Online reputation management by force
What is online reputation management by force?
In order to take control of their online reputation management some organisations have tried to stop negative comments being made about them on the net.
The idea is that, as part of your terms and conditions, you state that any person who buys your product, uses your service, etc. is not allowed to say anything negative about you.
This is known as a non-disparagement clause and usually involves a financial penalty should the user write anything critical of you or your business.
Alternatively a copyright clause can be inserted stating that the you own any text the customer writes about you or your business. If the text is critical you can then demand ownership rights which in turn would allow you to remove the content.
Non-disparagement clause example: kleargear.com
kleargear.com have shown how such an approach can severely backfire when they attempted to impose a fine on a Jen Palmer $3,500 for writing a negative review on Ripoff Report.
The idea that a company could muzzle freedom of speech outraged the internet community and Kleargear's inability to manage the backlash makes this probably one of the worst online reputation management disasters of modern times.
Kleargear had to shut down their Social Media pages (Facebook and Twitter) in the face of furious attacks but their real disaster is in their rankings. As of January 2014 a Google search for the brand name "Kleargear" bought up their home page as the #1 result and 9 other results from blogs and other websites lambasting their approach.
The company claimed a turnover of $40 million and for a business of this size they would normally be spending hundreds of thousands protecting their brand name and general rankings on the web.
In this case, for the sake of $3,500, they have devastated their online reputation.
It's worth noting, however, that Kleargear had been doing this for quite some time and getting away with it along with several other practices where the customer could be fined if they did not "behave".
For more information on the case see this article on techdirt.com.
Copyright clause example: Dr. Stacy Makhnevich
But Kleargear are not the first or the only organisation to attempt online reputation management by force. In Lee v. Makhnevich a patient wrote a negative review about his dentist on Yelp! and was threatened, by the dentist, with a lawsuit in excess of $100,000.
The backlash for Dr Stacey Makhnevich has resulted in her being forced to close her business in New York and quite literally go on the run.
As of early 2014 neither cases have been conclusively settled in court and will undoubtedly be watched closely. However the damage both business have done to themselves is far greater than the financial burdens any court might place upon them.
In summary, if you are thinking of managing your online reputation by force ... don't!