Sometimes all it takes to start a PR wildfire is a single negative post on a blog. Of course, some posts disappear as quickly as they appeared. "Just because someone is blogging doesn't mean anyone is listening," says Richard Levick, president and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington, D.C. But if a lot of people are paying attention, one slam can do serious damage to your reputation.
You'll be far better prepared to respond to an attack if you know which blogs have a following in your industry. With more than 100 million blogs worldwide as of November, according to Technorati, that's a daunting task. For help, set up a free account on Google or Technorati and you'll get information on blogs that mention your company or product. Both services also track how many other sites or blogs are linking to those blogs, which gives you an idea of how many people read a post. For about $12,000 a year, San Francisco-based BuzzLogic will identify and follow blogs that are most influential among your competitors and customers.
If a negative post about you appears on a blog that doesn't get much traffic, your best strategy may be to continue to monitor the blog, but do nothing. A popular blogger may cause more trouble, but you don't want to respond to a detractor with a blistering reply on your own blog or on the blogger's page. That sort of back-and-forth is likely only to draw more attention to the original post and provoke more aggressive responses from your critic. "You don't want to end up in a dogfight," says Levick. "It'll just come back to bite you."
If you can remain calm, you may want to talk to the blogger about your differences. That worked for Elliott Masie. Last year the founder of the Masie Center, a $3.5 million, 13-person company that provides research and conferences on employee training, found himself on the receiving end of an attack by Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation in Lewisville, Tex., a nonprofit that advocates, among other things, a simplified tax code and less intrusive government. Giovanetti posted an entry on his personal blog saying Masie's Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) organization was not a think tank, as Masie describes it, but a vehicle for self-promotion. And Masie's photo on the site? "A vanity picture like a Hollywood star would have taken," wrote Giovanetti.
Masie called Giovanetti and explained why he felt the criticism was unfair. "You want to de-escalate this thing and take the venom out by talking one to one," Masie says. It worked: Giovanetti posted a new blog entry saying that while he didn't think his original post was inaccurate, "perhaps a different target would have been wiser."
Of course, if the blogger has a legitimate complaint, try to resolve it. Chances are the blogger will then post something positive about how you addressed the problem. If all else fails, talk to an attorney about filing a lawsuit. But be warned: Libel and slander suits are expensive and tough to win. And they're likely to lead to a lot more attention online.
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