This is Day 25 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!

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

repped-day25It’s happened.

Someone has published a negative blog post about you and it’s ugly. Reputation damaging, pass the aspirin, this is going to be a long day, ugly.

When you first learn of an attack against your reputation your stomach will turn somersaults and your palms will get sweaty. Like a category 5 hurricane, a reputation attack can sweep through and do a lot of damage. However, just like a hurricane, there are steps you can take to prepare for such an attack. Steps that will help you keep a clear head and limit the amount of damage to that great reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

Don’t panic

Don't panicThe first step is to not panic. Easier said than done, right? Take a few deep breaths. If needed, step away from the computer and pour yourself a cup of coffee. Whatever it takes to get over that initial reaction that makes you want to, as they say in internet slang, fix all the things!

Because you took time to set up your social media monitoring you’ve likely caught this attack in its early stages. Just like a malignant tumor in your body, early intervention increases your chances of turning the situation around.

Identify your detractor

Who are you dealing with here? Is it a Virgin detractor that ordered the wrong product and simply needs a free exchange? Or, are you staring down the blogging barrel of a Professional? Once you identify the type of detractor, you can start planning the type of response that is best warranted.

You should also try to figure out who they are, as a person. What’s their name? Where do they work? Can you match them up with an existing customer record? Are they a journalist that you’ve spoken with before? Lastly, how can you reach out to them? Can you use Whois.com to look up their telephone number or is the only means of reaching them via the contact form on their web site or a direct message on Twitter?

Check the facts

The next step is to read carefully your detractor’s side of the story. Make a note of their key complaints. Write down the facts and timeline of any events. What are they claiming? What accusations have they made?

It’s important to remain calm while you collect this information. You may be infuriated by their claims, telling yourself, “There’s no way this is true; we’d never do that!” Or you may have the opposite reaction and assume that all they are claiming is 100% true.

While you will be tempted to reply immediately, it is far better to take a few extra minutes to compare their side of the story versus reality—or at least your perception of reality. Otherwise, you may find yourself offering an apology and a refund for something that didn’t even happen.

Check their demands

If the complaint is coming from someone that has done business with you, then they will likely list what it is they seek in compensation. If you’ve caught this early enough, that may be nothing more than an apology. If you’ve royally messed up, then they may want a refund or compensation of some kind. Whatever their demands, they’ve probably listed them out for you.

If the attack is coming from a Professional, an Underminer, or a Troll then you probably won’t see any demands. From a financial perspective this is good news, but it also means that finding a resolution will be no easy task. You may have to assure a journalist that the bug they found will be fixed in the next software update, or find a way to reveal the true motives of an Underminer.

Check their influence

InfluenceNext you should try to build up a profile of your detractor’s audience reach. How influential are they? If they’re complaining on Twitter, use Klout.com to show you how influential they are and on what topics. How many Facebook friends do they have? Who are they connected to on LinkedIn? If they’ve published their attack on a web site, free tools at Moz.com, Alexa.com, and MajesticSeo.com can help you figure out how many visitors they receive and which web sites link to them.

While you don’t want to ignore a complaint simply because the detractor has no audience, you also don’t want to go overboard with your response and inadvertently create a Streisand Effect either.

Check the conversation spread

Once you’ve identified your detractor’s influence, you should check to see if their audience has embraced their attack on your reputation. A complaint by a Troll may fall on deaf ears because of any lack of credibility or a Professional review is ignored because it’s way off from the normal topics covered by the blogger.

Conversely, if you see a lot of retweets, a healthy number of likes, or other bloggers and journalists picking up the story, then you know that you need to take steps to deescalate the situation as quickly as possible.

Seek trusted counsel

As part of your evaluation, you would be wise to seek the input of those that you trust. Before you face a reputation attack, make a list of two or three people that would be willing to look at the information you have collected and give their opinion on how best to respond.

These trusted advisors should already know the reputation you are trying to build and have an understanding of your character, voice and weaknesses. Who you include is up to you. Some suggestions include; a trusted industry peer, business mentor—one who’s successfully faced their own reputation challenges, or your legal advisor. Even your friends and family—some of the best advice I’ve received has come from the sage, levelheaded counsel of my wife.

You should try to reach them quickly and provide them with as much information as you know. Listen to their advice, but remember that this is your reputation, not theirs. Ultimately, how you respond is your decision to make.

To respond or not respond

By now, you have a clear understanding of the detractor, their complaint, their demands, their influence, and conversation spread. The next step is to decide how you wish to respond. You may conclude that a response is not merited at this time. That’s something only you can decide. If you make the choice not to respond, you should still keep a watchful eye on your detractor to make sure their complaint doesn’t escalate and garner more attention—and thus warrant a reply from you.

If you do decide to respond, there are two approaches you can take. On Day 28, you’ll learn how to respond to someone that is making defamatory accusations or taking other steps to falsely attack you.

More than likely, you’re guilty of at least some of the complaints made against you and so a different approach is needed. Humble pie is best served while it’s still warm and tomorrow you’ll learn it’s the best recipe for cleaning up your reputation mess.

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