Q: I got an e-mail from a company that claims that they found negative comments about my company on some websites and can get them taken off for a fee. Is this just another scam? - Jill
A: The service that you’re referring to has been coined “reputation management” and is an emerging industry in the social-tech dominated Internet world we are living in today.
While there are certainly legitimate companies that offer such services, those that directly solicit you via scare tactics should be avoided.
I’ve seen examples of foreign companies that use this as their marketing method that oddly enough refer to a complaint website that is hosted in that same foreign country.
This is not to say that they necessarily own the complaint site as well, but it wouldn’t be real hard to create this scenario and the fact that they are taking this aggressive approach would give me more cause for concern.
Look at it this way; if a company claims that they can help you with your online reputation, then you should be able to see all about their reputation by searching for help on “reputation management” or searching their company name to see what they are doing to maintain their own reputation.
If they don’t appear prominently in both of those scenarios, than you can assume they aren’t really all that good at reputation management and it’s likely a scam.
Another thing to clearly understand is that anyone that tells you that they can have all negative comments about your company removed from the Internet, should be avoided.
Today’s Internet has made it very easy for anyone to have a voice on any opinion from anywhere in the world. Unless the comments about your company are considered libel or slander in the legal context (this is where you should consult your own legal counsel), no one can force the author or hosting website to remove the comments just because they are negative.
In general, what reputation management firms do is create new information, blogs, forum entries, YouTube videos, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and a host of other content to “push down” the negative content in search engine results.
Anyone can actually create enough content on their own to achieve similar results, but the question is ‘would you rather spend your time or your money to get it done’?
Without question, all companies should be routinely monitoring their online reputation so they understand how they may be perceived by others via Internet searches, etc. This will also give you a better understanding of whether you should consult a professional or not.
Your basic choices when you find negative info on your company are to ignore it, post a comment, post a rebuttal or take formal action (legal or otherwise).
Typing your company name in Google (with quotation marks if more than one word) is a good start in monitoring your companies online reputation, but there are a number of other free tools you should consider using.
Google Alerts (http://google.com/alerts) will monitor news stories, blogs, video sites, forums and the Internet in general and e-mail you alerts when new information about your company has been indexed by their search engine.
Another great resource for monitoring lots of different social media sites is Addictomatic (http://addictomatic.com) as it’s a quick way to see what a wide variety of sites have to say about you and your company.
If your company has not started a Twitter account, a Facebook page, uploaded some videos to YouTube or pictures to Flickr or started a WordPress blog, than you should consider doing them all soon.
Each of these (and dozens of other very popular websites) will generally rank highly in virtually any Google search by default.
If your only Internet presence is your company website, that means of the 10 links that will come up when someone searches for your company in Google, you only control one of them.
As soon as you create a company Facebook page, you will likely control 2 of the top 10. If you add a Twitter account with your company name on it, then you now control 3 and so on.
The more content you create on the Internet about your company, the more control you’ll have over your online reputation, which is an essential strategy that all online reputation companies employ when they work for you.
If you don’t have the time or motivation to start creating your own content, then pay someone to do it for you. Doing nothing is no longer an option if you want your business to be relevant in the Internet age.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR (92.3 FM) or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to email@example.com