Tips to guard your online reputationPage 1 of 2
The internet has handed a megaphone to disaffected customers and business partners, and put them on a platform from which to broadcast their tales of woe to a mass audience.
Bloggers are quick to write negative experiences, and occasionally they strike a chord with their readers. The impact quickly snowballs.
Online forums also give people a place to vent their frustration - such as Whirlpool.net.au, a site set up for discussions (often complaints) around telecommunications companies. Founder Simon Wright said last year: "People never tire from discussing their telecommunications services."
And social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter give people another place to air their feelings. For example, the site Optus Poo automatically republishes comments regarding Optus from blogs and Twitter - good and bad. A significant percentage are bad, and the site links to other negative Optus blogs.
Another example is the Qantas Sucks website, which collects news stories on the airline (mainly negative) and even offers $500 for the best submission each month. The site's tag line reads: "Not affiliated with Qantas airlines - in fact, they hate us."
The effect on a company's reputation can be highly damaging.
The franchise chain Bakers Delight experienced this in Australia in 2007 when disgruntled former franchise owners began blogging about their experiences. The blog sites Bakers Delight Lies and Bakers Delight Victims carried allegations against the company's business practices.
The blogs became a touchstone for disgruntled franchisees, who posted their own experiences. The activities described led to an ACCC investigation that subsequently cleared Bakers Delight of any misleading of deceptive conduct, but no doubt cost the company in terms of its professional reputation.
Rather than choosing to take on the bloggers through blog sites themselves, Bakers Delight used the mainstream media to communicate with the general public. Company spokesperson Kendra Teasdale says that while the company is not actively reaching out to bloggers now, it is exploring its options.
"The negative blogs were largely allegations from disgruntled former franchisees," Teasdale says. "Bakers Delight actively communicated the outcome of the ACCC investigation, clearing the company of these allegations, via the media and Bakers Delight website."
Defending your brand
So how do you respond when attacked?
Don't bother with the lawyers. According to Paul Zawa, a partner at Minter Ellison in Melbourne, unless a company's trademark is being infringed, there is generally little a company can do if its reputation is being trashed on blogs or in forums.
"You can't defame a company, unless you are targeting an individual, and then the individual sues for defamation," Zawa says. "You do have to be a bit thick skinned."
Account manager and social media adviser at Keep Left PR, Sarah Stokely, says many companies do not start thinking about their online reputation until it has been attacked.
"If you are coming at it cold, in response to a particular problem, then the first thing to do is not to rush in," Stokely says. "It needs to be something that you have thought about and have decided within the company."
Stokely says it is important that this is understood across the company.
"It just takes someone panicking or losing their temper and putting up an angry or rude response, and you've just made the situation a lot worse," Stokely says.
martes, mayo 19
Tips to guard your online reputation - Business news, business advice and information for Australian SMEs | SmartCompany