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