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Online Reputation Management Requires Cabinet War Rooms

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In many cases, a reputation management campaign can take months to complete. Addressing underlying issues and replacing negative content with more favorable pages takes time. But by being prepared ahead of time for a reputation management crisis, you can cut down that time considerably, and get more immediate results.

In a recent Computerworld article, "Online reputation management is hot – but is it ethical?," Elixir Systems CEO Fionn Downhill said a reputation management campaign can range from six to 12 months, depending on the complexity of the assignment and amount of negative content it's trying to suppress.

Fionn is right – if you're trying to suppress unfavorable blog posts about your company from a few months ago. But what if news results and an image from a few hours ago suddenly appear in Google universal search results?

The need for speed was discussed during the Brand & Reputation Management session at Search Engine Strategies London last month. The session was moderated by Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Online Marketing, and the speakers on the panel included Andy Beal, consultant and blogger at Marketing Pilgrim and co-author of Radically Transparent; Nan Dawkins, president and CEO, Serengeti Communications; and me.

Nan observed, "All good SERPs all the time? Not likely in the age of Universal Search (lightning-speed changes; priority given to exactly the sources that consumers use to complain)." And she advised:

  • Search impacts brand but you can't SEO your way out of a real brand problem.
  • Drowning out detractors (even if you can manage it) won't help you as much as gaining evangelists, whose word means more than yours online.
  • If you take the time to establish trust and credibility, your marketing messages – in whatever channel – will be less likely to fall on deaf ears.

Andy recommend, "Plan now for a reputation crisis." And he suggested that you determine:

  • Who is on your crisis team? List their names, titles, and all contact numbers.
  • Who is your online media spokesperson?
  • Who will be your advisors, for seeking counsel before reacting to a crisis?
  • Who are your key offline/online stakeholders needing information during a crisis?
  • Do you have a crisis-blog ready for deployment?

Finally, I illustrated how attacks on brands can arrive at lightning speed by presenting the following Google universal search results from a single day – Feb. 1, 2008:

  • News results and the Yahoo/Microsoft logos ranking #1 in Google for the term "unsolicited offer."
  • News results and a photo of Societe Generale ranking #1 in Google for the term "rogue trader."
  • News results and a photo of Mattel toys ranking #4 in Google for the term "product recall."
  • News results and a photo of a Shell sign ranking #4 in Google for the term "obscene profits."

To deal with the speed that news is now incorporated into universal search results, you'd need to have the War Room that Bill Clinton's presidential campaign ran in 1992. And this isn't a casual comment.

Although crisis events are unpredictable, they are not unexpected. During the next five years, 83 percent of companies will face a crisis that will negatively impact their share price by 20 to 30 percent, according to Oxford-Metrica.

The importance of preparing for the inevitable crisis to come was driven home for me the day after SES London 2008 – when I visited the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.

Shortly after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, he visited the underground Cabinet War Rooms. He wanted to see for himself if the secret preparations had been completed in time to enable his War Cabinet to continue meeting throughout the expected air raids on London. In the Cabinet Room, he announced, "This is the room from which I will direct the war."

Down a corridor from the Cabinet Room is the Map Room, which was the hub of the whole site throughout the war. The Map Room remained open day and night and the chief task of the officers manning it was to collate and summarize all relevant information on the war's progress and present it on maps, which would be constantly updated.

So, is your company prepared for the inevitable crisis to come?

If your CEO suddenly faces a crisis that will negatively impact your company's share price by 20 to 30 percent, is there a war room?

And down the corridor, is there a map room, where your SEO and PR people can collate and summarize all relevant information on the crisis and present it on maps, which are constantly updated?

If not, then start building it now. Remember, although crisis events are unpredictable, they are not unexpected.

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization and public relations firm. He covers news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog. Greg is one of the 25 successful online marketing gurus interviewed by Michael Miller for the new book, Online Marketing Heroes.

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