“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” [from the movie Network]
I love this movie for a lot of reasons. At the core of this speech lies the essence of how most people feel about online slander and blatant anonymous attacks. While we cannot rationally understand how an attack on us, our families, or our businesses can possibly be allowed by the government, we know that we are on our own.
The question always comes down to, “what do I do about it?” My answer is simple; start by getting mad as hell! Our culture’s apathy is obvious in the way that victims of online slander usually respond: worry, wring your hands and lose sleep. Carry guilt and shame because a friend or business associate may read something online and assume it is correct. Talk about it with friends or declare that it is so wrong to your spouse; none of it does any good.
There are very few things in life that can’t be altered. The question to answer is whether you’ve gotten mad enough at the situation to do something about it! Read more
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