Reputation management is a vital service in the age of the Internet. However, as I counsel my clients again and again, it's wonderful for quashing defamatory, unfair, or just plain uninformed criticism, but it isn't a cure-all.
In the short term, it can, perhaps, help you cover up pressing systemic problems that impact your organization. It can't cover them up forever, though. And if you're not working on those problems, sooner or later your company's negative press is going to reach critical mass, and no SEO firewall is going to change that.
Take Walmart, for example, which is turning into the nation's most hated company. It doesn't matter what people find in the search results. WalMart looks like one of the bad guys in the court of public opinion, and there's not much the company can do to change that.
Knowing reputation management's limits is as important as knowing its strengths. Here are three things my company could never do for you.
1. Reputation management can't turn a bad product into a good product. It can't fix bad customer service or poor management. Putting a band aid on a real business issue by starting a reputation management campaign is not a solution that I recommend.
Eventually, a shoddy or silly product is simply going to fail. Word is going to get around and people are going to stop buying it.
Reputation management may help a business squeeze a few extra dollars out of the product, but that's all. If your product makes people sick, injures them, or otherwise endangers their lives, then the news is going to come out. And you'll have a long, hard road ahead of you if you want to restore consumer confidence.
The solution? Make sure you're putting out a good product in the first place. Then you'll get some natural reputation benefits.
2. It can't help you keep your talent.
If you're treating your employees poorly, you're going to get high turnover, even if reputation management helps you present yourself as a stellar firm that offers an outstanding work environment.
Apply the golden rule to your workplace. Treat others as you'd like to be treated. Act with integrity. Create a place that people want to be involved in.
3. It won't turn your customers into evangelists.
The founder of Tom's Shoes describes exactly how and why he's turned his customers into evangelists. He's done it by performing good works in addition to chasing profits.
Pursuing a social good is one excellent way to accomplish this goal, but it's not the only way. You don't have to solve poverty every time you sell a widget. You can also turn customers into evangelists just by being a stellar company. Deliver what you promise. Offer outstanding service. Be the kind of company that you'd want to work with, no exceptions.
A company whose reputation is merely "clean" is no match for a company that customers love. If you're taking the time to invest in proactive reputation management at all (and you should be) then you should take the time to perform the housekeeping that will elevate you to this coveted status. It's all part of that firewall--the one that just might save you when a malicious customer or competitor starts smearing your business.