A host of firms claim they can protect you and your brand from bad online reviews. But the best approach may be to get your fans to support your reputation for you.

Reputation management is gaining attention in Internet marketing, as brands worry that a disgruntled employee, a competitor or that one customer who caught your business on an off day now have the ability to lasting harm to your company’s reputation.

Reputation defenders will do anything from passively monitoring social media to creating paid, positive reviews in order to counteract negative posts – and dominate the first page of search results. (For more insight on how the process works, see Brian Proffitt’s post: Inside The Mysterious World Of Reputation Management.)

But Steve Goldner, head of social media marketing agencies MediaWhiz and Ryan Partnership, says he advises clients to avoid online-reputation companies. Instead, Goldner tells companies to focus on building a loyal customer base that will defend your brand – and always be prepared for the occasional PR crisis.

The Do-It-Yourself Approach

In many cases, individuals and small firms may be able to manage their reputations without hiring a firm. After author Emily Caprice Candler was arrested on prostitution charges, and her mug shot started pushing reviews and marketing links for her book down in search results, she reached out to reputation-defense companies. They quoted prices in excess of $5,000.

“I’m an individual, not a major company. That seemed extreme to me,” Candler said.

So, she did her own reputation defense, using the techniques described to her by the reputation defense companies she interviewed. One month later, Candler said, all but one of the problematic sites was gone from top search results.

She set up a LinkedIn page and other social-media profiles to dilute negative search results. She started a blog and issued a press release, then posted a video promoting her book on Vimeo. In some cases, she paid small fees – totaling less than $1,000 -to the mug-shot publishers to have her photos removed.

Don’t Hate The Haters

Of course, you need to be cautious when addressing negative reviews and links. “Our experience suggests that there is no cookie-cutter solution,” explains Steve Wyer of Reputation Advocate. “We have yet to see this approach sustain the results that clients anticipate.”

Wyer’s advice for businesses looking at negative reviews is to stay positive. In almost every instance, an aggressive rebuttal will look defensive. “Our experience is that, in most cases, this approach only antagonizes the attacker and this, in fact, can escalate the online conversation, accusations and attacks.”

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.