tarnished reputation, getting back to a point where everything it does isn't viewed with a sideways glance can be challenging, especially in a world where everything is eternally searchable. All is not lost, however. Many companies have rehabilitated their images, and it sometimes leads to a surprising outcome.
The Cure for Criticism
Ultimately a bad review or a critical reaction to a business is nothing more than someone's opinion. Even if they put their opinion on YouTube with musical accompaniment and top-notch production values, it's still just one person's viewpoint. That tends to work in favor of the criticized, as anyone's personal opinion can be dismissed as someone having a bad day, a customer who didn't understand the product or your garden variety troll.
This is different from a service issue, which can be publicly addressed and turned into a positive for a company. The fix for this problem, if it can really be called a problem, is to either ignore it or counter it with something positive. Public relations companies are well aware of how quickly someone can go from evil to community leader with the right photograph or quote.
The key is to never engage with a critic, especially if yours is a creative business. There is nothing to be gained by directly addressing someone critical of your work. All you will accomplish is to shine a spotlight on it.
The Reputation Tar-Pit
Your latest bad review sits at the top of the search results. Now everyone is going to judge your company based on that bad review. Right? Not so fast.
Leaving aside the fact a rather large proportion of your future customers will never perform a search for anything but your e-mail address, search results are exactly like a tar pit. The most recent victim is on top, while all past victims are underneath the first in reverse chronological order. It's an evolutionary blog. All you must do to make the most recent occupant invisible is to replace it.
Entire industries have sprung up around the unfairly maligned business in search results. Ultimately the practice of rehabilitation is no different than vanilla public relations. One or two search results never tell the whole story, which is why fair-minded people are rarely persuaded by the opinion of just one person or disgruntled customer.
I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Will, of Reputation Resolutions - an online reputation repair company. “The best advice for companies interested in enhancing their online reputation is to maintain a steady stream of new, relevant and search-optimized positive content about themselves - whether that be through press releases, customer reviews, blog posts or other third party content,” stated Anthony.
What Should We Say?
The Internet equivalent of giving to the poor is instructional material. If your company builds, designs or manufactures, your best source of great rehabilitative material is instructional articles, videos or books. Show people what you do and how you do it. Aside from giving you tremendous credibility in your industry, it portrays you as a regular person who happens to be good at something useful.
If you can add a "this is how you make money" angle to whatever you are offering as instructional material, that takes what you have to say and plates it in 24 karat gold. Enough of this kind of material and you will find your critics washed away to page six in the good will you receive as a company. It will also probably help you find more business.
It is nearly impossible to completely avoid criticism. Every business encounters bad clients and unfortunate outcomes. The key thing to remember is you always have the home-court advantage when it comes to your business. If you use it wisely, you'll find that even the most strident critics will find it difficult to gain any real traction.