Online Reputation Management Case Study
BRANDS UNDER ATTACK

Elixir Interactive Online Reputation Management Case Study

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You are probably aware that customers and investors tend to research your brand, products and associates before deciding to engage with your company. What you may not realize is how common it is for good, reputable brands to fall victim to a direct attack by competitors. In addition, social media and web 2.0 make it easy for disgruntled employees, competitors and unreasonably unruly customers to take to the web to defame or even slander companies and sometimes specific executives associated with a company brand. To make matters even worse, these malicious slander tactics don’t always stop with search engine results — they can extend to search engine suggestions that influence how people are searching for your brand, usually through targeting phrases like ‘scam’ and ‘fraud’.

Elixir interactive recently became the target of a malicious smear campaign against them.  The strong content already populating the top 10 for the brand provided Elixir with some insulation against the attack.  Due to the intensity of the attack with new content being created on an almost daily basis Elixir had to  implement a full reputation management program to protect their brand.   Using best practices steps the top results remained positive.  If your company finds itself in a similar situation, there are many steps you can take before you  consider hiring an online reputation management company or an attorney, which can cost thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars with no guarantee of success particularly in relation to the legal process . Elixir Interactive has thoroughly documented the campaign against them and the processes used to combat it. The result is an in-depth case study and step-by-step examples on how to take back control of your online reputation and defend your name and brand when you are the victim of a smear attack.

About Elixir Interactive

Elixir Interactive is a prominent online reputation management and search engine optimization company. Founded in 2003, Elixir published one of the first white papers on Online Reputation Management.

Challenge

On March 2, 2010, a false complaint was posted about Elixir Interactive on multiple complaint websites.
First Complaint on May 2 2010

On March 3, 2010, Elixir began receiving unsolicited e-mail for online reputation management services.These emails did not adhere to legal requirements governing unsolicited commercial emails and were, in fact, illegal.

See the original story here.

Over the next weeks, more false complaints began to show up on multiple complaint sites.

The reports quickly escalated in tone and replicated themselves across the web due to the fact that numerous complaint sites pull feeds and repost reports from the original sites, magnifying the damage.
Google Results for elixirinteractive.com

In a few cases the attackers posted the same report using different names.

Elixir was not the only, or even the first, victim of this attack on online reputation management companies. Nearly all the online reputation management companies that ranked for the term ‘online reputation management’ in Google had multiple complaints filed against them. Many of these complaints, dating as early as September 2009, matched word for word the complaints filed against Elixir, with the exception of the company name. Elixir appears to have been particularly aggressively targeted because of their high Google rankings.  There appears to be an ORM company or group of companies determined to dominate this space by tarnishing the names of their competitors.
False complaint listing multiple=
Similar complaint against a marketing company
Similar complaint against elixirinteractive.com

It is easy to presume that similar campaigns could be waged in any industry or even against individuals with strong personal brands. In fact, during this same period there was an aggressive attack against Elixir Interactive CEO Fionn Downhill.

Elixir Engagement

Following the best practices for online reputation management, Elixir immediately responded to the both the attacks and illegal unsolicited emails. They also put out the story as a warning to others against the specific tactics involved.

Elixir contacted the various complaint sites hosting the false reports.

Two of the sites My3Cents and ComplaintsBoard responded by taking the post down after Elixir presented the evidence that these reports were false. Some of the sites did not respond at all.  RipoffReport responds by telling you  to get legal advice.  Most of the other sites contacted simply ignore you.  Pissed Consumer despite putting out a press release advising people on how to contact them makes no response at all.  Elixir contacted Pissed Consumer with proof of the deliberate attempts through black hat linking to manipulate their site, there was no response.  New links posted in the past two days are no longer as obvious and are being cloaked by the blogs posting the links. It seems to be the case that the person or persons deliberately trying to rank this report using blog links are now using 301 redirects to the malicious report as can been seen here.

Note: This is the exact same report that appeared on the RipOffReport in June and in both cases when the content was cut and pasted they forgot to change the amount from xxx/month to a dollar amount on some of the other reports they did remember to change the dollar amount from xxx.

Due to the protection provided to these sites by CDA230, Elixir had no legal course of action against these slanderous accusations. Instead, they decided to post short, concise rebuttals on some of he remaining reports that still ranked in the top 20 for Elixir terms.  There is a strong caveat to responding to these reports and that is get in and get out.  Do not engage, if the detractor is a real customer you are likely to have their contact information and can contact them directly to resolve offline.  When the poster is as fake as the report engaging can be extremely dangerous and leads to more content being created which can rank the report even higher in the search engine listings.

Elixir Interactive commends My3Cents and Complaints Board for implementing their own terms of service.  If you wish to dispute a complaint with my3cents you can must follow their process explained here.  For ComplaintsBoard you must first contact the poster via the site.   You will need to create a log in and password.   Since the poster is most likely going to completely ignore your request to discuss then you can provide this proof to ComplaintsBoard and discuss removing the report.  There are no guarantees of course but they at least give you an opportunity.

Elixir then proceeded to promote positive content, issue press releases about upcoming engagements, and optimize digital assets to help clean up the results.

Results

Although the attacks are ongoing, the top ten results for most Elixir Interactive terms are still positive with some exceptions which over time will be corrected. New false reports continue to appear and the assailant persists in linking to the reports to strengthen their performance in the rankings. Due to Elixir’s ongoing management of their online reputation, these results do not immediately appear for the Elixir Interactive search terms nor do they achieve any lasting traction in the rankings. The intensity of this attack is the worst that Elixir has ever seen in their 7 years of handling online reputation management campaigns.  The attacker has certainly given Elixir an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to protect their own and their clients reputations.  The intent was very clear and that was to populate the top 10 with negative information about Elixir.  In some of the reports they specifically mention ” googling Elixir Interactive and you will see how they cannot manage their own reputation” confident that the effort they were putting in would net them the negative results they hoped to create.  This report is designed to tell Elixir’s side of the story as honestly and as concisely as possible while at the same time offering free advice and guidelines for any brand or individual who finds themselves in the same situation.

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Comments (13)

13 Comments »

  1. Amazing how these people can get away with it. Theoretically you can sue for libel them but if you can’t find them or it costs too much to find them then they can get away with it.

    Comment by Dylan — July 8, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  2. These types of stories are scary to hear about. There is so much about the internet that is unfathomable to the average website owner. Thanks for the detailed explanation. Things are clearer now and I am totally amazed at the lengths that some people will go to, to try and make a buck.

    Comment by Capresso — July 9, 2011 @ 2:07 am

  3. Its sad that people will resort to all types of underhand schemes in the interest of making money. Its even worse when it revolves around discrediting another business. Karma will catch up with them though……

    Comment by Jimmy — July 9, 2011 @ 8:15 pm

  4. Dylan, the legal options are being explored and yes it is expensive but ultimately we aim to get the necessary court orders to have the false information removed from the sites. We can then add this process to the case study. JImmy, all the spam linking has been reported to Google, all the spun content and the sites being used. For some reason Google has not yet devalued the spam links. They came to their senses on Rip Off Report eventually they will see the way that Pissed Consumer is being manipulated to cause harm and will hopefully take away its authority. Of course Pissed Consumer could avoid the fate of Rip Off Report if they had a mechanism in place to address these obvious false attacks but they hide behind CDA 230 and it will bite them eventually. I have made several attempts to contact them and they will not respond.

    Comment by Fionn — July 10, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

  5. What an unfortunate story! It’s terrible that these practices are allowed to on more or less unchecked. It is also unfortunate that the majority of the complaint sites did nothing to help. Really makes you question their validity and a lot of what you read online.

    Comment by Meghan — July 11, 2011 @ 4:35 am

  6. That was a really interesting read. It’s unfortunate that there seems to be little legal recourse that you can take against these sites. It would be nice if websites had to adhere to the same laws as physical entities. A newspaper, for instance, could not get away with publishing such blatantly obvious libel about companies without being sued.

    Comment by Wiley — July 11, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  7. From what I have read it seems like there will be much more regulation coming in the internet in the near future. We shall see how that affects problems like this.

    Comment by Dawn — July 14, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

  8. Thanks for the detailed explanation. I intend to share this information with some of my coworkers. I did not know something could be done about negative, false reviews. The web needs to be better regulated, so that honest businesses are not crippled by slanderous posts.

    Comment by JP — August 22, 2011 @ 4:33 am

  9. It’s good to know My3Cents and ComplaintsBoard respond promptly to evidence of false comments and false negative reviews.

    Comment by Alexander — September 7, 2011 @ 3:48 am

  10. These stories are scary! I did not realize a rival business could purchase a legitimate business’ brand and couple it with target searches like scam and fraud. Ugly.

    Comment by Alexander — September 14, 2011 @ 1:30 am

  11. Fionn,
    Thank you for your wonderful webinar where you presented this case study. Your tips and information were great and I am busy building my social media profiles. I was wondering what the update on the legal situation is you said on the webinar that you were taking the legal route to remove the information from the search engines. I dont claim to fully understand it but wondered what was happening. Either way best of luck to you and look forward to your next webinar in the social media series.

    Comment by Tanya Elllis — September 19, 2011 @ 3:06 am

  12. Tanya,
    Thank you for your kind words. I really enjoy that webinar series the next one is in October. I cannot comment publicly about where are at in the legal process drop me an e-mail to the address from the webinar and I will update you.
    Regards
    Fionn

    Comment by Elxir Interactive — September 19, 2011 @ 3:13 am

  13. I cannot believe the lengths people will go to to get ahead. The phrasing in some of their posts is so aggressive it’s astonishing. To falsely say a legitimate company is “deceiving and crooked” and to stay away at all costs and worst of all that they “stole” from a customer. I know work is work in this day and age but I don’t think I could ever do anything this dishonest. Have there been any developments in what legal steps can be taken for you guys? If other companies have been attacked also have they had any success?

    Comment by Arron — February 13, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

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