As companies, professionals, brands and personal brands, our name and our reputation is of the utmost importance. We strive, with integrity and hard work to achieve a strong brand name and an excellent reputation – both online and offline.
But what if someone – whether an unhappy client, a competitor or anyone else – attempts to threaten your reputation by working hard at spreading damaging online rumors and loads of negative blog posts, articles and videos about your brand? Worse, what if they succeed? What if those damaging rumors and online negativity actually begin to work their way up in the search engines, becoming the first results that clients and prospective clients alike, find when they google your name?
It’s a worst-nightmare situation for many of us. But for one Sri Lankan/American Hip Hop artist, DeLon, it’s not just a nightmare, it’s an unfortunate reality.
In 2008, when his country was under terrorist attack by the LTTE, DeLon released a music video calling out hip hop musician and fellow Sri Lankan, M.I.A., for what he and others perceived as her implied support of the terrorist group. (You can watch DeLon’s video here)
Knowing his political stance would cause some negative press by both supporters of LTTE and M.I.A, DeLon expected the death threats and negative press that followed. However, what he didn’t expect was the vicious internet smear campaign that was created to ruin his reputation – nor did he expect that four years later, it would still be actively doing so.
Even after his attempts to discredit the rumors and rebuild his reputation, both online and off – including publishing an official letter from the Consul General of Sri Lanka, Dr. Hector Weerasinghe, stating that all accusations are indeed false – four years later, DeLon has been forced to step down from his first U.S. tour, where he was to be the opening act for America’s Got Talent artist, Lindsey Stirling, in order to attempt to pick up and reassemble the pieces of his damaged reputation.
It’s a worst-case scenario come to endless life for this innocent young rapper.
This is many of our worst nightmares. What if it actually happens to you?
DeLon’s first mistake was one that I see made many times over. Back in 2008, when the rumors and smear campaigns started, he accepted them as the repercussions for becoming a political activist, and thought that no one would actually believe the wild accusations.
Rule #1 of a social media crisis (and yes, damaging online rumors count as a social media crisis) is that a social media crisis does NOT go away on its own. In fact, it will continue to spiral out of control until it is resolved by the brand – or until the rumors win and destroy the entire foundation on which the brand was built.
“[It’s important to] Understand the long tail effect of the internet, even false reports can hurt you. If a potentially damaging report or post does surface, deal with it right away. Don’t ignore it, no matter how ridiculous you think it is.”
Responding to damaging online rumors
As I’ve said, damaging online rumors should not be ignored. They need to be addressed within hours of their online development and your company’s crisis communications plan needs to be set into motion. Better yet, include a “damaging online rumors procedures plan” within your social media crisis communications plan.
Your best attempt in this type of situation is to drown out the rumors and posts, articles and videos populating and, potentially, dominating the search engines. The following are some ways to help you do that:
1- Create video responses
YouTube is the second most popular search engine AND popular YouTube videos show up within Google’s search results. So does creating a video response and publishing it to YouTube sound like a strategic plan? I think so! DeLon has actually done a really great job at this. Check out DeLon’s video message to his fans, and then check out my additional tips below.
Editor’s note: Unfortunately DeLon’s video response has been removed from YouTube.
Additional tips for your YouTube response video:
- Use targeted keywords and phrases within your video’s content
- Title the video response the same name as the attack, adding “brand name responds” to the title
- Publish the video to youtube AND to your corporate website and/or blog with good, keyword-rich text to support it
- Share it as much as possible on social media
- Ask your fans and followers to share it as well
2- Write guest posts and do interviews for news blogs that have:
- a big interest in covering the story
- are known as thought leaders on the web and, as a result, have powerful search engine rankings
- Link from these interviews and posts to your corporate website and/or blog
3- Publish content to your own blog and corporate website, including:
- Targeted blog posts and press releases
- FAQ’s – address and answer the public’s biggest questions
- Back all of these up with facts
4- Don’t stop
SEO is a long-term strategy and the more relevant content you publish and link back to your corporate website/blog, the better you will do for the long-term.
5- Do yourself a favour and prepare in advance
Focus on your corporate website and blog’s search engine rankings BEFORE you find yourself in this type of nightmare. Read more about how to do this here.
6- Focus on developing real, human relationships with your fans, followers and clients
The more of a relationship you share with your clients and fans online before a crisis, the more they will fight and be your voice in a crisis.
What to take away
The internet is a powerful and scary place. All the hard work you’ve spent developing a solid and credible reputation can easily be destroyed… unless you prepare your brand and your team in advance. The above tips are an excellent place to start, but in order for them to work, you have to get cracking!
Tomorrow I’m going to be publishing an interview with DeLon himself, where he will share with you the biggest lessons he’s learned throughout this nightmare, as well as some additional tips and insight he wants you to know.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.