Public relations

Public Relations: Online hazards of owning a prominent business

CONTRIBUTING COLUMNISTFebruary 25, 2013 

While it's essential that your business have a strong presence online, companies can occasionally find themselves victims of their own search results.

Take, for instance, if a crime happens near your place of business. If your company is a local landmark, media and authorities may note the crime occurred near your operations. It's within their purview. They're helping readers understand where the crime occurred.

But now when people search for your company, they may find references to a shooting or another violent crime. While your business wasn't where the crime occurred, you're suffering because of it.

If you've been good about promoting your business online, your company's website should come up first in any search results. If you're lucky, customers might know your exact website address. Often, though, when customers are searching for phone numbers, services, menus or more, they type your name into a search engine.

And there they'll find the bad news that happened nearby.

So what can you do?

Be patient, says Scott Baradell, president of Dallas public relations firm Idea Grove. The bad news will frequently appear high in search results because it's part of a news story, but as time passes, it will fall off the first page of results. And how often does anyone click through to a second page? It could be a week or less before it's gone and forgotten.

But there are options if those negative search results aren't going away or if worried word-of-mouth is leading to a decline in business. In that case, Baradell says your business might need to employ what's called a reverse search engine optimization program.

To do that, you create positive mentions of your business to outrank the negative results. You can do this through issuing media releases, adding new content to your website, creating social media pages and encouraging customers to write online reviews.

Besides the reverse program, you can look for an opportunity in adversity. That's the mind-set of Jon Aston, a partner in online marketing firm Digital Giants. This could be a good opportunity, he said, for the business to take a leadership role in your community. Here are some ideas:

■ Find a cause that neighboring businesses can rally around.

■ Create a partnership with law enforcement to strengthen the bonds between the police and neighborhood.

■ Work with local religious and nonprofit organizations to identify needs within the neighborhood.

■ If there are crime victims, think about raising money to assist them and their families.

Work to turn this bad situation into good news. It will take work. But it's worth it not only for your business but for the greater good of the community, which is to say, your customers.

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional specializing in small businesses and is principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations. She proudly called Lexington home but now lives in North Carolina. She is also the author of the upcoming book Social Media Crisis Communications: Preparing for, Preventing, and Surviving a Public Relations #FAIL. Email her at ann@mindthegappr.com, or follow her on Twitter at @amvandenhurk.

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