What does Cecil the Lion have to do with your reputation management? A lot.
We don't take kindly to the dentist killing Cecil the Lion. We don't condone his behavior. We don't agree with what he did. I want to make that perfectly clear since mob mentality seems to run ramped these days.
There are good things and bad things about social media just as there is with nearly everything, you can call it: Ying and Yang.
There are of course consequences to all of our actions. However, we have judges and juries set up for this purpose in our country. Although we all have our qualms about our justice system, we still do have one.
Back in the wild west days someone could be accused of a crime whether they did it or not. The mob would gather and someone would lead in the instigtaion and incite the mob to hang the person. Most often, the punishment did not fit the crime. We have come a long way from the mob mentality, or have we? History has shown us that mobs are not the best instruments of justice.
With the speed of rumors that fly, the news that flies and gossip - facts get twisted out of shape quite quickly. Remember the game we played when we were younger, "Telephone". In this game one person would whisper a sentence into the person's ear sitting next to him, then the person who just heard the sentence would whisper into the next person's ear and this would go on until you reached everyone in the circle. The last person would then state what the sentence was. It most often was not even remotely the same as the initial sentence.
People will complain in a heartbeat but be very slow to give a compliment, especially on the internet. Social media is even worse.
You MUST be proactive in your reputation management.
Let's actually take a look at how fast the dentist's business, livelihood and life was destroyed:
When the news hit social media that Cecil had been killed the internet manhunt spread like a wildfire and included trying to kill anything along the path to find this dentist. But not only was the anger so infused as to attack his business and threaten his life and those of his children and his wife but also anyone who had helped him ever in his business.
There was a local SEO company that had his account at one time but currently the dentist is not their client. However, as you know from history of how mobs behave, this did not matter to the angry crowds. They started to attach the local SEO company online and writing bad reviews.
What is the one way that you can take down someone you hate that is faster than any other? Writing bad reviews.
All review platforms have rules and algorithms in place, filters to keep out spam. The TOS of all the companies is Reviews must be about the business, not about the person and not about their family, etc. Reviews must be done ONLY by customers who have actually been to the place of business and therefore have a reason to write the review.
We do the Local SEO for our chiropractor. Some person called the chiropractor's office to make an appointment to come into the office but did not ever come in. The person did not like the way the receptionist spoke to her so she left a scathing review on Yahoo reviews and yet, she had never even stepped foot inside of his office. The doctor contacted Yahoo and explained what happened and Yahoo could then remove the bad review as the person who left the review violated their terms of service.
Page 1 Solutions had Red Bluff Dental as a client back in 2013. The angry people were trying to find out who did his website and his online marketing. If you pay enough money you can find out what you want to find. So the vicious attacks started against Page 1 Solutions. Their Facebook page was being attached with horrible threats and vile language. Page 1 Solutions acted swiftly to protect their reputation. This is not easy against a mob.
The president of the company came out with a statement:
"We started receiving calls and social media posts attacking Page 1 Solutions. Then the angry social media posts and negative reviews started to appear. Initially, this took our staff by surprise because nobody was familiar with the doctor's name. Although River Bluff Dental had been a client of ours, we always referred to the client by the name of the practice and not by Dr. Palmer's name. Brad, our Senior IT Specialist, took three angry calls from people who were upset that we were marketing Dr. Palmer's website. This was confusing since our contractual relationship with River Bluff Dental was terminated in 2013 and we had not even hosted his website since then."
This can put any company on the defensive and wondering what the heck to do to save their reputation. The guilt by past association was ringing strongly. This is why we have due process in this country.
The mobs found the dentist's Facebook page and started attaching the dentist there. His Facebook page was shut down. So then the angry people went over to Yelp and Google Local Reviews.
At first I wondered, how did all those people get past the spam filters and the algorithm that makes sure the reviews are about the businesses and not about the people. No personal attacks are allowed in the reviews. In fact, Google local requires the review to be ONLY about the business itself. The reviews were coming in so fast and furious I think the systems failed. I saw hundreds of reviews that were full of death threats, foul and filthy language and threats against his family. None of those should have passed the filters.
One of the ways I noticed people getting through the filters was by using dental terms in between the foulness, filth and death threats to trick the filters. It worked.
Internet vigilantism can take any business down within 24 hours. Even the crisis management company that the dentist sent his message through to the press, was attacked and he had to withdraw from doing anything with the dentist. The dentist name and information had to be scrubbed from every dental organization.
Yelp received thousands of reviews on the dentist's page with death threats and all kinds of really nasty comments, even showing pictures of the home where his two children live. Yelp started to delete the reviews because the nastiest ones were getting 5 stars so they were moving up to the top of the reviews. Then the mobs virtually attacked Yelp for removing the reviews.
Yelp told BuzzFeed :
“Media-fueled reviews typically violate our Content Guidelines. One of these deals with relevance. For example, reviews aren’t the place for rants about a business’s employment practices, political ideologies, extraordinary circumstances, or other matters that don’t address the core of the consumer experience. Yelp reviews are required to describe a firsthand consumer experience, not what someone read in the news. Our user support team ultimately removes reviews that violate these guidelines.
Although most instances like these do not reach the current level of scrutiny and media attention, Yelp has proven policies in place to deal with such events and will remove content that violates our Terms of Service.”
Yelp has been able to scrub over 2000 of the reviews so far.
Google reviews were also bombarded with thousands of horrible reviews. Google local Specialists started escalating the issue once they saw how badly these were violating Google's terms of service.
Warning: there are bad words in this screenshot. Please don't read them around children.
Google had to start deleting the reviews manually. They said they had to read each review to see if it violated the TOS. We are talking about thousands! The only reason I added the screenshot was to show the severity of this mob mentality.
The casualties also include people who have names similar to the name the mobs are virtually and physically hunting down. Businesses who ever have an association with anyone the mobs decide to come after are at the mercy of those mobs. You are being held guilty by association. We each need to act and put safeguards and steps into place in case this should ever happen to any of our companies.
Take the steps now to be prepared should you ever be associated with anyone that has committed a malicious act. Page 1 Solutions did a very good job of being transparent about their past relationship with Red Bluff Dental and also with hiding the nasty threats their Facebook page was attacked with. They received 9 ( 1 star) reviews within 20 minutes on their Facebook page. They unpublished their Facebook page. They are waiting for Facebook to remove those reviews.
Get management approval ahead of time for the following:
- Unpublished your Facebook page right away
- Prepare a plan of defense- how are you going to respond to the comments
- Immediately send Facebook the requests to remove your reviews
- Contact Yelp about the violations of TOS
- Contact Google Reviews about the violations of TOS immediately
You need to regain the public's trust by coming clean, make amends and get back confidence. If you are guilty by association, you have a client who needs to make amends, remember to be transparent, come clean and state the facts.
Follow the example of Page 1 Solutions and act swiftly and decisively. The biggest mistake businesses make is being slow to act and not having assigned a point person to execute your Reputation Crisis Plan.
Another company that was swift to act when they were guilty by association is Subway and how they dealt with the scandal of their Jared when he was investigated for child pornography. Subway did the right thing to get rid of all things Jared from their website and marketing. They had a point person who made the calls, they held press conferences and acted quickly.
A part of your social media plan needs to be to listen and then to respond. Put out all the fires. Sometimes it takes hiring an entire team of people to just do that 24/7.
You must get ahead of the news. Do NOT let the news lead. That is going to end up in a disaster. End the speculation by getting out there and telling your story. Don't blame. Don't point fingers. That will not solve anything.
No matter what you think about Cecil and the dentist- use this as a wake up call to create a plan of action for your reputation risk management.