#Fail: 10 Online Reputation Management Mistakes from 2010


This year, online reputation management has grown in importance for small, local businesses marketing their business online. Not only has Google begun to place more emphasis and prominence on user reviews, but cases of online reputation management gone wrong have gained a lot of attention in the public eye – for companies from large to small. Learning how to properly manage your online reputation is important for all small businesses. And one great way to learn is to look at the mistakes others have made. So, to arm you with loads of what-not-to-do, we present 10 online reputation management mistakes from 2010, in no particular order – along with a few take aways on how to avoid these missteps yourself!

1. Décor my Eyes – One recent online reputation management case highlighted the case of a New York businessman who was intentionally mean to customers to build publicity and drive traffic to his website. This bully not only attacked customers on review sites, he was so bold as to tell upset and wronged customers – some of whom he stalked! – that their negative comments were helping him build his business. The SEO world began to buzz about his claims that a negative review could boost his business. Days later, Google announced a change to their algorithm that addressed the issue to ensure that negative reviews would not actually help a bully of a businessman work the system in his favor.

The Take Away: There really is no substitute for excellent customer service. Those who treat customers well will win online. In other words, being a bully is a complete reputation management #fail.

2. BP – The BP oil spill earlier this year created a wealth of reputation issues for the company – both online and offline. But the creation of a fake Twitter account BPGlobalPR (not an official BP account) by one bystander mocked the company and its many PR blunders online and grew exponentially more followers than BP’s real twitter account – BP_America –  and highlighted the company’s struggles to address the public’s concerns.

The Take Away: Working to build a positive reputation online is important. Start by making sure you claim your company’s name on sites like Twitter and Facebook, so nobody else can claim to be you. And always keep in mind that a good online reputation must be backed up by a great company.

3. Cooks’ Source Magazine – What started out as one blogger’s post about a small, regional cooking magazine’s unauthorized publishing of a recipe she had blogged several years prior turned into an all-out, full-scale reputation crisis for the magazine when its editor emailed the blogger. The editor belittled the blogger’s writing and had the audacity to claim that the blogger should pay the magazine for all the work it did to revise the stolen post up before publishing it! The response sparked outrage, and people from all over the country got involved, some even calling the magazine’s advertisers urging them to pull support. When all was said and done, the reputation of Cooks’ Source magazine was more than tarnished – within a matter of weeks, the magazine closed.

The Take Away: Ethical infringements aren’t just an issue big brands have to deal with. In today’s digital world, the ethics of small businesses can come under fire too, creating online reputation management problems. How the business responds is one of the biggest factors in whether or not a full-out crisis will emerge.

4. Price Chopper NY – When the employee of New York-based food chain Price Chopper saw a mildly negative Twitter post about their experience in a Price Chopper store, the Price Chopper employee took matters into their own hands, requesting from that the customer’s employer discipline them for the remark! This led to blog posts and lots of negative attention for the chain. The company responded that the employee didn’t have the official authority to send the tweet, but the company is still under scrutiny causing further missteps to be called out online.

The Take Away: It’s important for any employee who uses social media on behalf of your business to know whether or not they are authorized to respond to negativity online, as well as how far to take the response.

5. DKNY – On Cyber Monday, PETA staged an attack on the Facebook page of DKNY labeling the company “Bunny Butchers” on their own Facebook wall by coordinating supporters to change their avatars to the letters of the message and post comments in reverse order to spell out the message. Though PETA has a history of outrageous protests, this clever digital attack spurred fans to post negative comments on the brand wall, resulting in DKNY shutting down comments on the site – leaving only the most recent negative comments up for fans to read.

The Take Away: In industries prone to controversy, the social media space can be difficult to navigate. But it’s better to be a part of the conversation than to let others control the message about your brand by avoiding engagement online.

6. Amy’s Baking Company – It can be tough to know how to respond to negative reviews online. For one small business in Scottsdale, Arizona, the business owner’s curt reply to a one-star customer review on Yelp was not only inflammatory and full of insults, the response was picked up by the local news and went on to become the subject of many expert blog posts about how not to respond to negative reviews.

The Take Away: Fighting fire with fire when it comes to negative reviews can be a recipe for reputation management issues. Our best advice? Don’t type the first thing that comes to mind when you read a negative review! Take a deep breath, and learn exactly when and how to respond instead.

7. Dark Horse Café – A small exchange between a coffee shop patron and this small business may have been fairly harmless – the patron complained via Twitter about the lack of electrical outlets for customers using laptops (but without using the company’s Twitter handle). Then, the business sent a series of curt tweets that conveyed the message loud and clear: that the business of running their store was more important than the business of serving customers. Though this case is not a jaw-dropping, profanity-laden example, it’s important to note, because this type of interaction is where many small businesses get customer service via social media wrong. Taking a defensive position rarely works, and in the worst case, your exchange may be seen and commented on by others, escalating a minor issue into a reputation problem. For this business, the exchange became a case study that marketing expert Scott Stratten shares around the country.

The Take Away: The small, daily interactions you have with customers online are important not just because of what they mean to that specific customer, but what they say to the general public about how you treat your customers. Plus, who wants their brand to be a case study in what not to do online?

8. Nestlé –When Nestlé faced Greenpeace criticism in early 2010 for the company’s environmental practices, they did not respond well to negative comments on their Twitter and Facebook pages. After protesters began posting altered versions of the brand’s logos that depicted negative messages about the company, the company posted the following message: “To repeat: we welcome your comments, but don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic—they will be deleted,” and other remarks that weren’t taken well by the community. While the company was within its rights to protect its trademarks, the curt and unfriendly way this was handled only brought more backlash against the company. Eventually, Nestlé realized the opportunity to address the customer concerns over their environmental practices, but the case is well cited in how not to handle reputation issues online.

The Take Away: When dealing with reputation management issues, always lead with addressing customer concerns, and keep your tone friendly. This can go a long way in stemming any further issues.

9. Marie Claire – When Marie Claire writer Maura Kelly wrote a post expressing disgust for overweight couples portrayed on television, it created an all-out reputation disaster for the brand. Over 3,000 comments were posted in reply, most of them upset about the post. While the blogger apologized, the magazine did not reprimand her, citing the fact that the post represented the author’s personal feelings on the subject. Some commentators say this position may have damaged the magazine’s brand.

The Take Away: Getting involved in controversy in social media can be dangerous for brands. For small business owners, the decision whether or not to discuss topics like politics, religion, or other deeply personal issues should be considered very carefully, especially if the business owner’s brand is a big part of the company identity.

10. Southwest Air – When actor Kevin Smith was booted from a flight for not fitting into the seat, he went directly to Twitter to share the situation with his fans, creating a lot of negative buzz online – not to mention some negative press – for Southwest. The details of the situation, and the fact that Southwest was only following their policy, did not gain as much attention as the celebrity’s choice to share the entire upsetting circumstance with his loyal Twitter following. The company apologized about the situation, but still had to endure the negative attention a celebrity brought to their seating policy.

The Take Away: While this company is often lauded for its many social media successes, this case is a good reminder that reputation management issues can befall any business. It also highlights the importance of giving all your customers the “star” treatment – because you never know just how much influence some of your customers may have online!

Managing Your Reputation Online

These 10 reputation management cases illustrate many different types of issues businesses can face online. Overall, these situations underscore that we have truly entered the age of the customer and emphasize the importance of actively and properly addressing problems if they arise. Plus, they are a good reminder that sometimes, negative feedback can actually help you assess if there are ways your business can improve.


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