Should you pursue when your company’s competitors turn negative?

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As many seasoned entrepreneurs, CMOs, and in-house lawyers have learned, brand protection has evolved, or perhaps turned, into a blood sport. Some industries are fiercer than others, but in the ever-changing world of social media and online marketing, more and more companies are finding themselves victims of a smear campaign.

They are sometimes disguised as an onslaught of negative customer feedback. And, at other times, through cleverly orchestrated “whisper campaigns” on social media, industry forums or chat rooms. These reputational attacks are just another set of tools of the trade for some unscrupulous competitors and the marketing agencies they hire.

Related: How to Manage (and Repair) Your Business’ Online Reputation

And due to the possibility of recruiting teams from overseas using remote recruiting platforms, bad actors are bolder than ever – slandering with impunity while remaining anonymous via fake accounts and in one country. which makes the judicial process untenable.

So what does the enterprising and shrewd CEO do in the face of such an attack? Every reputation crisis is different, but here are some tips for dealing with emergency reputation in such a situation:

Assess the problem

Does it seem to be organic, or are there signs of artificial effort? Look for:

Online poster and author profiles that appear to have no real history of posting comments, reviews, or articles in the past. Do they have deep profiles on LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media platforms? If not, chances are you are dealing with a bot or a puppet deployed by a competitor.

Another tell-tale sign of black hat sabotage is when the “disgruntled customer or customer” does, in fact, have a robust online presence — but also has a habit of posting mostly negative reviews. Here’s exactly what it looks like: An agency has been hired to launch another corporate attack and is reusing its previous online profiles to do so. Examine them carefully. Have many of them also reviewed the same companies in the past? What are the odds that the same three people are posting negative reviews about your wealth management fund and also complaining about the same plastic surgery center a year ago?

Related: Having trouble with fake reviews? Here’s how you can fix the problem

Build a team

The team starts with your internal staff. For larger companies, be sure to include your in-house attorney, marketing manager, and designated crisis manager in an emergency roundtable. Do we suspect who it might be? Is there a strategic way to stifle this without recruiting outside resources?

don’t react

Gut reactions almost never work. Like a good chess player, you have to analyze the terrain and think a few moves before you act. And we are talking about three-dimensional failures occupying both legal, digital and crisis dimensions.

Don’t fight fire with fire

Once you identify the culprit, you might be inclined to respond the same way and become negative yourself. The myriad reasons why this is a horrible idea are beyond the scope of this article. But trust me, don’t. Let me know if you need someone to talk to you about the ledge.

Do hire the right team

Your team should consist of lawyers, public relations professionals and reputation management experts. Sometimes a well-written formal notice or TRO will solve the problem. Or it could make things worse (remember the Streisand effect). Your PR agency will need to begin implementing its crisis communications initiative and media blitz of positive content while the reputation management company researches ways to remove offensive content and provide backup to the agency. public relations by lending SEO juice to new, positive articles once they’re live. It is not enough to simply publish the news of your company. Each positive post has to be more powerful than even the weakest negative post you’re looking to remove from the first page of Google’s search results – and you’ll need at least ten of them to push the negative content. to the second page. Note: no one is visiting page two, so pushing it there is equivalent to a pullout.

Trust your advisors, but make sure you decide for yourself

Do you remember the old maxim: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? Well, too often the same goes for law firms. They have a tool in their tool belt: prosecute. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that they advise exactly that. But again, don’t forget the Streisand effect. The PR agency will want to launch a positive PR campaign, but be warned: this could draw unwanted attention to your business from reporters that could exacerbate the negative news you seek to bury. And, reputation management companies usually post unsightly and nonsensical content in a foolish attempt to just “push down” the negative without thinking too much about what will replace it. So you’ll have to find the right balance between these disparate tactics.

Related: 7 Ways to Recover After a Reputation Crisis

Force your advisors to collaborate and solve problems

You need to bring them together in the same room to troubleshoot, with you and your internal team. They are each an expert in their respective fields, but you are the expert on your business, your brand, your vision and your competitors. The best solution is likely to be a hybrid of public relations, legal, reputation management and crisis communications. Each of these professionals may have difficulty thinking outside of their lane. However, if you hired wisely, they will quickly adapt to collaborate and conspire in your favor.

Like corporate espionage, reputation attacks are unfortunately becoming another illicit tool of commerce in several industries, including capital markets, healthcare, and more recently blockchain platforms and cryptocurrency marketing.

Businesses would do well to monitor the digital landscape consistently and build a response team to deal with whatever comes their way. Old crisis management manuals have increasingly short lifespans and are no longer one-size-fits-all solutions. As such, navigating the new threats that are emerging will require a cutting-edge, bespoke approach to problem-solving, an approach that bridges the chasm between public relations strategy, reputation and litigation prowess.

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