Reputation management and your marketing/brand (and the nasty wormhole)

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reputation warning
Warren Buffet's statement about how easy it is to ruin your good reputation offers a warning about ethical and business-practice blunders.

If you want to travel down a wormhole of marketing and reputational desperation, you may wish to Google a site relating to “ripoffs” (I won’t post a direct link here), and then read the tales of woe from businesses caught in its web — when disgruntled former clients or employees spew venom, and the site won’t remove the offending material but will provide a clean-up service for several thousand dollars.

Companies affected by this extremely negative publicity assert they are victims of an extortion scheme. The website operators, conversely, say they are simply complying with the rules regarding free speech and it isn’t the site’s responsibility to validate or verify complaints, outside of some narrow areas (such as not posting personal credit card details, or child pornography.)

The disastrous effects of the negative publicity can be extreme, as business virtually dries up by anyone associated with the site. (Even if you file a valid rebuttal, the stigma remains — as people tend to think where there is some smoke, there is some fire.) Solutions include various expensive options, including third-party reputation management services, the organization’s own paid clean-up tool, or (most expensive and fraught with escalating challenges) litigation against the individuals who filed the negative posts.

I expect most AEC businesses won’t get caught in this nasty space, though some residential contractors/renovators may experience troubles. However, there are other situations where messy and antagonistic situations can certainly get out of hand and the conventional approaches to silence criticism (such as threatening litigation) do not work effectively.

The best answer to these challenges of course is to avoid the situations where you are caught anywhere near them. Quickly and effectively resolving client complaints, avoiding business practices that lead to disputes (and that means avoiding clients where you have doubts about their integrity) and building as many positive third-party references to your business as possible will help. If you are caught blind-sided; it is wise to cool your emotions, review your options carefully, and elect to pay the “extortion” or work with third-party specialists to overcome the negative news.

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