Greed is the theme for the week. When companies get greedy, bad things happen to their reputations.
Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:
- Liquido Active misses all the signs pointing to a reputation disaster.
- Did CenturyLink just become the next Wells Fargo?
- We’ve seen fake plaintiffs, fake defendants, and now fake court orders.
If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.
Transcript (forgive us for any typos):
Andy Beal: Yes, we’ve made it to episode 25, so thank you all for listening. We’ve got a great show for you this week, although we’re not starting off on a positive message, because Erin is a little bit upset with Liquido Active, aren’t you, Erin?
Erin Jones: I’m incredibly upset right now, Andy.
Andy Beal: It’s an understatement?
Erin Jones: So, Liquido Active is an active wear company who seems to do a lot of outdoor photo shoots for their, typically yoga pants ads. They came to Colorado, they’re prepping for a big festival in Boulder, and they went to one of our favorite iconic landmarks called Hanging Lake. It used to be kind of a Colorado secret, but recently it’s gotten very popular. I think with photos on the internet and things, more people are wanting to see it. But the lake has a log in it, and they took some photos doing yoga poses on the log, and their photographer was shown in the lake taking pictures, and this lake has a very, very fragile ecosystem, and the whole bottom of the lake is made out of limestone, and much like a coral reef, if you step on it or your body oils interact with it, it can break off and damage it, and that will ruin the ecosystem in the lake. So, they had a whole lot of backlash from this, from both locals and other ecotourists. Their response was basically, “Oh, we’re sorry. We didn’t see the signs.”
Andy Beal: Now, there’s signs all over the place, right?
Erin Jones: There’s actually a sign that you would have to maneuver around to get on to the log. There’s a sign stuck right in the ground in front of the log. It’s a log that’s laid down in the water from a tree that fell over. So, they actually had to go around a sign, and all it says is keep off the log. It’s very direct, there’s not a lot of reading that you have to do to get through it. They’re also saying that when they got there, someone was swimming in the water, so they thought that that was just fine. I doubt it. This is an alpine lake, the water is freezing cold, and if any number of locals were up there at the time that this happened, they would have been chastised and yelled at until they got out the water.
So, part of this is the problem that they did this, and the second problem for me is their complete non-apology. First, they tried saying, “Well, someone else was doing it when we got there.” Okay, well, I don’t care. You claim that you’re an eco company, and that you want to do all these wonderful things, but really, it seems like they were just more interested in their own self-interest than in preserving this habitat. So, very frustrating, and now what’s really irritating me on a professional end is that they’re hiding comments on Facebook. You’ll go to a post and it says it has 87 comments and you can only see two.
Andy Beal: I saw that, yeah.
Erin Jones: Which I find completely off putting, from a professional standpoint, and I think they’re trying to get past it. They’re putting a lot of really gushy, phoenix rising from the ashes type posts on their Facebook page, but they’re getting a whole lot of eye rolling and negative commentary in response. They really haven’t come back and given me a good reason to feel like I can forgive them for this, and I don’t know that I ever want to.
Andy Beal: Yeah, let’s start with that last point. When you have a reputation crisis, you don’t get to decide when it ends. Now, you can move on yourself, and you can try to make amends, change the tone, move on to a different dialogue, but you don’t get to decide when your fans or your detractors are done being mad with you. So, hiding comments on a post because they’re attacking you or saying, “Hey, we’re still looking for a decent apology,” or whatever, that’s just going to keep adding fuel. You really should just kind of … It’s almost like a band aid, just go ahead and rip it off, get it over with, let them trash the next couple of posts, get it out of their system. In fact, you may want to lay low for a little bit, but you don’t get to decide.
So, hiding comments is probably not a good thing to do, because everybody can see. I mean, that’s the first thing that stood out to me, is I looked at their Facebook page, I saw that a post had 20-something comments, and then I click on it and Facebook would only actually show me your comment, because you’re friends with me, which was the eye roll, which was great. But they wouldn’t show me any other comments, so it’s like I’m not stupid, other people are not stupid, they can tell you’re hiding the comments. Okay, so let’s go back to the actual what happened. First of all, nobody is believing that they missed the signs, and even if there was somebody else in the lake, here’s a little tip from my mom, and that is … My mom used to say to me, “Well, if everybody else was jumping off a cliff, would you jump off the cliff?”
Erin Jones: Your mom is a smart lady.
Andy Beal: I mean, it’s practical advice. It’s advice that we give all of our kids, right. It’s like, well, just because such and such is doing it doesn’t make it right. So, that doesn’t give you permission to do it. They clearly just got greedy. They were out doing photo shoots, they happened to drive by this lake, they thought this would look great. Hey, let’s put a couple women doing yoga poses on this log, this is going to look so fantastic. And they thought to themselves, we’re willing to take the risk that we get found out by a park ranger or somebody and get fined. That’s worth it, because hey, it’s cheaper than filing the proper paperwork, going through the process of getting permission and whatever we have to do to actually do this right. So much cheaper. We’ll just take the fine, we’ll risk it. No one’s going to see. But they didn’t take into account the cost of the court of public opinion, and that’s what’s really hurting them.
Erin Jones: Absolutely, and this is a strong community, and as a state is a strong community, and we really, really value our nature here. This is one of the most pristine, well-preserved areas in the state that’s easily accessible to people, so people take a lot of pride in it, and Hanging Lake’s been in the news a lot lately. People leaving trash on the trails and kind of disrespecting the area, and it’s been really, really frustrating, and it’s been a source of stress and frustration for the locals for a long time. I think this just pushed everybody right over the edge, and then the lack of apology, the kind of trying to point it off to the other guy and then treating themselves like they’re the phoenix rising from the ashes, like they were the victims in this situation. It’s just completely off putting.
Andy Beal: Yeah. They got greedy, they didn’t consider the ramifications here, they thought they could just get away with it, it’d be a cool photo shoot. As businesses, we just got to avoid taking those small risks, saving a few pennies, when we end up spending dollars in lost business and trying to do damage control. Their Google reviews have tanked from four and a half, five star review. They’re now down to an average of 1.9 stars, so when you search for them … Granted, right now their actual Google listings, at least from here in North Carolina, are pretty clean. I’d imagine it’s a different story in Colorado because of localized search results.
But their Google review is right there, and it’s down to 1.9 as these stories develop and people write about it. They’re going to start showing up on the first page, and all because of a pretty scene, and they thought they could get away with it. Whenever you cut corners and risk things, someone’s eventually going to find out.
Erin Jones: Absolutely, and like you said, from here, I’m seeing a 1.9 star review. So, there’s definitely a difference geographically, and I really just get annoyed with let’s beg for forgiveness instead of asking permission when we know someone’s going to say no tactic. It doesn’t work anymore. Information is readily available. There’s a boardwalk right in front of the log that they could have done their poses on with the beautiful water behind them, and they would have gotten a very similar image without alienating all of these people who find this offensive.
Andy Beal: Yeah, and that’s the key. We talk about this time and time again. Your audience may not have been initially offended, right, but you’ve got to consider that your social media outreach goes way beyond your customer base, it goes to everybody else. So, your audience is not just the people that buy your products, your audience is now everybody that has a connection to Hanging Lake, and the people that have that connection are very protective of it, and that’s where they got the huge backlash.
Erin Jones: Absolutely, and the population here is a very interesting mix of outdoorsy and highly technically competent, so I think that they got a lot more back than they expected online.
Andy Beal: Yeah. All right, so let’s move on to another story for this week. We have CenturyLink, who is trying to quickly become the Wells Fargo of communications, I guess, because they are in the news because Heidi Heiser, I think is how you say it, claims she was fired because she was blowing the whistle on a Wells Fargo type scheme, where employees were bonused, incentivized based on the accounts they set up, and so lots of customers were billed for services and accounts that they didn’t request.
So, she filed suit. It’s affecting CenturyLink’s stock price. Who know if it’s going to jeopardize the level three merger? But one of the questions that come out of this is apparently, CenturyLink is claiming they have an integrity line, like a whistle blowing hotline. So, they’re saying she didn’t use that, and the first they heard of it was her filing suit. Was she too scared to use the hotline? Is there such a workplace environment where it’s even too scary to use the hotline? Or, was she genuinely fired for grounds, and she’s using this to cash in? Either way, CenturyLink is kind of taking the brunt of it.
Erin Jones: Absolutely, and I did read a comment from her. I don’t know if it’s true or not, or if she’ll be able to back it up, but that she did try to call the integrity line and was repeatedly disconnected. Ironically enough, that’s what a lot of the CenturyLink customers are complaining about when they try to call about these erroneous charges. So, maybe CenturyLink has a connectivity problem, or maybe they’re a little trigger-happy with the hangup button, but it’ll be interesting to see if she can prove that she did attempt to make that call.
Andy Beal: Well, regardless of that, it seems like there’s enough other people out there that are claiming that they’ve had accounts set up and been billed for services they didn’t request, because it’s now … There’s a class action lawsuit brewing on the horizon, which could claim up to $12 billion, that’s with a B, $12 billion dollars, in damages and fines. So, there’s definitely … Maybe she was the first, maybe she sparked the fire, but we’re now seeing a lot of smoke on the horizon, and a class action lawsuit.
Now, here’s what’s interesting. If you’ve got a really solid reputation, investors, and stakeholders, media are going to look at this more cynically and kind of question this a lot more. But CenturyLink doesn’t really have the best of reputations. Heck, I’ve known people that have worked there, and they’ll confirm that yeah, that’s not particularly a great place to work there. So, it just takes one person, and now your stock drops 6%, and there’s a class action lawsuit. So, really, the lesson we’ve got to talk about here is that you have to build a reputation that’s so strong that when you have these complaints, when you have these issues, people are more likely to kind of give you a chance to share your side of the story and let it play out, as opposed to immediately believing a single person they’ve never heard of.
Erin Jones: And funny you mentioned another company with a better reputation. One of the first things I thought of when you sent me this story was what if this had been Apple? I don’t even know that it would have made the news. If somebody complained about something like this with Apple, I think a lot of people would go, “Yeah, probably not. Disgruntled employee, I’m moving on.” I looked at CenturyLink’s Facebook page, and to the credit of their community management team, they are not hiding or deleting posts, and they are getting slaughtered right now. Tons of complaints about over billing and again, being hung up on when they try to call and rectify the over billing.
They’re responding, and I think they’re trying to hang in there and I just don’t see them being able to bring people around with something as small as a kind response on Facebook. So, like you said, if they’re not going to build that up in the front end, it’s really, really going to hurt to try to repair in the end.
Andy Beal: Maybe they need to get Verizon or AT&T to help them with their telephone lines, because CenturyLink’s are not cutting it. All right, I’m going to leave this story with a piece of advice that I always remember from the Bible, actually, and I’m going to paraphrase it, from 1 Peter 3:16, and it basically says, “Act in a way so that those who try to slander you will not be believed.” I mean, that’s the key to reputation management is act in a way that people are going to come to you first and say, “Hey, is this true? Someone’s spreading these rumors. We want to hear your side of the story.” If you’ve built a positive reputation, if you’ve invested in it, then when these attacks happen, it could be a single person, the media’s not going to jump on it without speaking to you first and second guessing it. As Erin says, this wouldn’t really happen if it was Apple, because people would be very slow to believe it.
All right, our last story for the week, Erin. We’re going to take a look at, I guess, black hat ORM, just like black hat SEOs kind of ruined a lot of good things for search engine optimization, like link building, for example. They went out and they used link farming, and they used orphan pages, and reciprocal linking, all the kind of stuff that ended up Google having to clamp down on. No follow links, all that kind of stuff, just ruined it for everybody. We’ve now got these black hat ORMs that are taking advantage of Google’s, up until now, somewhat liberal policy on defamation court orders.
Google has a page where you can submit a legitimate court order for defamation, and it used to be it would be automatic. They didn’t care. It wasn’t their reputation being attacked, so if they got this court order for defamation, they would process it, remove the offending page from their index, maybe put a little disclaimer with a link to the lawsuit in the bottom of the page, but it’d be gone. But now we’re getting companies taking advantage of that, and the latest is not even to have a fake plaintiff or a fake defendant, but we’re now actually seeing fake court orders being submitted where the court didn’t even hear the case, let alone issue a court order. But these scummy reputation management firms are submitting them to Google and trying to get stuff taken down for all manner of things that the person shouldn’t be able to run away from.
Erin Jones: This is why we can’t have nice things, Andy.
Andy Beal: It’s true.
Erin Jones: I am shocked. I have always kind of thought of ORM as the white knight of the internet world, where we all try to be good and honest and above board, and this just drags us down to that level, and it really … It bums me out, first of all, but second of all, why? Do you think there’s any legal backlash for creating a fake court order if it’s not filed within the courts?
Andy Beal: I don’t know what the backlash is going to be legally. I mean, there’s got to be some laws on the book for impersonating something, but you just got, unfortunately … There’s a lot of people in the reputation management world, lot of potential clients that are bad people. Erin and I, there are certain people we will not work with. If they’ve been convicted of a criminal offense, or just a number of different things where it’s just clear you’re a bad person. Yes, you deserve a second chance, but most times, they come to us not proving that they’ve earned that second chance, they just want to whitewash their reputation.
So, when you have those bad people that can’t find a good reputation management firm to work with, you start getting bad reputation management firms, just like you used to get black hat SEOs. Black hat SEO existed because a lot of people didn’t want to put in the hard work of creating a good brand with good products and good content, they wanted to … They didn’t want to deal with that, so it was just whatever hack-in tactic they could use to try and get the rankings. That was maybe a smaller percentage, but in the reputation management space, you end up dealing with and seeing a lot of people that are just bad people that don’t need assistance, and that creates a need.
Erin Jones: It does, and unfortunately, it’s going to drag us all down and we’re going to have to work twice as hard to prove that this is not the industry standard. I feel like it’s a pretty small, tight-knit industry for the most part, and I’m really hoping that good can overcome this. I know that there’s always going to be that dark shadowy space where some people operate, but I hate that it’s come to this. What really is going to be problem is that Google is going to have to over correct. Just like they did with SEO, they’re going to be a lot more skeptical of good people who have made mistakes who want to fix things. They’re going to be skeptical of letting them fix things in favor of trying to squash situations like this one.
Andy Beal: Well, you right, and we’re already seeing it. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, you used to be able to submit these court orders, and it would be almost guaranteed. Not necessarily automatic, but practically guaranteed that they would grant these requests, because Google didn’t have a dog in the fight. They got billions of web pages indexed, it doesn’t matter to them if they take one or two of them out. They’ve got a court order, then they’re just going to follow the law. Well, now, because of all the abuse, we’re seeing Google pushing back. Either they’re not granting them at all, or they’re asking for further information, and that’s just slowing down the process for everybody, certainly for those that have legitimate defamation.
I mean, there’s a lot of people out there who have been hurt, right. There’s people that have been accused of being sex offenders, or cheating on their spouses, lots of people who’s reputation’s genuinely being defamed, and they’re now suffering because either Google is taking their time, or not taking it on face value. So, it’s a shame, because defamation, when someone used to come to me and say, “I’ve been defamed,” I’m like, “Well, you don’t want me. If you can prove defamation, you need an attorney,” because the process is so much simpler and straightforward and practically guaranteed. Now, we’re going to have to start reevaluating that and say, “Look, I’m sorry. Google may not accept your court order. You may have to hire us to help you to manage your reputation.”
Erin Jones: Right, and it just got incredibly, increasingly more expensive, more time consuming, and really frustrating for those people who are trying to do good. This whole story is odd. You have to wonder how much this person even had involved in this, or if someone doing ORM just said, “Let me take the reins, I’ve got this,” because he was convicted in Idaho, he lives in Nevada, and the court order came from Michigan. Or, the quote on quote court order.
Andy Beal: Yeah. He actually believes that he’s got a legitimate court order, so he may have been duped. I mean, he’s maybe a bad person, he may be the kind of person that doesn’t ask all the questions. He’s like, don’t ask, don’t tell. If you say you can get rid of it, that’s all I want. He may be legitimately trying to turn around his reputation, but if I remember correctly, he truly believes he has a legitimate court order. So, if that is the case, he’s either a really good liar and it just demonstrates why his reputation shouldn’t be repaired, or he’s been duped by the firm, and they’ve taken his money, told him that they got a court order, given it to him, and he’s spent money for a worthless piece of paper.
Erin Jones: Yeah. This one has legitimately had me face palming, actually had my palm touching my forehead more than once when I was reading this. It’s baffling, the lengths people will go to instead of just doing it right.
Andy Beal: Yeah. If you have a legitimate case of defamation and you can prove it in court, you can’t just not like what someone says about you. If you can prove that they said something that is blatantly wrong, that is hurting your reputation or you business, then you can go to court, get that court order. It’s definitely a lot easier and cheaper than hiring a reputation firm to try and push out positive stories and push down negative things, and it generally works a lot better. But you’ve got to be able to prove that, and you shouldn’t hire just a reputation management firm for that, because they will end up doing things that are beyond their expertise, and you may get one of the bad ones.
You need to speak to an actual attorney that has experience in that, and if you’re listening and you need a recommendation, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll be happy to refer you to an attorney I get no kickbacks from, but I happen to know has had a lot of success with this stuff. So, I’d be happy to kind of refer anybody on, and I do on a regular basis. I know neither of us, Erin, we won’t take on anybody that we don’t feel we can help, and we certainly won’t take on anybody that wants us to do anything black hat.
Erin Jones: Agreed.
Andy Beal: All right. We’ll end it on that. Thank you all for tuning in. Thank you, Erin, as always, for carving out time from your busy day to join me.
Erin Jones: Thank you so much for having me.
Andy Beal: Thank you, and thank you guys for listening. Head over to our Facebook page, Andy Beal ORM, or just head to andybeal.com, look for the podcast. Love to hear your comments, love to get your questions. Appreciate you guys tuning in, and hope you’ll join us again next week. Thanks a lot, and bye-bye.