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INSIDER VIEW

What a reputation management expert won’t tell you about bad reviews

Member exclusive by Dave Gordon

Most consumers and businesses know that online reviews matter, but they are wholly unaware of how those reviews can be altered, rendered completely insignificant, or even erased. Reputation management experts (RMEs) are hired for this express purpose. But not everything about the profession is obvious.

  1. Some RMEs take cases even if it’s a petty or dubious complaint. “It is our job to try to get these things removed as a value proposition. I’m trying to sell you a service,” concedes Curtis Boyd, the CEO and Founder of Future Solutions Media, a Los Angeles-based online reputation firm. “I’ve had people contact me saying, ‘Can you get this arrest record taken off the internet?’ I turn them down. Could I? Yes, you can pay me a lot of money, and I can get this off of Google, or the internet. Would I do it? No. I wouldn’t do it,” Boyd says.“It really depends on the reputation management providers’ code of ethics, where they are in their life, and if they are desperate for money. People will do desperate things for money, of course.”
  2. There’s a whole business built around removing bad reviews on a technicality. Companies are so desperate to have negative reviews disappear on sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, Real Self, Houzz, Angie’s List, and Home Advisor, that they’ll hire RMEs to see if the review violates a site’s terms of service. Boyd, also the CEO of Objection Co., which specializes in this technicality approach, says that “surprisingly, more than 10% of all reviews, good and bad, qualify for removal.”(Most businesses unsurprisingly focus on the bad.) Another surprising fact is that Yelp may remove a review if it has been published elsewhere, or is based on hearsay, says Boyd. Facebook, he adds, will allow irrelevant content, but not allow conflict of interest or promotional content.
  3. Building a positive internet footprint could be more effective than combatting a bad review. Out of pure self interest, a reputation management expert may not readily offer that a reputation can be built proactively, rather than reactively, notes Tom Fitch, Smarp Global Head of Customer Service. Developing a multi-channel positive online presence can result in the good messaging drowning out the sum of bad messaging (i.e. a negative review). One approach to this, which Smarp specializes in, is getting a company’s employees to post positive content on their own social channels.
  4. Bad reviews impact Google search rankings. “Every time we receive a bad review, our positioning is lowered by an average of two positions for each keyword… today Google is smarter than ever to detect these bad reviews to be reflected in their positioning algorithm,” says Cristian Rennella, the CEO and founder of El Mejor Trato, a Mexico-based insurance company.
  5. Robots, not people, are most likely to read your reviews. Tom Packalén, chairman of Utopia Analytics, says that reputations are made or broken in the comments sections of any website. While this might be obvious to some, what’s not so well-known is that a person is rarely, if ever, involved in tracking whether these comments are positive or negative. It’s all done with finely tuned programming. Utopia Analytics scans clients’ sites for inappropriate user comments, using artificial intelligence text analytics, to identify hate speech, libel, or extreme language.