By definition, “sunshine” laws have been put into place to create transparency in both the state and federal governments. The unintended byproduct of this transparency, however, is creating long-term issues for millions of Americans. Freedom Of Information statutes are exposing people arrested for misdemeanors such as DUI even when the charges are dropped. At issue are the booking records and specifically the pictures or “mug shots” taken at the time of initial booking. While charges may be dropped, the images remain online in perpetuity.
For many people, these incidents are an isolated example of temporary poor judgment. While the incident may have been pushed to the back of a distant memory, the information remains available online. While the law clearly indicates that this information is to be published, for many moving forward is proving to be very challenging.
There are two issues that need to be addressed. The first is that this information is delivered through state and federal regulation; and there is really nothing that can be done about that. The second issue is that this type of information usually ranks very high within a person’s search results – often on page one. If such information requires an explanation, then it is an issue – always.
While all states have a certain element of transparency within public records, some states are more pro-active than others. Take Florida as an example. Florida.arrests.org offers booking records and pictures from a number of different searchable databases run by local police and sheriff databases. This information is all a matter of public record; however making it so readily available is very punitive. This unfortunately demonstrates the unintended consequence of state transparency laws.
Clearly this information can also be used to exploit people and shame them. More troubling is the possibility that it can be easily accessed as current and perspective employers, peers, competitors and social acquaintances are gathering background information. Serving as Managing Director for Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management firm, I can personally attest to the fact that people attempting to address this issue contact our firm every week. While there are several companies that represent the ability to remove the mug shot for a fee, few are providing answers to the underlying issue. From my perspective, people must take control of their identity online in order to protect themselves from future embarrassment.
At Reputation Advocate, we work through an affiliation with a local law firm, Waterford Law Group, to negotiate with the site and remove the mug shot if the situation complies with site terms and conditions. Every day, our company consults with businesses and individuals who have come to a point where online defense is a priority. Removing public records such as these is a first step, however it can provide a false sense of security. Our goal is to position professionals in such a way that they are viewed honestly and transparently while at the same time putting their best foot forward.
We will readily acknowledge that fees are paid in the removal process, but for most people contacting Reputation Advocate this is not an issue – they understand there is cost involved. The questions most people focus on when calling our offices relate to how they might prevent this type of embarrassment again. That is where I believe the true value of our company’s services is found.
By now, nearly everyone I know has purchased a Groupon discount coupon. I’ve started to receive daily discount offers from competitors like LivingSocial and Moolala and my family is taking advantage of discounts to places we might not otherwise consider. We try new restaurants, get our cars detailed, wedge in a massage or two; the merchants get a new customer and Groupon heads toward an enormous IPO. What could be better? Perhaps a lot.
The thought is that a deep discount coupled with a positive experience will deliver repeat customers. While this theory seems to be widely embraced, I believe that the assumptions are wrong. From my perspective, it is Groupon that owns the customer loyalty, not the merchant offering the services. The deal seekers and bargain shoppers come in with the expectation of getting an incredible deal with no less than top-notch service. And there is evidence to indicate that they are very willing to jump to online review sites and let people know how (bad) their experience was.
However, a dramatic influx of customers can slow customer service and irritate this new, Groupon-acquired customer. Service levels decrease due to volume and the next thing a business owner knows, their business has been reviewed poorly on Google.local, Yahoo.local, Citysearch or one of a dozen other consumer rating sites. Smiley faces turn to frowns and five-star reviews deteriorate into one-star ratings.
Groupon customers have very little loyalty to a merchant yet, as I mentioned before, expectations for service are high. Think about it: when a business is overwhelmed (having sold 1000 half priced dinners/haircuts/tans/car washes, etc.) the door opens for bad experiences all around. Disappointed customers are already online-savvy or they would not be participating in these discount programs. The ever-increasing numbers of review sites available provide many opportunities to express disappointment. In fact, based upon many conversations with Reputation Advocate clients, we believe that customers who have a positive experience seldom go online to offer complements. In many ways there is no way for a small business owner to win in this business model.
Adding insult to injury, statistics support a growing reality that repeat business is almost non-existent. Customer retention is low. In short, a merchant receives 25% of the retail value of the product or service. That amount is paid out over the timeline of the redemption period, not up front. The business is stressed, and may be forced to compromise service levels, disappointing new customers and triggering bad online reviews. I admit that I may be one of the few that see it this way. In fact, Groupon reported that as of Sept 2011 they had a backlog of 35,000 companies that hope to promote their products and services through this channel.
Be aware: online complaints can come from many sources. Former employees, competitors – or new (discount) customers coming with high expectations, little loyalty and a willingness to quickly let the world know of any disappointment experienced.
Steven Wyer is the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management company based near Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the author of Violated Online, a book offering practical tips about protecting your online reputation. For more information about how Reputation Advocate can help repair your online reputation, visit the company website at http://www.reputationadvocate.com
In the past several years, online review sites have become increasingly widespread and easily available, allowing consumers to query information about individuals, services and products. Seldom is the origin of the content questioned. At ReputationAdvocate.com we see firsthand that the lack of transparency by a reviewer/commentator – coupled with no attempt to independently validate claims – has created challenges that few imagined could happen. When reviews are offered anonymously and statements, claims and criticism fill a review, it should raise questions of credibility – however many times it does not.
The team at ReputationAdvocate.com spends a lot of time listening to potential clients as they vent their frustration. ReputationAdvocate.com observes daily the inability to confront an accuser, attempt to rectify a misunderstanding or discuss an online opinion posted. The nature of these online sites is to allow free speech with anonymity. ReputationAdvocate.com empathizes yet delivers a straightforward message; the Internet does not play fair.
The challenge with many online review sites is that generally the posted comments, ratings and reviews face no review or approval process. The team at ReputationAdvocate.com knows that all too often these reviews are posted maliciously, with no recourse available when false and misleading statements are posted. As those of us at ReputationAdvocate.com have frequently pointed out, individuals seeking information online may not stop to consider the truthfulness of content found or the identity of the one providing the content. When people take online information at face value they set aside a natural filter that is used when engaging other forms of media observes reputationadvocate.com.
When taking calls at ReputationAdvocate.com, we often hear prospective clients make the assumption that a negative review is coming from an unhappy customer. In fact, these reviews could be coming from a related third party seeking an advantage by damaging the online reputation of the person or business named. As another post from ReputationAdvocate.com pointed out, “Jason M.” from Wisconsin could actually be an employee at one of that company’s competitors. The team at ReputationAdvocate.com has often noted that reviews can and do come from disgruntled former employees and dissatisfied current employers. “Consider the source” is difficult to apply in a world where anyone can pretend to be someone else at any time. There’s no way to prove Jason M. is in fact Jason M. at all.
So what can companies and individuals do when they find defamatory information on the Web? At ReputationAdvocate.com, the first question asked may be whether or not a customer or potential customers will see it. The prominence of negative reviews in basic web search determines how much it can impact a business’s bottom line. ReputationAdvocate.com regularly informs clients that many web searches rarely go past the first page or two of search results. If a rating site or opinion site has low authority with the search engines, such negative content may have little impact on the bottom line. Conversely, most rating sites that have high page rank can be very detrimental to a business. Many businesses are able to directly tie declining revenue to false online content. Thus, ReputationAdvocate.com discusses the economic evaluation process when a potential client is considering retaining the company to assist with derogatory content. ReputationAdvocate.com believes that any project considered to be tied to a return is clearly an investment.
2.3 billion searches are initiated on Google every single day. In many cases, the first source customers are using to find out information about your business is an online search. ReputationAdvocate.com will discuss this with you and is able to help evaluate whether or not such online queries are hurting your business.
If customers are presented with a hefty dose of criticism when they search for you or your business, ReputationAdvocate.com can help. With veteran specialists on hand to evaluate the specific origin, structure and authority of any given complaint, ReputationAdvocate.com recommends appropriate action to correct online presence and visibility and restore your ability to attract new business. The goal of our work at ReputationAdvocate.com is to deliver cost effective results that can be traced back to restored profitability.
ReputationAdvocate.com provides a free evaluation to all potential customers. During this evaluation, the experts at ReputationAdvocate.com will research your online presence and determine what ReputationAdvocate.com can do to help you re-establish your reputation online. You are under no obligation by having this evaluation conducted. However, should you need the services of an online reputation company, ReputationAdvocate.com can customize an online clean-up plan to help you.
While it is said that people are innocent until proven guilty, Steven Wyer experienced first hand that the Internet has interrupted such long held notions of justice. As managing director of Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management company, Steven Wyer now helps others who have been slandered online as he was. Adding the title of published author to his string of professional accomplishments, Steven Wyer has written Violated Online. In the book he offers more than 50 specific tips on how the reader can better prepare for an unexpected online attack. For more information about how Reputation Advocate can help you repair your online reputation, call 888-229-0746 or go online to http://reputationadvocate.com