As I mentioned previously in ReputationAdvisor.com, the "web 2.0" space (sorry Nathan – I know how much you love that term) has grown and matured to the point that the what is written or posted on the Internet can make or break a company's profitability. Reputation was a priceless commodity back in 1950s small town America. Then cities expanded and companies branched out and a bad rep here or there still allowed for success in other towns or regions.
The consumer had no way to expose a fraud or a bad deal to the masses. Newspapers, books, and radio were the primary methods of communicating to the public. Television obviously took over as the most popular mass media communications method, but the stations were run by the rich minority, leaving the public with little more than gossip and petitions to spread the word of malpractice.
The Internet levels the playing field once and for all. Even the most average person can create a blog or join a forum and post their experiences and opinions of the various businesses they've encountered. We live in an unprecedented age of consumer power. A timely message delivered in the right place online by a single consumer can literally cost a business millions of dollars in sales and reputation repair.
The Internet also allows for corporations to flood the space with positive messages and claims to good intentions and benevolent deeds. Any business willing to dedicate some time and money can seriously spin their online image in any way they see fit.
The Web is the battlefield, and some corporations are just waking up to the realization that cyber slander can destroy their profits. I'm thinking of one small to mid-sized oil and gas company in particular. A disgruntled ex-salesperson posted a slanderous accusation against the company on a very influential investor forum. This forum was already crooked to begin with, since the forum owner propagated false accusations against similar oil and gas companies in order to win the confidence of the seeking investor. The owner would then direct the disillusioned investor toward an "honest" organization which he coincidentally benefited from.
This is a black hat marketing method which earns no respect from me. This forum abuses the power of its influence to slander others in order to keep the spoils. But this oil and gas company now finds itself in a dilemma: what do we do about these horrible things which our ex-employees and competitors are saying about us?
That is the million dollar question (or multi-million dollar, as I've seen businesses drop like flies). Bad online reputation may not end your business, but it can undo years of costly progress.
If you and your business have already suffered loss from bad online reputation, there is no time to wait. Contact a reputation management professional immediately.
If your business is expanding on the Web, now is the time to put a campaign into place that will protect your reputation in the future. Unsatisfied customers are inevitable. You can't please everyone all the time. But you can proactively protect your business from bad press that could cripple your business.
For more information about protecting your good name on the Web, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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