THE BLOG

Online Image Repair: From 'Do Nothing' to 'Black Ops'

02/06/2014 03:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2014

Managing negative internet content has become part of the marketing mix for many companies. And if we judge by the frequency of ads on satellite radio for online reputation management firms, it might lead you to believe that we all have a problem that needs fixing.

Each day, individuals and businesses around the country have to deal with negative content online. Restaurants get bad reviews, businesses get slammed for poor customer service, and some people have Internet skeletons which inconveniently appear in search engine results.

What does one do if this happens? The spectrum of solutions runs wide from "let it ride" and do nothing to engaging in black ops activities that make bad things disappear for a steep price tag.

Here are some guidelines:

Bad Reviews

Websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor offer an easy platform for anyone to comment on restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions. If your business is victim of a bad review on one of these sites, you have two options that are not mutually exclusive. First, these sites enable the business owner to respond to both positive and negative reviews, so if a customer blasts your business, you can apologize or fire back. Typically, I recommend responding in a genial manner rather than letting a negative review rule the day.

The other option is to put forth the extra effort to secure positive reviews from your happy customers. It can pay off in many ways. For example, two years ago my family visited South Carolina and, in advance, we booked a trip on Adventure Harbor Tours, the number-one-rated attraction on TripAdvisor in Charleston. We arrived for our tour and learned that the boat taking us to see Fort Sumter and visit Morris Island was an 18-foot open fisherman with seats for 12. The captain and his crew were fantastic and led my family on a great morning of sightseeing and hunting for shark's teeth. Yes, you can find shark's teeth in Charleston Harbor -- the captain practically guarantees it. As we pulled into the dock on the return trip, Captain Howie asked us to rate his company on TripAdvisor if we had a good time. My kids happily complied when we returned to our hotel that night. Adventure Harbor Tours remains the top-rated attraction in Charleston, and last summer we returned to find Captain Howie had bought another boat for his fleet -- more than double the size which accommodates about 30 guests. Howie, who is not my client, but will be happy to read this, has hundreds of positive reviews which not only drive business, but also drown-out the few negative ones.

Note that you have to be careful about trying to "game" sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. A few years ago, I learned of a business that was asking customers to use its onsite computers to post reviews on Yelp. The review site flagged the reviews because they all originated from the same Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Defamatory Blog Posts

If information is published online that is false and defamatory, you can work to have it removed via legal channels. Most blogging platforms have terms of service which enable the victims of defamatory posts to have them removed. This is largely the realm of Internet law attorneys. I have written about this in the past, and the first step is to contact an attorney. If someone publishes something defamatory and uses one of the better-known blogging platforms like Wordpress, Blogger or Tumblr, then you have legal options to have it removed.

Negative Content -- Which Happens to Be True

The options to combat negative Internet posts run the gamut:

1. Push it down. The online reputation management industry is dominated by companies like Reputation.com which work to "push down" negative search results. This tactic, also known as suppression, doesn't get information removed from search engines, but rather pushes negative content down by flooding the Internet with positive or benign competing content. The companies that thrive in this area will charge anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to create new online content that will appear on the search engines ahead of negative posts. The negative information will still be available, but, if successful, it will be on page two or three of search results -- pages that a much smaller percentage of searchers view.

2. Respond. In some instances, it makes sense to respond to negative Internet posts. Third party companies will review internet posts, analyze them for accuracy and adherence to journalistic standards, and publish a report of their findings. Companies can then use the report to counter the negative information or convince the author of the negative post to remove it.

3. Covert Ops. For those who have tried some of the steps mentioned above, but still have a problem, there's one more option: the black ops of reputation management. Search engine companies are incredibly sophisticated, big businesses. As such, these organizations have thousands of standards and terms and conditions which they follow regarding publishing search results. There's such a vast amount of information published every day that they can't possibly check every single page and entry -- this job is left to sophisticated algorithms. The covert ops companies, often run by former search company techies, know the vast terms and conditions and can work on your behalf to get negative information de-listed from sites like Google. This means that the information is still online, but it is no longer displayed by the search engines. Because these companies work behind the scenes, in most instances the original publisher of the negative information has no idea why the post "disappeared" from search engines. This area of reputation management is amazing and truly cutting edge, so you can imagine it comes at a heavy price tag. Be prepared to shell-out tens of thousands of dollars for this service.

Have you ever faced a problem with negative internet content? What did you do about it?

This post originally appeared on DavidPRblog.com.