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Can Competitors Harm Your Business With Impunity Online?

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By Carl Weiss

Online Monitoring
Online Monitoring (Photo credit: Imooty)
Everybody knows the Internet marketing is just one big popularity contest.  He who has the most links and the best reviews wins, right?  Well what happens when the competition doesn't play fair?  How can unscrupulous competitors tarnish your
online reputation and what can you do about it?  In this article we will show you some of the black hat techniques used by underhanded competitors.  We will also talk about what recourse, if any, you have as a business owner. We will also talk about what you need to do in order to police your online reputation, as well as how you can fight back to keep your good name from being dragged through the mud.

So, you worked long and hard to build your reputation and your business.  Years of planning and tens of thousands of dollars have gone into building your brand.  You have achieved a level of trust among your customers that is beyond reproach.  Or so you think.  But all of that can be undone with the click of a mouse by a disgruntled employee, dissatisfied customer or by a wily competitor.  

Welcome to the Age of Digital Reputation Management

In today’s wired world everyone has become information junkies.  Whether you like it or not, all kinds of information about you and your business is floating around in
#bdi Social Reputation Management Conference N...
#bdi Social Reputation Management Conference NYC March 2010 (Photo credit: ShashiBellamkonda)
cyberspace waiting to be found by anyone perusing a search engine, a social net or any kind of portal that deals in reviews of businesses.  This means that anything derogatory about you, your business, an employee, or a product on your shelves is fair game.  Was a customer served a plate of linguini in your establishment that was beyond al dente?  That message can be broadcast on any number of review sites in real time. FourSquare, Facebook  and other social site provide check in functions and these customers often talk about how good or bad your product/service was.

Have You Been Charged With Any Kind of Crime?

Have you or one of your employees been charged with DUI?  That can make the rounds of the social nets with alarming speed.  You don't have to be found guilty to make the news or the social nets! Unlike in the past, where a local company run by shady operators or offering shoddy customer service could ply their trade with impunity, today the emperor wears no clothes.  This means that you can run, but you can’t hide in the information age.  This is a good thing for consumers and reputable businesses, since who wants to get tarred with someone else’s brush.

The Dark Side of Social Media and Ranking Sites

Near Dark (soundtrack)
Near Dark (soundtrack) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
However, there is also a dark side to reputation management that all too many reputable businesses find out about the hard way.  Like it or not, it is all too easy for your reputation to be damaged or even destroyed by erroneous or malicious information.  

Does your business have a name similar to a competitor with a less than sterling reputation?  Then it is not impossible for a disgruntled customer to file a complaint on a review portal or social network that targets your business by mistake.  Does someone else in your town have the same name as you?  If they get into trouble with the law there is a high probability that your good name can be dragged through mud along with theirs.  Have you recently fired someone in your employ?  If they feel in the least way slighted by the termination, this can open an ugly can of worms that can take on a life of its own in cyberspace.

You are Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Innocent Until Caught 2: Presumed Guilty
Innocent Until Caught 2: Presumed Guilty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Think this can’t happen to you?  In a broadcast on "60-Minutes," a business woman had her credit destroyed by a mistake on her credit report that was clearly a case of mistaken identity.  Not only did the report list a different name than that of the responsible party, but the attorneys for the guilty party even provided a letter stating that the business woman was not responsible for the outstanding debts of the other party.  Yet even after all this the credit reporting agencies refused to remove the erroneous information and restore her good name until they were sued in federal court.  The 60-Minutes piece went onto inform the public that this was not the exception but the rule in the credit reporting industry where you are presumed guilty even if you have proof of your innocence. 

Complaints are Nearly Impossible to Remove

The online reputation industry operates under a similar set of rules.  Once a complaint has been filed, it is nearly impossible to redress, let alone remove.  This makes it exceedingly impossible for legitimate businesses to operate, since as the saying goes, “You can’t please all the people all the time.”  Trying to get a bad review removed from a social
IPT Complaints vs Complaints Upheld 2001-2008
IPT Complaints vs Complaints Upheld 2001-2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
net or review site can be all but impossible.   With many review sites and social nets there is no way for you to pick up the phone and call customer service because there is no customer service number.  Ever tried to call someone at Facebook?  There is no such number.  While you can place a call to Google, being able to get them to remedy or erase an error can take weeks or even months.  (It took nearly three months for our company to get Google to change the address of a client of ours who had moved his business from one county in Florida to another.)

Worse yet is the fact that an underhanded competitor can use this very loophole to attack your business.  Ever see an online complaint against a business that had been posted anonymously?  There is a high probability that it was posted by a competitor.  When it comes to mudslinging, politicians are not the only people who know how to play the game.  With the current lack of checks and balances on most social networks and review portals, it is all too easy for the competition to turn a system that was meant to protect the consumer into one that can be used to attack any business with impunity.

A New Industry is Born

The other salient fact is that with hundreds of places to dish dirt online, it is a Herculean task to police your reputation.  This has spawned an entire industry called reputation management that is tasked with monitoring and identifying posts about client businesses.  This also means yet another expense for participating businesses since these services charge anywhere from $99 per month to $999 per month depending upon the level of service selected.  Even paying top dollar does not guarantee that these firms can steam clean your online reputation, since they are forced to play by the same rules as everyone else. 

Born... (Photo credit: LiebeDich.)
All that you or I or any high-priced consultant can do to mitigate damage is try to contact the offending party to try to convince them to remove the negative post. If that does not work, you can try to get a large number of loyal customer to post a large number of positive reviews, to push the bad review off the first page.  Some unethical reputation management companies will create fake positive reviews. We don't recommend this because it can really backfire when your caught! The problem with reviews are that one bad review is more powerful than ten good ones.  

Watch Out for Attack and Hater Websites

Hater's Locker Room
Hater's Locker Room (Photo credit: pixel8 (RCRD))
The other problem is that most businesses do not have a protocol in place that encourages satisfied customers to post positive reviews.  Therefore even one complaint sticks out like a sore thumb.  None of these tactics will redress a choreographed smear campaign by a disgruntled former employee or underhanded competitor.  I have even seen entire websites commissioned by competitors that were designed to besmirch the reputation of a targeted business.  Try getting that turned off with anything short of a lawsuit and a court order. 

In a previous article called, “What’s in a Name, Reputation Management in the digital Age?"  Hector Cisneros, provide 13 ways you can protect your reputation. Read it and use these thirteen items to help managed and protect your reputation. In a prior article, we wrote about how to make Google like you. That article provides several rules a business needs to follow to keep its reputation clean which actually helps raise your search ranking. If you haven't listened to the BTR broadcast that goes with this article, check it out now.

The bottom line is, if you hope to protect your bottom line you as a business owner need to take reputation management seriously and do whatever it takes to defend your turf and protect your good name before one of these unwanted and undeserved attacks happens to your business and does irreparable harm.  

If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-works. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the comment sections below.  If you would like a free copy of our book, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century", fill out the form below. 

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on

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  1. It's a dangerous online world out there. Makes sense to have someone looking out for your personal and business reputation.

  2. Sigh . . . while deliberate attack by a competitor or disgruntled ex-employee at least has a "modicum" of rationale, we've had negative comments that were obviously not even referring to "our" business! We're a sign company and I think someone responded about the service received from a dentist! Thanks Hector and
    Carl for keeping us educated not only about the positive power of the internet but the land mines as well.

  3. Hector/Carl . . . perhaps it would be a good topic for your radio show, even if I'm fairly confident you have covered it before, to really simplify all the step by step those of us not so techno savvy (aka ME) can do to not just police their comments but also make it very very easy to encourage satisfied clients to make a positive comment. I am certain I have clients willing to do this but if I make them take the time to figure out "how", it's just not going to happen. Just please keep in mind that you two work with this day and day out so it is second nature to you. Not everyone is remotely that savvy. Help us help our clients on where to go and how to do it. Thanks for listening!