Brands do have a legitimate fear of being slandered on the web. Without a doubt, the Internet empowers people and gives them a voice. Sometimes that voice can be used against brands. Oftentimes just as much for brands. And then there are situations when users find themselves on the same “side” as brands. That’s when someone finds out he or she has been trash-talked on the web as well.
A few years ago The Stranger, a weekly publication in Seattle, published a piece that I originally wrote for my own ‘zine, Misprint. It was a satirical call for bands to take art out of their equation and just sell out. In the context of Misprint it was obviously a joke, but in its republished form in Seattle maybe it did not. At least to one person. My article only got one online comment, and it was from someone who clearly didn’t get the joke and proceeded to take me to task. Admittedly, the repudiation wasn’t all that horrible. But for a while it was the first thing that popped up if someone Googled my name. Just the thought of my name being attached to an Internet-styled beat down gave me some pause.
So people and brands can sometimes be in the same proverbial boat. (Note: for the rest of this article I will refer to brands and people singularly – but only for this article.) The question then becomes, what to do next? There are several different methods that one can implement to soften the blow of getting written negatively about online. A trend lately is to “Google bomb” the web with automated puff pieces / spam that “bury” negative links to the back pages of the web. In fact, there are many new online companies popping up that do just that. My take is that although it works, it’s only temporary – and it can have adverse results long term. Remember, the web is about authenticity. Even though Google bombing can work, it has no intrinsic content value. It’s just fluff. People hate fluff.
One can always fight back and respond directly to the person / website generating the negative words. I could have easily replied to the fellow who hated my article, but I chose not to. The web is a wonderful 2-way pipeline and no one should be afraid to make a response.
I think the best method is to “Google bomb” with real content. I know it’s not easy, because it means taking something negative like bad comments and turning it into a spurt of prolific creativity. It means creating new, valuable content and putting it out onto the web. It means press releases. Blogs. Microsites. Interviews. Articles. The web is turning into a machine of perpetual motion and I think, if looked at positively, it’s a huge opportunity for anyone to self express on a very wide, multimedia scale. Sure it’s noble and definitely not cheap. Maybe it’s naive. But I think most would rather have a web full of value-rich content than broadband-eating static – all because some guy in Seattle said I was lame.