This is Day 16 of our new series: 30 days to a better online reputation. Be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss a single important lesson!

“Never make negative comments or spread rumors about anyone. It depreciates their reputation and yours.” Brian Koslow

repped-day16There’s a reason why online reputation management has become so important. The rise of social media has made it easy for anyone to take to the web and share their opinion about anyone or anything. Sometimes those opinions are a deliberate attack and sometimes it’s just a simple case of wanting to vent. Let off a little steam.

The problem for you is that it can be tempting to do just that, when dealing with a difficult customer or annoying competitor. An off-the-cuff tweet about a customer, a Facebook post about your boss, or blog comment about one of your competitors might seem benign, but can quickly escalate into a reputation crisis you didn’t see coming.

Don’t talk trash

Don't trash talkThe problem with talking smack is that your attempt to devalue the reputation of someone else often backfires against you. Unless you’re an NFL quarterback or WWE wrestler, talking trash makes you look petty, desperate, or just plain ugly. It doesn’t even matter if you trash talk in a private forum or behind a protected Twitter stream, this stuff tends to leak out. There you were carefully crafting the perfect brand and now your own words have tarnished your reputation.

In the movie Bambi, the character Thumper is reminded, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. ” Great advice that’s worth exploring in more detail.

Don’t bad mouth your competitors

As you grow your reputation, you’ll find yourself on the radar of more and more stakeholders. These people will undoubtedly have questions about why they should trust, and do business, with you. Inevitably, you’ll be asked how you stack up to your competition. Be careful, it’s a trap!

While you should know how you match up to your biggest competitors, you should also know how best to relay that information without it appearing as though you are trash talking. The key is to play to your own strengths in such as way that it highlights your competitors’ weaknesses.

If you’re comparing yourself to your competition in general, then you’ll want to pick two or three talking points where you know that your reputation is the strongest. If you’re asked to compare yourself to a specific competitor, then you can be more specific in the areas that you wish to highlight. Saying, “we offer the best battery life of all tablet manufacturers,” sounds a whole lot better than, “have you seen how awful the battery life is for Competitor X’s tablet?”

If nothing else, bad mouthing your competitors is a distraction. First, you are allowing yourself to be compared to another person or company. Don’t let their brand become a part of your reputation positioning. Second, how far are you willing to go with this? What if your competitor starts negatively talking about your brand? What if they get so annoyed with your comparisons that they start running display ads attacking your brand? Not only can trash talking become a drain on your time, but it can also drain you financially.

Don’t talk trash about your customers

Please tell me the above sub-heading is causing you to scratch your head and ask, “why would anyone trash talk their own customers?” I hope that this seems obvious to you, but you would be surprised how often it happens.

The problem occurs when you send obscure tweets about that “difficult customer” or tell your Facebook friends about “a really annoying client that is an idiot.” Your attempt to be vague and ambiguous can easily ruffle some feathers. How easily? All it takes is for your customer to be a Facebook friend or Twitter follower. They just got off the phone with you and now they see your comment. You don’t think they’ll put two and two together?

Don’t diss your boss

As I am writing this, over two dozen people have tweeted out “I hate my boss” in the past 24 hours. What were they thinking? They have publicly tweeted how much they dislike their superior, so I am assuming that they want to get fired this week.

Google+, Facebook, and Twitter are littered with employees publicly venting, without realizing that their manager could easily be monitoring their social media activity. If you want to bad mouth your boss, confide with your best friend, over coffee, at a coffee shop at least 5 miles from your place of work!

You’re not always right

Another good reason not to trash talk is that you never know when you have all of the facts. You may gripe about how a customer keeps complaining that your software constantly crashes. You tell your social network that the customer is a troglodyte, only to later discover a bug in your software that is indeed causing it to crash.

You should always give others the benefit of the doubt. It is much safer to assume the customer has a genuine problem instead of later backtracking and eating humble pie because you called them a moron. Better yet, don’t bad mouth them at all, and never have this problem in the first place!

The exception to the rule

Hopefully you’re now convinced why you should never trash talk online. With that rule firmly planted in your mind, it’s time to break it. There is one exception where it can be permissible—and even beneficial—to trash talk your competitor or customer. The exception can be made when you are under a defamatory reputation attack. If you are facing unfair accusations then you absolutely need to be vocal and stick up for yourself.

You’ll learn more about handling such unsubstantiated attacks on day 28. For now, stay focused on talking about your positive attributes and stay away from talking trash about others. That’s advice so easy, a cartoon rabbit can understand it!

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