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Someone Has Soiled Your Image OnLine: What Next?

Everyone has something go wrong at some time and I always say “the true measure of a business isn’t what you do when everything is going right, but how you handle things when they go wrong.” So when something goes wrong and one of your clients places a negative post on-line which potentially can soil your business, you need to know what to do next.

This may not even be a client, this is may be one of your competitors. This is a common practice used by competitors in a cut throat industry. I have seen this happen many times where competitors try to use this tactic to soil their competition’s image and take their clients.

What NOT to do as the first action

The truth is that most people either do 1 of 2 things, they either choose to ignore the post and ask “what can I do?”, or they freak out and look for possible legal action to get it removed.

Both of these actions are wrong and can be the worst things to do, potentially generating a negative reaction to your business. The legal action should be your last choice if everything else doesn’t work. Not only is this costly, but it can cause the situation to become more inflamed and potentially lead to many more posts, etc… which serves to damage your business further.

Someone Has Soiled Your Image OnLine: What Next?


What steps should I take next?

The best approach is to take a step back and have a think about how to handle the situation. There are many strategies which will work to not only improve your image, but also turn an unhappy client into a potential advocate of your business, i.e., turn a negative into a positive.

The following approach can potentially lead to either the removal of the comment or possibly turn the bad remark in your favour to make you look good. I have used this strategy to turn disgruntled clients into advocates for companies I have worked for and turned negative competitor’s comments into a conversation string which discredits the competitor and makes your company look amazing.

The first things to do

A good strategy which I have used many times is to write back, or comment on the same medium which they have used and be sympathetic about the situation. An example of a response could be:-

“Thank you for your feedback, I am sorry to hear that this has happened to you. Do you mind if I contact you to get the whole story, so I can find out what happened and how we can rectify the situation for you?”

This will show that you are willing to work with them and that you are an understanding business owner, with your client’s best interests in mind.

The Next Step

The next steps are depending on either the response or lack of response which you receive:-

A Disgruntled Client or Competitor –  If the client sends a negative response saying that they don’t want to talk to you (usually because they realised that they were wrong), then place another well thought out post something along the lines of.

“Thank you for your response, we have done everything in our power to get to the bottom of the current issue, but unless we have your side of the story we can’t work out what the full story is and how we can help resolve this issue for you.”

This may potentially lead to opening the communication channels between yourself and them. But if there is no more discussion, this will show people that you are serious about helping your clients and will make you look good in their eyes.  They will see you as a compassionate business owner who is willing to work with you clients and your clients opinions have true value to your business.

In the case of a competitor posting negative responses:

  • they will continue to respond back to all responses until they see that they either have the last say or they have a response from you which they can’t respond to without looking bad.
  • This is like a chess game, so don’t rush your comments and responses, it is on-line and will be there forever.
  • Think about each response carefully, use truth and facts to make your point, and include links if possible.
  • Read over each comment and response a number of times before posting to understand how this could be understood by different people.

Most of the competitors who do this type of negative marketing are bullies and are usually hot headed. They will make assumptions and will make comments which are not true. This will mean that if you can come back with proven data and facts, you can turn their negative response into a positive outcome, where you look good and they look bad. This tactic has worked for me time and again and has managed to only improve the image of the company which I have been involved with.

Client Willing to Talk – If your client agrees to talk, or doesn’t respond. In this case, try to contact them via phone or e-mail if possible. Try to keep this off line and verbal if possible, otherwise if the situation flares up again for any reason, they may copy and post selected text from your e-mails which might make you look bad.

If you get to talk to them, ask them what has happened, actually listen to what they have to say (all the way to the end) and DO NOT interrupt them. Try not to get offended by what they have to say or become defensive. (This will only lead to inflame the situation further.)

Write down all of the grievances in point form, and clarify anything which you don’t understand fully (this shows that you are interested). At the end of the conversation say something like the following:

“Thank you for your feedback and I really appreciate what you have to say. I will look into this situation and do you mind if I get back to with my findings? We are very customer focused and we take any feedback seriously. I would like to be thorough in my investigation and I will get back to you as soon as possible.”

If you take this tactic and they are in the wrong, the client may potentially talk themselves into realising that they are wrong, and may apologise about the hassle which they have caused you and your company. I have had this happen to me a number of times and it is a great outcome.

At this stage, they may either remove the comment, or the best outcome is to leave the response and get them to post a positive response on-line which thanks you for your time and understanding and mentions how you managed to resolve the situation for them.

Everyone is looking for dirt on a company as well as good testimonials, but this type of outcome only works for your benefit as it shows when things go wrong (as they will eventually), it shows how well you resolve the issues and how much you value your clients.

As I mentioned beforehand, there are many strategies which can be used to create a desirable outcome for you. These are a couple of ideas which have led to many successful outcomes for me through my conflict management training, and I hope this helps you.

If all else fails you can then take the next step of seeking legal advice to help you resolve the issue, but even throughout the legal process there is usually a mediation step. So hopefully this simple strategy can mediate and resolve the issues with your clients before needing to seek legal advice.

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I have over 9 years experience in positions of Business Development Management roles, including setting up and running a National Franchise in Australia in the position of a General Manager.

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  • Thanks for sharing these tips Paul. It is so easy these days for someone’s brand and/or reputation to be damaged with online trolls and easy access to Social Media. It’s a shame but the truth. I look forward to your next post for us

  • Thank you Sian, this was inspired by someone who worked near me, she was going through this issue and by working her through this process, she released that she had a choice other than a legal option which was very costly. This has worked well for me so I hope it helps others too.

  • Generally I always recommend acknowledging any form of negative feedback and then try to take the conversation away from the public domain.

  • Thank you for your comments Mark, some people have suggested to hide it using SEO, but I have found that it will eventually come back, especially with Google changing their algorithm all the time.

  • Yeah, I just find it’s better to face any problem head-on rather than trying to sweep them aside. Being transparent by acknowledging a complaint and doing your best to resolve it is always the best route in my opinion.

  • Great outlook Mark and I appreciate your comments. Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  • These are GREAT tips for handling negative social media publicity, Paul. It may not be that the person who posted the comment is “usually wrong” if they don’t want to talk to the company, though; it could be that the company only cares about truly “caring” for their clients in public, and the client is fed up. I’ve seen/heard of many stories like that.

    On the other side, there is the issue when the commenter is simply a slanderer. This happened during my first marketing business. A co-moderator of a (then) quite popular forum completely slandered me and my best selling product. I was much younger then and took it to heart. She said horrible things; many customers and subscribers of mine jumped to my defense (or tried), but she deleted every single comment that even *mentioned* the product, labeling them as “advertising.” Horrid. I couldn’t understand it. Still don’t, really. I wrote the actual mod/site owner, and he gave some precursory reply – not directly condoning her behavior (if I remember correctly), but not doing anything about it either.

    What do you recommend for companies in such cases? Me, I simply left it, as it hurt too much. I suppose I should have sued. At least justice would have been done.

    Anyway, excellent advice and lovely responses. Companies could copy them verbatim and do a beautiful job at customer service. Thank you for sharing.

  • Hi H.T, sorry about the delay in getting back to you on this. I agree with you, the client or person isn’t always wrong, some of the time it is the issue that they can’t get anyone to listen to them until they post something like this on-line. This is why it is important to handle this correctly and not take it to heart. If you do, then you don’t get to the bottom of the problem and can’t resolve the issue. You need to truly listen to the person with the issues, not just listen to reply. Here is an article which I mentioned this type of method of listening.

  • In relation to your comment on the slanderer, this is a common technique used by unethical business owners. The issue which you faced was that the slanderer was also controlling the forum. At this time it is obvious that you won’t get any further with acting on the platform because they have control of this.

    I can see 2 forms of action:

    1 is legal request to remove the website as the partners will put pressure on the slanderer (which is still the last resort), or 2nd is to take control away from the slanderer by moving the conversation to a new platform, i.e. website or social media. This way it opens the field back up and allows everyone to defend you on this new platform.

    This would allow both forums to show up on-line and people will see your defense and the fact that the slanderer isn’t allowing comments.

  • Great points, all. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to think so clearly about it when I was 19. Well… at least I exist to tell about it. :}

    I checked your article on listening on Linkedin — great points, and I 100% agree. It’s clear that you know much more than most about how to truly *care* for customers and not just play the part, like so many companies do.

    Until the next time, Paul.

  • Thank you H.T you have done well to survive the slander, we only learn through experience and information shared from others. By the sounds of your comment, it is good to hear that your clients were willing to defend you, this shows a true understanding of customer service. Feel free to connect up if you like, and let me know if there is anything else that I can offer assistance with.

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