Protecting your good name in the digital age

From time to time I have tried to help out a small business owner in my neighborhood with marketing ideas and advice. Lately, we have been looking at Yelp and pondering how to mitigate the damage to her reputation from a few bad reviews.

She just wants them removed, pure and simple. Unfortunately, you can’t do that. “But there must be some way to get rid of them!” Well, not completely.

Reputation: what are they saying about you?

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As with most social media and the many review sites that rate restaurants, doctors and other service providers, you are generally stuck with the good, bad and ugly.

My friend has many devoted customers, and I have suggested that she encourage them to write good reviews to push down the bad ones. Over time, the bad reviews will fall to the bottom of the list and her ratings will improve.

So far, she is reluctant to ask her customers to do anything. I’ve also suggested that she respond to the negative reviews, which she is entitled to do as the owner of the business. I have even offered to help her write a response since English is not her native language. It is important to take the right approach when responding to online criticism. You don’t want to appear too defensive, condescending or angry. You certainly don’t want things to escalate.

No, she would rather not respond. “Can’t we just shut the whole thing down? Why do I have to be listed on Yelp?” No, you cannot just shut Yelp down.

I have known this person for well over a decade. She is a hard worker and is very dedicated to her business and customers. It can’t be easy for her to see those bad reviews, but few things ever go away on the Internet.

So here are four things you can do (at a minimum) to make sure your name isn’t dragged into the digital mud:

1) Look in the virtual mirror. Get in the habit of checking the search engines to see what pops up under your name. In fact, I would suggest several different searches, especially if you have a common name or are best known in a particular geographic area or industry. Here are some searches to try:

  • Name (or variation on your name with nick name or middle name)
  • Name + city where you live/work
  • Name + zip code
  • Name + industry/key words

You’d be surprised how just changing these filters can make a difference in your searches.

2) Repair the damage you are able to repair. Sometimes you can remove damaging content by sending a request to the owner of the site and asking that it be removed. Or, if you were the author of the content, you may be able to remove or modify it yourself. You can also close accounts that you no longer use.

3) Be proactive in guarding your reputation and building your brand. It takes time, but you can improve your Internet image if it has been tarnished by a bad review or an embarrassing post. Get in the habit of posting positive things about yourself or company. Ask others to give recommendations on your behalf. Don’t just play defense, get out there and engage!

4) Ignorance is not bliss. My friend’s latest stance is to just forget about the bad reviews. But you ignore bad PR at your own peril. You never know who may see a negative post or how it might come back to haunt you. It could be an employer, a client or even your friends. You need to be prepared to explain what happened and be able to say, “I’ve done everything in my power to correct that misperception.” After all, it’s your name.

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