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All Reputation Management Tools Are Not Created Equal

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An over-reliance on a familiar tool is a concept made famous by American psychologist Abraham Maslow who in 1966 said: "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

Recently, I worked on two interesting yet vastly different online reputation problems, and the experiences affirmed to me that even though online reputation management issues are diverse, "hammers" are very popular.

The first involved a company that was fighting a disparaging and defamatory online forum posting. A disgruntled customer wrote a negative review on an industry forum - complaining that the company's services were inadequate, a rip-off and, here's the kicker, one of the employees (who was singled out by name) was on drugs.

This particular entry was posted on a prominent industry website, and when you Googled the topic or the company, the negative posting popped on page one of search results. The president of the company said that since this post first emerged a few months ago, he has lost more than $70,000 in revenue. (His business is very consistent, and his year-over-year sales were off; only thing different this year was the negative post.)

We analyzed the situation and learned that the website hosting the forum post was run by an up-and-coming progressive media company that, in my opinion, is trying to build its own reputation in the client's industry. We reached out to them with a fairly simple message: We wanted them to remove the post because it was defamatory. Though I'm not a lawyer, I do know that you can't name someone online and say they are on drugs, unless they were arrested or convicted - or perhaps living in Colorado. We also stressed that this type of post was clearly not in the spirit and mission of the aspiring media company. We held back on any confrontational language or legal threats. First best to try a little honey.

Determining who to contact can be a challenge, but in this case we were able to get our request in the hands of the right person. They responded quickly, and the post was taken down in less than 24 hours. We reported the dead link to Google and it was gone from search results within a few days. Mission accomplished.

In contrast, another person called me who was also dealing with a defamatory web post. This time on one of the major blog sites. We reached out to them and told them that posting was defamatory and in violation of their terms of service. They sent us back a form letter saying they weren't responsible for the content on their site. (That these blog sites enable people to anonymously defame others remains amazing to me, but that's a topic for another day.)

To combat the negative post, we employed a number of tactics, including some classic public relations, some web-oriented tools and some sophisticated, state-of-the-art techniques using some guys who know how to make online things go away. To quote Liam Neeson in the movie Taken, they have "a very particular set of skills... acquired over a very long career... that make [them] a nightmare."

In the short term and as of this writing, the negative post has been pushed off of page one. The hope is that it will be gone completely in the near future. How the specialists make this happen is, well, proprietary.

From these experiences, I have learned that all online reputation management solutions are not created equal.

When you research online reputation management websites (the best-known example is Reputation.com), you quickly learn that they offer one, distinct service known in the industry as "suppression." Reputation.com, and other similar companies, will create new, benign web content with the hopes of pushing down negative search results. This tactic can be very effective, but it isn't always the best solution, or the most economical - though the prices are dropping. There are other options to fix online reputation issues, but unfortunately 95 percent of the companies online are suppression companies. Anyone dealing with negative or defamatory posts should shop around because many of the companies that you find online want to push you toward one solution, their solution - which is almost always suppression.

My hope is that none of the readers of my blog will ever have to deal with a defamatory, online attack. But if you do, research your options -- and don't just reach for a hammer.

This post originally appeared on DavidPRblog.com.