An online controversy embroils your organization. Do you hire a search engine optimization (SEO) firm to create websites and social media pages to bury the bad news, or do you take the crisis head-on by resolving the problem and engaging the people affected?
If you want to spend a lot of money, hire the SEO firm. If you want to preserve your reputation over the long haul, solve the problem, then talk about it with your customers. This builds trust by letting people know you own your problems and are committed to fixing them, not hiding them.
As a story this week aired by NPR discussed, the business of burying Internet search results is a big business, racking up revenues of $2 billion annually. That's a lot of search engine optimization – and suppression, says digital media research firm, eMarketer.
Ed Magedson, founder of a consumer website called the Ripoff Report , told NPR a line is crossed whenever anyone messes with the free flow of information. "People don't realize they're making a deal with the devil," Magedson says.
His website, chock full of consumer complaints, is a good example of what SEO firms try to blot out. "Suppressing information on the Internet," Magedson adds, "does not do anyone any good, because it's always going to be found at a later date."
There is nothing wrong with pushing positive messages through websites, blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube channels to boost your profile for Google searches. However, if your goal is to push positive messages to drive bad news onto the fourth page of a Google search, you should question your motives and strategy. This is just a high-tech way of sweeping a problem under the rug in the vain hope no one will notice.
Problems don't disappear. Sooner or later someone will look under that rug and discover your dirt – often at the most awkward moment.
Manage your reputation, not the news.