Fortunately, you can mitigate any damage. I recommend a two-pronged approach consisting of both proactive and reactive measures.
Social media is interactive. It's meant to engage consumers, and it encourages them to speak out openly about everything that affects their lives. As such, this media will affect your business whether you choose to participate in it or not.
You have a choice: Actively participate in social media to define your image or allow your competitors and the general population define your image for you via websites, blog posts, user-generated comments and reviews, consumer rating sites and apps, business and social networking, and a host of other online venues.
I suggest you take the lead. Use the power of social media, along with your commitment to quality and customer service, to establish and maintain a positive image in the communities you serve.
When your business receives negative comments or reviews, or when a dissatisfied customer posts a rip-off report about your company, fight back:
- If you did something to deserve the negative press, transparency is key. Own up to the mistake and fix the problem, or at least develop a solution for addressing it, and then work toward removing that blemish from your record.†
- If the criticism or comment is undeserved, use social media to refute it. While bad press can go viral, you can also use social media as an immune system to kill the virus and remove it from the system. You may even be able to discredit the very source of that virus.
Some laws may help you get undeserved negative comments and reviews removed from websites, blogs and other social media outlets. Keep an eye on your competition to identify any instances in which your competitors are using social media unfairly to misrepresent your business or theirs. Courts are becoming more willing to hold companies and individuals liable for content that creates a misleading impression, even if content is literally true.
If you discover false, misleading or malicious information posted about your business, take the following steps:
- Keep a thorough record of the posted content along with a detailed log of the steps you take to have that content taken down.
- Check to see whether the post violates the site's terms of service (TOS), which would provide the site owner with a clear justification to take down an offensive or deceptive post.
- Check to see whether the content is a copyright or trademark violation, in which case you can cite the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice in calling for the content to be removed from the site.
- Contact the site's owner and request that the content be removed, and explain why. Federal "safe harbor" protection does not immunize site owners from third-party posts that violate well-established laws pertaining to defamation of character, privacy, consumer deception, unfair competition, copyrights or trademarks.
- If the site owner refuses to take down the content, consider sending a cease-and-desist letter. Better yet, have your attorney send the letter.
- If the content caused substantial damage, contact the company that insures your business to determine whether the damage is covered.
- Consider suing the offending site, the person(s) responsible for posting the content, and anyone else involved, for damages. Relief may be available, but always consider the potential costs of identifying anonymous posters and pursuing justice--this could be expensive and very time-consuming.
Remember: Just because something is posted on the web does not make it immune to laws related to defamation, fair competition, copyrights or trademarks. Fight back by becoming proactive in defining your company's identity and reactive in defending your company against bad press.
Mikal E. Belicove is an Entrepreneur magazine columnist and business strategist specializing in content development, market analysis, and messaging/positioning for individuals and businesses of all sizes. Belicove's latest book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Facebook, will be available in June 2010, while his current title--2009 Internet Directory: Web 2.0 Edition--is available now at fine booksellers everywhere. You can read Belicove's monthly column on social media marketing and website promotion, management, usability, and design in Entrepreneur magazine. When he is not working, Belicove can be found musing about the world on his blog, Belicove.com.