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Thanks to the crew at Digital Dealer for the opportunity to speak on Reputation Management at Digital Dealer.

Digital Dealer may have presumed Reputation Management would be the most sought after topic at the conference.  Ah-no.   I was shocked at standing room only in some sessions but not for the topic of reviews and reputation mgmt.

The lack of butts in seats for all rep mgmt sessions reveals many dealers simply view it and the truth of what is reputation best practice as a nice to have, not a have to have. 

I likened it to hearing your smoke detector go off in the middle of the night—and you get up and remove the battery! The irritating beeping sound stops, but the fire is still raging, and you're not addressing it!

The reputation industry scandals are the clue phones that are ringing with warnings. 

For instance, Forbes released news of “mug shot extortionists” who targeted a man who had gotten a DUI.

His arrest and mug shot quickly surfaced online and his wife received an email from a service provider letting her know that for a small fee, approximately $400, the service would get the posting and photo back down. Horrified of what the item might do to her business if it were seen by distributors, she quickly complied. Problem solved.

Then several weeks later the item appeared on a nearly identical site and she received an identical offer: Pay $400, and the new item could be removed from the web. By now my friend realized she was in an endless loop of extortion. But her initial $400 is gone, and for now, at least, the damaging item lives on.

Forbes also provided this news from a source in the U.K., who asked that they not be identified by name:

“I am aware of the extortion used by most of the biggest ORM firms out there, to name one, it is [redacted]. You will see a huge list of websites they claim they are able to remove bad reviews, reports, affair complaints and trade complaints from. Our team became aware of a scandal where we found that many of these sites have either been setup by the company themselves, or have created financial relationships with the owners of the sites to remove content when paid.”

“Most of the biggest [ORM] Online Reputation Management firms are involved in this kind of mafia extortion. A client of ours who refused to do business with [redacted, but a different company than the first] found a slew of negative listings about themselves appear online just a few weeks later. The company called again and remarked they ‘knew about them,’ offering our client a reduced contract of $25k a month to remove or demote the results.” “What a racket!” said Cheryl Conner, contributor for Forbes.

There isn’t any industry or person exempt from being attacked in this way, hence proactive review building and short circuiting complaints is now mandatory to survive as a business.  Many decision makers are unaware of the dangers of reactive reputation management, versus proactive reputation management, and that is a bit frightening. 

The search engines will shift algorithms again and Dealers Google scores will soar or hit the floor, based on using honest and unbiased steps to building reviews or manipulative means to publish reviews preferentially. 

The worst practices and the impact of unbiased and dishonest reputation mgmt practices have yet to hit a dealers bottom line. Meaning, dealers have been sold worst practices, veiled as best practices that in the short term can satisfy a dealers appetite to get reviews posted and manage  negative sentiment.  Fact is, a number of our new dealer clients stopped following what they thought were best practice, fatigued from low review response rates, the hemorrhaging of removed reviews or de-ranking penalties.

What about the Google slap in August that was symptomatic of not paying attention to best practices?  Perhaps Google was elusive and sent all of us mixed messages and failed to strongly sway dealers from setting up a review kiosk in the showroom. Regardless, that's not my point. My point is unbiased and honest review building has powerful meaning. 

What I want to know is...could the next Google slap have been avoided had dealers followed the Google rules of how to harvest honest and unbiased reviews in a non manipulative proactive process. For example, will Google slap dealers who use, in my opinion, a biased process where the dealer sends a feedback survey and IF the customer is satisfied, customers are sent an email to post a positive review?

The unpredictable giants; Google and Yelp.  Will they continue to throw down the reputation gavel and sentence dealers to review purgatory who do not pay them or fail to nudge the customer to post on yelp if they are a yelper [10 reviews or more] or on GLocal if an active Google-user? Will they say, we warned you, again!  Will penalties only apply to those whose violations are the most extreme; for example, allegedly hiring for reviews,like Samsung did recently. 

Please revisit the conflict of interest page from Google and define how you define honest and unbiased in terms of how you manage your reputation and build reviews or negate complaints.

Dealers with a biased or dishonest control of reviews may see a slow decay in their reputation scores and ranking.

Will dealer decision makers shift their consciousness to a more proactive understanding and do what Google says about honesty and unbiased review building, literally!  Perhaps, we humans are wired that way; we need a good slap to our reputation before we wake up to that beeping sound, and finally call the reputation fire department to put out the review destroying fire

Jerry Hart
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