I got the phone call as I was driving home. A frantic friend wanted to know how to remove some “bad press” that had just broken in the news. It wasn’t really news, per se. It was a unreasonable (meaning no logical basis or foundation), disgruntled “client.”
I would share what industry they are in, but it is so specialty that that would likely also clarify who they are and their promised anonymity would be lost. Needles to say, it is a firm in Beverly Hills and one which used more of an offline approach (i.e. think “cocktail parties”) than online.
Truly, who this company is or what they do is irrelevant to the issue. The only point of relevancy is how much they care about their reputation. That is normal for Hollywood. There are gains and losses on a daily basis. Just watch the Kardashians Reality Show, and it makes sense.
It is also normal that you should care, as well. Oh, not to the level of frantic or the next Reality TV Show, but at least a basic knowledge of the topic of Online Reputation Management.
You see, my friend thought that you could just phone up Google and ask them to eradicate anything that you didn’t like. Yes, it is true that I have connections, but that simply isn’t the way it is done.
Calling Google may be done that way in extreme cases (i.e. Government involvement or when there is a risk of information leaking out on a court case), but it isn’t available to the rest of us, just because we experience something that we feel is untrue (a.k.a. “bad press”). Don’t quote me on that!
Another Story: An Example
Another story involves a well-meaning, quality college. (Like there is one that is not a quality college?) Well, what I mean is that the college did not deserve the bad press it was getting. Some realistic reviews may be in order, but not slamming a college that hadn’t really done anything wrong. In this case, a particular individual decided to “take it out” on a college that she felt was responsible for her bad home life.
Go figure. No, let’s not.
Let’s just leave it with 1) in my opinion it was unmerited (the bad press, that is) and 2) it was extreme. This one woman singlehandedly filled Google SERPs with the nastiest things possible. Let’s say that if an attorney needed some extra cash, there were likely liable suits waiting him or her.
The solution really was not that difficult. I even volunteered to do it for free (in exchange for free room and board while I visited the college). However, it appeared that the college didn’t want to make waves and “just wanted to be nice.” Ok, I get it, but I have probably spent too much time in Corporate America and wanted to get the job done for this poor college that didn’t deserve the hand they were dealt.
Here is the strategy that I would have used and which I have used on a smaller scale, with success. This strategy is specific to this, er, “case study” (the college), but can be adapted for local clients, yourself, any version of the strategy you like.
Step 1: Go to the College/Organization
The social media manager, online reputation specialist, whatever the title, goes to the organization and makes it their temporary home. If you are doing this for another organization, it is nice if you get paid 😉 The reason that I recommended being “on location” is that the phone calls (I’ll get to that) would show the name of the college and this would lend to the credibility of the strategy.
Step 2: Prepare Your Environment
Set up shop (a.k.a. office). Remind the organization that it is important that the phone be one of the organization’s phone so that the recipient of the call doesn’t think it is some fly-by-night operation or marketing spammers (do they call it that for phone calls?).
Oh, another thing. Define how you will be recording and tracking your progress. For me, I would develop a database, but then I am a programmer. Possibly, the school has some IT students who would like to help. At the bare minimum, set up some Excel documents and put them on a shared drive so that you can use them with a potential team (more on that in the next point).
Step 3: Request Your List
Meet with the organization to get a “list.” In this case, I was targetting the alumni of the college. Oh, did I mention? This particular college had a very dedicated alumni. They were loved! Also, as an added benefit, many of the alumni were bloggers. This isn’t unusual, to find a few bloggers on any list. It is helpful if you have a list of those bloggers off the top, but if not, you can grab some college students and have them help you research the alumni list to find those who are bloggers. See if you can get the school to give some college credit or work study to the students.
Step 4: Announce it to the Alumni (Establishing Credibility)
Have the college make a general announcement that they have a team helping with PR. Ask for those alumni who would be willing to help (put them at the top of the list). Also, invite those who want nothing to do with PR to respond so that they can be removed. Most people won’t respond and they would stay on the list (unless there is some law or something that is being broken).
Be sure to keep this on the alumni communication and as private as it can be without avoiding the announcement entirely. It is possible that the announcement is not possible, depending on where the bad press is coming from (i.e. the bad press is from an alumni member). This is a college-level decision. The idea is to be courteous to the group and that is why you are providing the announcement.
Step 5: Start the Calls
Start the calls. Log the results. The idea of the call is to greet the individual and quickly identify who you are and what you are doing. The “script” should be run be the staff of the college to find the most concise way of introducing the conversation. Remember, most people are likely to think it is a marketing call, so pretty early on you will want to ensure that that this is a request for help from their beloved college. The objective is to have the blogger write up a testimonial on their blog about how much they love their college.
They could suggest alternate ideas for articles, which would help to add to the diversity. Be sure that you are not offering the bloggers anything. This is not a paid or sponsored post. Instead, it is a “cry for help” and asking the blogger to share what they have likely already been telling people anyway, but to put it in a blog.
Be sure to find out when they intend to publish the article. Don’t pressure them, but mark down the expected date in your database or Excel spreadsheet, for follow-up later.
Give them a few SEO tips and offer to meet with them after they have written their article, if they would like some help with polishing it or getting that SEO right. Most will take you up on the offer. They may even offer to send you the draft and have you polish it and SEO-ize it for them. After all, they love the school and want to help.
Step 6: Offer to Help
Offer to write the article for the bloggers, if they like. You want to write it in their voice, for their blog, so set up a time to interview them and get an idea of what they think about the college.
This may be an opportunity to expand the content ideas to podcasts, video interviews, videos of the school, infographics, speaking opportunities (published, of course), slideshares.. you name it.
Bring some students in to help with content production, if need be and possibly another class, teaching the students about marketing, SEO, branding, and hey… online reputation management!
Step 7: Follow-Up
Follow up with your bloggers to ensure that the content is published and also to have a record.
Step 8: Integrate Social Media Marketing
During this process, also have a Social Media Marketing Strategy (social sharing) alongside the blogging and blogger outreach. For those who do not have a blog or are not interesting in blogging, ask them if they would be willing to share the articles.
Set up a secret Facebook group and ask if the alumnus wants to be added to that group. In that group, share the link for the most recent published article so others can share. Remind them to share on G+ and comment, as well, since that also helps with SEO. Don’t forget to suggest organizational blogs.
So, if you are talking to someone who is not a blogger, but they are interested in helping, maybe you could have a college student write the article and they could see if it could be published, say, at their local church’s blog or a community blog. Remember, we are thinking outside the box here.
Step 9: Review, Revise, Repeat
Now, review your progress, your results, and repeat as needed.
Can you visualize it? In the situation I referenced at the beginning, this method would have pushed all of the accuser’s posts out of the way. By mere quantity of participants (I happen to know there were hundreds available to participate), her posts would have had little attention. Oh, they would exists, but there would be a flood of the positive to cover up the icky posts.
Remember, this is just an example, a predictive case study if you will. You will need to change quite a few steps for your organization or situation, but it should give you some ideas and stimulate your strategic minds. Hopefully through this storytelling method, you can see the value of the Online Reputation Management, or at least understanding that it exists.
Also, this is really only one aspect (well, two) of the online reputation management process. There is more to learn. However, I have some links for you.
In closing, here are some excellent sites, to get you going with the tips for YOUR online reputation management: