Archive for online reputation management how do you respond to this?

Is Goodgaragescheme a dishonest way of shifting car treatments masquerading as ‘honest’ feedback?

Quite some time ago I noticed ‘The Good Garage Scheme’ when waiting at my local garage. I asked the owner about it. He told me straight that the only way a garage could be ‘in’ the scheme was by agreeing to stock certain engine treatments. What???!!? Being a fan of honest, credible feedback, this naturally made my ears prick up.

I did some research at the time and, sure enough, he appeared to be right. I blogged about it (generously NOT using the name ‘Good Garage Scheme’ in my title to give them the benefit of the doubt) and then left it alone. Today, however, alerted by a Google search bringing traffic to this site, I found the following recent online review:

“If you’ve never heard of the good garage scheme …well it’s a scheme that any garage can join as long as they sell certain products endorsed by the company behind the scheme. They have a website where you can find good garage scheme garages and also , the most important I thought, leave reviews about the garages you visit. Now if you check their website it would be impossible to find any negative reviews posted for any garage that belongs to their scheme. On the other hand most people would probably think that this is because all the garages are good indeed and that’s why there is no bad reviews. That’s not the case though.

I live in St Albans and I decided to visit xxxx xxx x x xxxxx in St Albans to do a simple wheel alignment. The service I got was horrible. There was a 17 year old kid doing the wheel alignment while the boss ( the mechanic) was sitting in his office with his feet on his desk chatting on his mobile phone.Needless to say that the kid messed it up big time and my car was driving in a straight line with the steering wheel at an angle of 20 degrees!!!!! I complained to the mechanic who immediately tried to blame it on my car and a faulty steering wheel. That was not the case though. He did the wheel alignment and he got the car perfect which proved the point that the kid didn’t know what he was doing and in fact he put my life in danger.

Anyway , this is not a review of xxxxx x xxxx xxxxx who are completely irresponsible and dangerous. I tried to leave a negative review for this garage on the good garage scheme website but of course there was nothing posted and my review will never be posted. This is just a scam scheme. What is the point of posting only positive reviews and ignoring negative ones.

I think that trading standards and the watchdog should have a look at this scheme. In the meantime just run away from any garage under this scheme.”

As I discovered the first time I looked into this, the scheme is operated by Forte – a company supplying high-price, high-margin ‘emission-control’ fuel additives to the garages in the GoodGarageScheme system.

We think this is fundamentally dishonest.

The results? Standards of customer care and quality of work that are worse than non-participating garages!

Yes, in a recent Which? survey Good Garage Schemes performed WORST of all in a test in which cars with a list of basic faults were presented at a range of garages. Check out the Independents’ report on this here – and note the poor GGS performance.

TripAdvisor: sliding down the trust curve?

TripAdvisor changes its logo yet again in the face of reality.

For a long time I’ve been watching TripAdvisor. This online hotel review site is a classic ‘user generated content’ business: it has to juggle making it easy for users to add content (reviews) from a position of effective anonymity, with trying to ensure those reviews aren’t gamed for advantage (or disadvantage). It has to try to do these while avoiding litigation from hotel owners and disgruntled travellers alike. And it has to somehow make the content relevant enough to drive valuable and qualified traffic to parent company Expedia.

As I’ve said previously, I think this is an equation that can’t possibly work out. Not particularly because TripAdvisor is doing something wrong, but because you simply can’t mix anonymous reviews with commercial interests and create ‘trust’.

Without trust, a business like TripAdvisor has nothing.

While the ‘downgrading’ of its strapline from claims about truth and objectivity (what the traveller REALLY needs) to claims about itself being a big site (who cares??) is at least realistic, it’s a shame. It goes to prove that somewhere in TripAdvisor, the decision has already been made not to try to build a business with trust at its core and to pursue a shorter term strategy instead.

Why shorter term? Because many people using TripAdvisor or watching it professionally get the impression that hotel owners (and others) are gaming the system. Given the precariousness of the economy and the struggle that most hotels are experiencing, it is hardly surprising that many will seek to raise their standing in what is still the most frequently-consulted hotel review site.

Trying to hide a reputation problem – how not to do it

Touch Local’s attempts to stuff Google with its own content for the keyphrase ‘touch local scam’ looks… well, dodgy

In the first quarter of 2010, online business directory service Touch Local had some reputation problems centered on a significant number of angry customers posting here on my site.  The Google keyphrase that brought them here was ‘touch local scam’ although the post they arrived at did not contain the words ‘touch local scam’ nor did I say or imply the company was anything other than reputable.

The reality was that those people arrived here because the Google algorithm connected the keyphrase ‘touch local’ (which I did use on my post) and the keyword ‘scam’ which is found in plenty of other places in my content and returned my post in the Google search results.

I chose to publish those customer comments – a decision which, over time, forced Touch Local to be seen to try to address the problem.  In the end, a small number of those complaints were resolved. My contribution to that resolution however didn’t stop Touch Local resorting to legal threats demanding I remove the comments left by their unhappy customers and accusing me of initiating a defamatory thread about them. Having helped a few people out and having learned what there was to learn from the situation (and with no desire to spend money fighting pointless legal battles), I took the comments down.

Doing a quick search in Google tonight, however, I can’t help noting what Touch Local seems to have learned from that experience.  Rather than become more willing to look at what might lead a customer to either search or post with a keyphrase such as ‘touch local scam’, they appear to have gone all out to stuff Google with their own content to cover up any further critical feedback.

A search for that keyphrase reveals a very large number of Touch Local pages with titles like ‘Don’t touch local scam companies in London’  and ‘Don’t touch local scam companies in Birmingham’ and so on (through every town where Touch Local operates). It doesn’t take an SEO genius to spot the real motivation behind those pages: they’re trying to ‘own’ the top of Google search results for that phrase.  Any reasonable person might ask why.

It turns out that the content on those pages is Touch Local’s guide on how to write reviews for good and bad companies within Touch Local.

Ironically (click thumbnail on the right for a larger image) their advice for reviewing a bad company explicitly encourages you to label them ‘a scam‘. Or, to put it another way, to do exactly what they couldn’t bear their customers doing to them earlier this year. One law for Touch Local and another for everyone else it seems.

If you’re interested in protecting your online reputation, don’t make the mistake of trying to suppress your critics this way. It won’t work in the long run because people will recognise what you’re doing – and at that point they’re going to start asking why.

Online reputation management case study: VoloTV listens to feedback, makes changes

My brief encounter with VoloTV shows the basics of good reputation management – with an extra ingredient

Proof you can use a laptop in a VoloTV seat

Earlier this week I found myself in a train seat staring at a newly-installed VoloTV screen that was unexpected, a bit too close for comfort and impossible to switch off.  The 3 colleagues travelling with me felt the same – so, by way of feedback, covered the screens with large-scale bright orange Post-It notes saying how we felt.  Later, I blogged and tweeted about it.

The next day, I got a call from Yeshpaul Soor, the MD of VoloTV thanking me for the feedback (‘I’ve got your notes here in my office’) and assuring me that he was resetting ALL the VoloTVs in the First Great Western network so that the customer (and non-customer) alike will be able to switch it off.  He then invited me to visit the VoloTV office to learn about the system and get set up for some free viewing on my trip home to Plymouth.

Simple online reputation done really well:

1) Monitor the web for news items, blog posts and particularly Twitter tweets about your business

2) Go out of your way to connect with those people – pick up the phone!

3) Admit what you’ve done wrong and offer to put it right

4) Go the ‘extra mile’ to win the respect of your critics

And the extra ingredient?

Having first chosen to locate VoloTV in the distinctly unglamorous bowels of Paddington Station, Yeshpaul Soor then made it his business to get to know everyone there – from the gateline staff to the train cleaners.  The same cleaners who picked up our feedback notes and took them to him within 30 minutes of our having written them.

Is VoloTV for me? Not really – but that’s just a matter of taste, and with a business model that only needs 7% of passenger journeys to pay, VoloTV can afford me not to be a paying customer. I found myself listening to several episodes of Outnumbered while Tweeting and playing Scrabble on my iPhone. The sound and picture quality is great but I’m not much of a TV watcher at the best of times. About the only thing I did look up for was highlights of a 2006 football match between Liverpool and Arsenal where Peter Crouch scored a hat-trick and got to keep the match ball. Nice.

I suspect that I’ll carry on booking myself into the Quiet Carriage for my journeys but one thing’s certain: with a willingness to listen to and act on difficult feedback, VoloTV has earned my respect and improved it’s online reputation at the same time.

Writing fake reviews to gain competitive advantage

Writing fake reviews to gain a competitive advantage can end up being reputation suicide

As Orlando Figes found out.

How many of you have been tempted to write positive reviews about your own products and services and – while you were at it – a few bad ones about the competition? Hmm?

The web is currently alive with debate about the power of the anonymous review to influence buying decisions – from TripAdvisor to Amazon. Unfortunately,  few of them manages to prevent bogus reviews designed to fraudulently affect the ratings of particular products, hotels or service.

And since everyone’s doing it, surely you have to do it too – just to keep up, right?

Academic Orlando Figes thought so.  This University of London History Professor decided to write rave reviews for his own book in Amazon – at the same time as anonymously slating those of his peers.  Idiot.  When he was found out, he did what all guilty fools do: first, he hid behind his wife, then when that didn’t work, he threatened legal action in an attempt to cover up his shameful actions.  I love this MailOnline story in which Rachel Polonsky (one of the authors whose work he maligned) tells how she ‘rumbled’ his true identity.

Unfortunately for Orlando, it didn’t work and he was forced to drop his legal threats and publicly admit his guilt. The result? He’s all over today’s newspapers: a national disgrace with a career in ruins.

The moral of this story? Trying to boost your reputation by faking online reviews is a monumentally stupid strategy that is likely to cost you far more than it will ever gain you.  Whether it’s fake reviews, transparently self-penned testimonials or malicious complaints against competitors, take my advice – just don’t do it.

And Orlando, in case you read this, well done for coming clean.  That’s the next bit of online reputation advice after ‘don’t do it’: if you DO do it, then own up to it – completely.

The future of online reputation management

Do I think there’s a future for online reputation management?

That depends on what becomes of the concepts of ‘online’ and ‘reputation’.

When it comes to inspiring trust and confidence, its the ability to be honest, congruent and credible that really count and that are the real challenges (as they always have been). Most people struggle to embody those qualities in business and their private lives for all kinds of reasons.

If it’s a challenge to behave that way in the ‘real world’, it certainly hasn’t got any easier in an online world that encourages you to be anonymous, is built on distance and unaccountability and full of profiteers all trying to make a buck.

We’re already starting to see just how far the world of online feedback and user reviews (‘the wisdom of the crowd’) has been compromised by people chasing a competitive edge and profit – and there’s no reason to believe that it isn’t going to get worse.

The absence of accountability online (and I mean that real-world, good old fashioned face-to-face kind of accountability that moderates most peoples’ behaviour) pretty much guarantees that web-based reviews and feedback will be used to serve peoples’ interests.

In that context, ‘reputation’ becomes first and foremost a business ‘problem’ rather than a by-product of a range of personal qualities and choices.  We ignore the causes (the way people behave) and focus instead on the symptoms (what appears in Google).  With this focus, the whole online reputation industry then concentrates on spotting and treating the symptoms – missing completely the underlying causes.

Why? Because addressing the causes of a bad reputation are deeply uncomfortable.  We live in a culture where we’d far rather invent a pill to cure a hangover than look at what drives us to alcohol every night. The same is true of reputation.

Ultimately, it seems to me that reputation only really matters among people you care about in an environment that you value being a part of.

For me, Google’s version of the web already become such a sleazy and dangerous neighbourhood that I – for one – am considering ‘moving out’. And if I do, would I care about what the people I left behind had to say?

“Worried about my kids reputation online – what should I do?”

Our kids are building a reputation nightmare for themselves.  What should we do?

It’s a tough question.  Here are a few tips to consider:

1) You need to understand the nature and the scale of the problem

Unless you understand what is currently happening to all this social media content that we create, how it accumulates, how search engines index it and how other people find it and the way they use it to make decisions, you won’t be able to do anything to help your kids.  Watch this great video from Common Craft for starters!

Continue Reading…

Innocent Smoothie and Coke: recipe for disaster?

Great online reputation management ensured a good mix

Here’s a straightforward case-study in good online reputation management.  Last year, Innocent, the principled, value-driven smoothie company sold a stake to Coke – the all-American sugary drinks people.

Knowing that such an investment could turn off its brand devotees, Innocent did the smart thing.  It got in there first and came clean about what it was doing and why.

Continue Reading…

Online reputation management top tip: Don’t REACT!!

Top Tip for managing your online reputation: don’t react.

As useful definition of ‘reaction’ is the ability to do something quickly, and more importantly, without thinking. In the animal world, this looks like a gazelle running like hell just long enough and fast enough to avoid being a leopard’s dinner.

In the human world, it’s more often than not a recipe for disaster.  Of course, there are times you have to react physically without thinking for your own safety. Crossing a road, avoiding a fight… you know the kind of thing. We’ve all been there – but realistically, the times when our safety is really threatened are rare.

Continue Reading…

How good is my online reputation?

5 things you can do right now to assess your online reputation

1) Type your name (then your company name, then your brands or product names) in speechmarks into Google and search for it. What do you find? 

2) Set up Google Alerts for your name, brands and products. This will send you emails whenever you or someone else mentions you online.  Vital for picking up problems before they can become PR disasters.

3) Search Google for your email address. Whatever comes back in the search results, make sure it doesn’t compromise you, embarass you or leave you vulnerable to spam.

4) Search Google for any online IDs you use or have used. As above; make sure there are none out there in places that would damage your reputation or credibility.

5) Take a tour of your own online ‘real estate’. Step away from Google and take a drive through any sites you own or control as if you were a visitor.  This is hard to do  – but try to forget everything you know about your business, what you do and why you do it.  Be ruthless: ask yourself ‘what impression does this really create?’.  You need to remember that people will judge you on any website you put out as quickly and as harshly as they would if they stepped into your living room.  And the impression they get will be all-important – especially if your reputation comes under attack.

If you find nothing about you (or your products) when you do those Google searches, you’ve got a problem.  Why? Because you’re invisible and people won’t be able to make up their mind about you.  Worse, the first person to set out to say something negative about you will end up being the only thing out there to form the basis of other peoples’ impression of you.

If you find good references to you and your products, make sure to click through and find out where they’re located and what they say.  Make a note to connect wherever possible (via social media or email) and develop relationships with people who like and respect what you do.  What impression do these comments add up to create?

If you find negative comments about you, read them carefully and bookmark them.  Track backwards and find out as much history as you can.  Who is involved?  What is the issue? What are they saying? What’s being implied about you and your business? What seems to be their motivation? And how many people are saying it? Start taking notes. You’re going to need them if you want to do anything constructive about it.

These 5 steps will tell you a lot about your online reputation within minutes – and set up you up with basic monitoring so you’ll be the first (well, probably the second) to know if and when something starts to go wrong.