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In the past, gossip and hearsay was at worst what a company could fear from a disgruntled employee or an unsatisfied customer. In extreme cases, there may have been an occasional public rally or an infamous lawsuit (McDonalds coffee episode). However, as digital platforms become increasingly accessible and easier to navigate, these complaints are now going public to an arena that draws the largest audience- they are going online.

More significant, perhaps, is the manner by which such information can spread, akin to a virus- regenerating itself and spanning out with such speed and dexterity that its effect can often be extremely damaging…even fatal.

This gradual trickling of power (albeit still comparatively insignificant) from the boardrooms on the 24th floor to the fingertips of consumers, is slowly forcing corporations to take stock… to be more transparent… to be accountable and responsible. This is a good thing, right? If the buck stopped here, it would be. But it doesn’t…

An emerging trend recently has been the mushrooming of nefarious posts and blogs, which either have no grounding, or are created by the whims of individuals with disdain for the corporations they represent. Many organizations still choose to not react to such slanderous reviews or defamatory posts, choosing instead to duck their heads in the sand until “it goes away”. However, several recent episodes have illustrated how great a fallacy this can be. Because most often these don’t go away- they just escalate.

So what do you do?

1. Get your head out of the sand – Be aware of what is going on out there. Listen to what is being said about you. Be aware of how you are perceived online. Do regular searches on your product, your brand and company.

2. Talk back- Don’t get bullied, get involved. Address whatever negative perceptions are being generated about you. If unwarranted- then ask the blogger/poster to correct it; if there is truth – then respond with solutions, act on them and keep your public updated- i.e. take responsibility. Treat this like you would a traditional PR exercise, but do it online and on the turf where you were attacked.

3. You can’t beat them so might as well join them- Start your own blog. Join social networks. Get involved in community messageboards. Get out there and invite people over. This will not only help you win friends (and influence people) but will also serve you well in organic searches.

4. Put your best foot forward-. You can control how you are perceived. Optimize all your current digital content. Create new content; invite your satisfied customers to write about you, convince your CEO to post something- and optimize it all. Bury slander with praise.

A new media is out there, with or without you. If you’re not there talking about yourself, there’s a high probability that someone else is- and it probably isn’t for you’re your good. So get out there and start talking too….

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