Can The Damage Be Repaired?
Ordinary people now have a problem previously experienced almost exclusively by the rich and famous. Thanks to the Internet, compromising photos or other reputation damaging information can be spread far and wide. The Internet has become the paparazzi of commoners.
Fortunately, in most cases, it is possible to mitigate the damage. Reputation management companies specialize in making that happen.
There are a number of different types of damaging information. The type of damage will influence the best means to mitigate the situation.
Defamation is an intentional, malicious and false assault on your reputation. If some lies about you or misrepresents something about you and publishes it, this is actionable in a court of law.
If someone publishes their negative opinion about you or your company and this harms your reputation, you probably do not have legal recourse in a court of law. Opinions are generally considered to be a protected form of speech in the U.S.
If something truthful comes to light that will not look good, there is little legal recourse and other people have no obligation to give context in order to make it more palatable or explain extenuating circumstances. Depending upon how ugly the truth is, there may still be a great deal that can be done to mitigate the effects on your reputation.
Short blurbs, like headlines and tweets, are the most problematic. They simply lack room for a real explanation, so they often make things look even worse than they really are.
Guilt By Association
If you have the misfortune of having the same name as someone who commits a high profile crime or if the company spokesperson gets arrested, this can damage your reputation or the reputation of your company even though you or your company have done nothing wrong whatsoever.
For individuals, one of the most common ways that their reputation is damaged online is when an old picture or video from their youth comes to light or when an ex decides to spout off about information, such as sexual predilections, that is not really anyone’s business. Although the person has done no wrong, this can still harm their professional reputation.
So, something bad has been said about you online. What are the steps that can be taken to mitigate it?
Take Them To Court
In the case of defamation or libel, you can sue in a court of law. There are time limits, so this needs to be done as soon as possible. If the case is found in your favor, the court will generally issue a court order to have the damaging materials taken down.
If you do get a court order, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr will all be cooperative in making the damaging materials disappear. Bing and a few others will not, but many well known companies will be very helpful. Some companies will be required by law to comply and some will not.
However, suing typically costs thousands of dollars. A court case can also take months of your time. Even if suing makes sense for you, ideally, you should also be working to mitigate the damage even before the suit is concluded.
Additionally, thanks to the Internet being like a hydra with a few million heads, even if the material is taken down at the source, copies of it can live on elsewhere or keep getting reposted. So, this is not a case of “one and done.” It will be like weeding a garden: You will have to keep weeding it periodically, no matter how thoroughly you thought you did it the first time.
An online reputation management company will be enormously helpful in trying to resolve it. You need both an attorney, to sue, and a reputation management company to help you tame this tiger.
Issue A Statement
If you are dealing with any of the possible scenarios, you will want to issue a statement that will clarify the facts and cast you in the best possible light. If you aren’t a public relations expert, this is best handled with the assistance of professional feedback. There is an art to framing things in a way that doesn’t just make you look like a weasel or otherwise do additional damage to your reputation.
If you do not know how to do this, you need to hire professional assistance before you say one word in public. This means you should not respond on Twitter, Facebook or any other public platform. Ideally, you shouldn’t say anything in writing. It is shocking how often private emails and other private messages get forwarded, copied and pasted and posted elsewhere.
If it is not overly serious and you are just a private individual, it can help to simply state the facts in as neutral a way as possible, correcting for any negative framing they have been given so far. In order to give the best impression possible, it is useful to run it through a grammar checker and spell checker and get feedback from a friend or acquaintance who is fairly sensible. After you issue your clarifying statement, try to drop it and not respond further.
Promote The Positive
The more information there is about you out there on the Internet, the less the damaging thing will count. It will just be one of many kinds of information available about you, not the only thing people will ever hear.
So, you need to start putting out more information about you, the more positive, the better. This will help dilute the impact of the negative information.
You can do a variety of things to start proliferating positive information about you, such as issue press releases, write blog posts, and participate actively on social media. The more online presence you can create, the smaller the negative information will appear in terms of overall percentage of information.
Get SEO Help
In addition to adding new, positive information about yourself, you can get SEO help to move the negative information down in search results and positive information up above it. SEO is a specialized, technical area.
It is a good idea to hire an SEO specialist if you desire to see this happen. They can help you tweak things in a way that gets more eyes on the things you want people to see and, thus, relatively fewer eyes on the harmful information.
If Necessary, Change Your Brand or Name
If the problem looks like it will be particularly difficult to resolve, one way to reduce the fallout is by changing your name. This may or may not require a legal name change.
Whether you are an individual or a company, it is sometimes possible to start going by a new moniker. Although not motivated by bad press, when American Family Life Assurance Company wanted to get better known, they chose to not go through the hassle and expense of a legal name change because they would have had to register the new name in all 50 states and other jurisdictions where they do business. Instead, they chose to start using the acronym for their name: AFLAC.
This is sort of the business name equivalent of going by Bill instead of William or Bob instead of Robert. It doesn’t require you to change your legal name to use a shorthand version of it. The company now has extremely high name recognition, especially for the insurance industry.
If you are an individual who has a name that is causing your problems, you can start using your initials, middle name, a nickname or start going by your full legal name, depending upon what you have been known by up until now. In cases where the issue is persistent and seriously problematic, this can help dissociate you from the negative information.
Distance Yourself From It
When spokespeople do something so bad that it reflects poorly on the company name, the typical response is to promptly fire them. Even for individuals, it is possible to distance yourself from people whose actions are negatively impacting your reputation. You can get divorced, stop spending time with bad friends or even move elsewhere if the problem is serious enough. Avoiding further association with the problem party will help mitigate the impact on your reputation.
If private information gets out, like nude photos or a video from a wild party, maybe that information is out of date. Perhaps it was something done in your wild youth, and you are more mature and responsible these days. Or perhaps the incident is more recent, but occurred during a particularly stressful time in your life and is uncharacteristic.
The situation may be mitigated by making sure the context is understood and then refusing to get dragged into it further. Think of how Madonna responded when nude photos of her came out. She basically said “So what” to the hullabaloo and things settled down. She remains a big star. It did not destroy her career.
If you get in over your head with an online reputation flap, there are companies today that can help you make things quietly disappear, like Bright Past. Hiring such a company can be well worth the expense to protect your business name or personal professional reputation.
Another benefit of hiring professional assistance is that they will be more objective. This is a stressful experience. The fact that it is stressful makes people prone to opening mouth and inserting foot, thereby digging their grave deeper instead of improving things. This is especially true for people who have no real experience with public relations.
Yes, It Can Get Better
Especially with professional assistance, yes, the damaging information can go away or at least become less prominent. Additionally, the Internet is less wet behind the ears than it used to be. People are becoming inured to the shock of nude photos turning up. It is becoming less scandalous for such information to get out there. People are more inclined to let go of certain things.