Historically, when a consumer had a complaint about a product or services the dispute was presented to a creditable third party such as the Better Business Bureau or Consumer Affairs and a resolution was reached. These days, Reputation Advocate has seen Internet “complaint” web sites become the weapon of choice for frustrated customers, disgruntled employees, competitors, political activists and anyone with an ax to grind to air their complaints cheaply, globally and sometimes effectively. Hiding under the cloak of anonymity and empowered by a worldwide audience, complainers have carried old-fashioned written complaints and tirades into cyberspace, and Reputation Advocate takes calls from their victims everyday.
Commuters arriving in San Francisco using the Bay Bridge were confronted with placard signs reading: “Had any problems at Starbucks Coffee? You’re not alone. http://www.starbucked.com.” The customer had taken his anti-Starbucks campaign to the world and the web using a not so subtle domain name that bore a striking resemblance to the stores name.
According to Reputation Advocate, companies face a challenging battle when attempting to take down this type of content. When the “complaint” site is engaged in commercial activity, Federal trademark infringement, dilution and trade libel laws may protect a company against disparaging use of corporate names and trademarks and confusing domain names. However, when the purpose of the disparagement is solely customer complaints and parody, these laws provide far less protection, says Reputation Advocate.
Many companies are adopting other strategies as well. Complaint sites that appear on third party servers, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo are generally subject to a web hosting agreement that specifically prohibits trademark infringements and offensive materials. Upon receiving complaints of possible infringement and libel, Reputation Advocate has observed that Web hosting companies will generally remove such pages. Recognizing the low cost of registering anti-domain names, Reputation Advocate recommends that companies register as many variations as possible for their Internet domain names in order to reduce the opportunities for disgruntled customers and employees to establish complaint sites with similar or confusing domain names.
Web sites bashing a company, its products, or its employees most often simply talk about bad customer service or a faulty product. Reputation Advocate notes that there are so many that Yahoo! created a separate directory for “complaint” sites, posting everything from hard core consumer activism and anti-corporate back lashing to personal revenge and fictitious claims. As the Internet expands, companies need to publish and execute policies for effectively dealing with this type of slander.
Complaint Web Sites: As Reputation Advocate has pointed out, the vast majority of complaint sites fall into the category of consumer complaint sites. These sites typically collect stories of bad customer service or a faulty product. The list of these sites is growing and Reputation Advocate lists a few specific examples below:
- Chasebanksucks.com: “The Right Relationship Means Nothing”
- The Worst Bank in the Universe!” Reputation Advocate notes that this popular site features an animated picture of a man repeatedly relieving himself on the slogan “Chase Manhattan Bank Sucks.” It targets mortgages, credit cards and customer service. A bulletin board allows customers and ex-employees to gripe about every service Chase provides. The site also provides links to news stories about how “Chase’s ‘right relationship’ started with the Nazis during W.W.II” and how “corruption is alive and well at Chase.”
- Starbucked.com: The Starbucked web site tells the saga of a Starbucks customer and his fight against Starbucks’ corporate greed, all stemming from a defective espresso machine purchased. Reputation Advocate says that the site offers consumer resources, a discussion board and a “case study” of the specific details of the customer’s complaint.
- Untied.com: A mistype of united.com (for those looking for United Airlines) leads to untied.com, a self-defined whistleblower and complaint site created by anti-fans of United Airlines. While Reputation Advocate says that this site was last edited in March of 2008, it is still available to the world and attempts to be a clearinghouse for passenger complaints directed at the customer service department at United.
While large corporations frequently retain firms like Reputation Advocate to provide proactive Domain Name Management, Domain Name Recovery and Online Brand Protection; small companies can be dealt a blow from which it may be impossible to recover. The real challenge comes from the fact that, in addition to specific URL targeted complaints, there are hundreds of general complaint sites. A customer, former employee or competitor can log dozens of complaints from a Blackberry or iphone while eating lunch.
For more information about this and other topics related to your personal or business online reputation management, contact Reputation Advocate at 888-229-0746 or visit them online at http://www.reputationadvocate.com.
Everyone has to make a living. Some make it while practicing integrity and others in the shadows of questionable practices. The Book my family lives by says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But nowhere does it say that money itself is evil. Money pays the bills, educates the kids and allows for a little planning in life. It’s the “root” that creates the problem.
I decided to write this article after a few recent experiences in my chosen vocation; online reputation management. I spend all day, every day, listening to people who are being hurt by content that appears on the Internet about them. Some are being attacked professionally. Maybe they own a business and an ex-employee or disgruntled customer levels their scope and takes aim through the barrel of the World Wide Web. For others it is deeply personal – marriages, illness, mistakes long past but brought squarely to the forefront of their life again. If you don’t have empathy for people then this is a poor choice for vocation.
Which brings me to my point. Most people are attacked by someone that they know. A competitor, ex-lover, neighbor, jealous friend or a former employee, these are the underlying sources of most online slander. That fact seems to shock people when I first suggest it. Most complaints are not valid. Many times the complaint is so distorted that it’s laughable if you take the time to read it. But therein lies the big problem. No one reads the complaint, they just read the headline or metatag.
Since this year has begun our company, Reputation Advocate, has been attacked more than thirty times. At the office, we discuss the source and easily rule out our neighbors, former employees (we have none to date), friends (we have many) and romance gone bad (happily married now for 18 years). That brings us down to competitors. So let me circle back around to character and integrity and consider motive. In the big picture all boats rise together as the old saying goes. For the firms that provide quality service, stand behind their words and admit errors when they are made I believe that online reputation defense and management services will be needed for years to come; we can’t put this genie back in the bottle.
Attacking competitors is perhaps the lowest form of a business development strategy. With that said, I frequently deal with business owners who know that the online attack they need help with has come from a competitor; they see it in the language and detail of the false statements.
At Reputation Advocate, we have come to recognize the oily fingerprint delivered from across the ocean. To some, it’s highly ironic that we, an online reputation company, are attacked and have to defend and suppress content ourselves. But we knew this would be the case as we began. The anonymous nature of online slander lends itself to those who have no other strategy for business development. No one is immune. Many doctors get ill and die every year al the while attempting to heal others. This is true for both Reputation Advocate and our many clients.
What I attempt to convey to those who retain us is that there is no absolute online protection for anyone. On behalf of our clients we expend a great deal of thought and energy focused on the positive aspects of who they are and what value they bring to their customers. Presenting the truth professionally will always prevail in the end. Companies that provide service, products, integrity and honesty will always have clients, job opportunities and success.
For Reputation Advocate, as for most of our clients, our “product” makes a difference. We do not execute perfectly every time. We correct mistakes as we define and admit them. We treat our clients with respect. In exchange for that we derive income. For those firms that focus only on the last element of success – income – they miss the point. Making a difference in a client’s life, adding value and creating content that reflects well on the client is what will create true success. Complaining and sniping anonymously from the shadows will ultimately undermine any success that could be achieved.
So this is a message on behalf of all of our current and future clients. It is a message from Reputation Advocate to its detractors. It is a message to all of those defamed on the Internet that have not yet chosen to fight back. Provide service, treat people fairly, admit that you are not perfect, try hard and keep going. Make a difference in the world. Now that is success.
They did it again. The Obama administration forgot the first rule in a crisis. Never send Joe Biden to calm people’s fears.
Is it true that we are one heartbeat away from his type of leadership? What were we thinking?
If you didn’t hear, Biden had another attack of his trademark foot-in-mouth disease. During a television interview on April 30th, he shared that he’d told his own family that — while some people are steering clear of Mexico — they should be extra cautious and not even get on airplanes or, for that matter, go into any “confined place” like the subway where germs could spread.
“If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing,” Biden said. “If you’re in a closed aircraft … or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”
He’s not alone. Many people react rather then respond. Chicken Little had this problem. This “sky is falling” mentality is purely reactionary. No measured thought, no plan.
It happens in just about any area of life. A work crisis or unexpected consequences from poorly thought out actions can punch every button you have. Panic and fear find the deep pit in your stomach and your mouth dries up. Or, in Mr. Biden’s case, you just open your mouth and listen to what comes out, as surprised as everyone else.
The same is true in business. I was self-employed for 27 years before I was involved in a lawsuit. While I prevailed, it was traumatic. Some business owners get hit by something even more unexpected than a lawsuit — slander on the Internet. They’ve never considered their exposure until a complaint finds its way onto one of hundreds of online complaint sites. It’s not until business falls off or a new account being courted goes another direction that they make the connection.
Sites like complaint.com and complaintboard.com make their living from disgruntled consumers. Anonymous postings on the mother of all complaint sites, ripoffreport.com, are added without an attempt to verify what’s being said. And BAM! someone’s business takes a hit.
React or respond, that is the question. I’ll file a lawsuit! Against whom? Don’t be reactionary. Analyze the options and seek a professional’s help. Many times well intentioned efforts actually exacerbate the problem. Responding with a well thought out strategy will yield a much better long term solution. Substance over drama will always win the day.
So take a deep breath, forgive your attacker and deal with the need to repair your online reputation. Or, hire Vice President Joe Biden as your spokesperson and stand back. If you do, the one thing you can count on is that you’ll be surprised. (Along with the rest of the world.)
So I’m taking my daughter to school this morning, and on the way I tell her that I’m replacing my Blackberry today. Why? she asks. Answer: It doesn’t dial fast like it used to.
And I think to myself, What exactly is the total delay in seconds I am experiencing? And, how embarrassing…
Then I remembered a sermon I heard several weeks ago about our expectations and how we (I) am so inconvenienced by the slightest delay. For example, the cell signal going into outer space, connecting with a satellite that beams down a signal to the exact phone I wish to reach. Total time: 4 to 10 seconds. There it is, a six second inconvenience.
Fax machines, express mail and the drive-through at Starbucks, I am guilty of them all. How did this happen and what do I do to get back to some reasonable expectations? At the rate I am going, writing a blogpost simply cannot happen fast enough so I will just qui…
Most situations that we want fast answers for were created over time, not overnight. We ignore a need (I’ll just mail it tomorrow), avoid the demand (the tires have 70K miles on them) or just simply don’t plan (I don’t have time to make coffee so I’ll pay two bucks for a 30 cent cup of coffee).
The same is true of services. When we needed our dishwasher fixed a couple of weeks ago, they had to order the part–another ridiculous delay! Doctors and dentists, I can’t believe they have other patients in front of me (that made their appointments weeks before I called). As I look at all this in my own life it’s embarrassing. It makes me want to say things like “remember the good old days?”
My business, Reputation Advocate, runs into similiar issues. I talk to people every day that just want the “pain” to go away. The bad information and negative postings have been there for months or even years. All of a sudden the negative post from Ripoff Report hits close to home. Something happens and BAM! Their reputation needs to be fixed now.
The solution for my own life is to recast my expectations. When I run into one of those BAM moments with a client I try my best to talk them off the ledge. The negative information wasn’t created overnight (although it was perhaps posted overnight!) and we can’t get rid of it in just one day.
With just a little bit of time my cell phone will connect, I can make coffee, replace my tires or drive over to the post office. As far as my clients go; Rome wasn’t built in a day, remember?
-Steven Wyer, ReputationAdvocate.com