Is it possible to put politics and religion aside for a moment and discuss the recent Chik-Fil-A debacle as simply that—a debacle of PR, and of a well-known brand’s reputation being a little bit tarnished?
Most consumers have long been aware of the company’s relatively conservative ownership; after all, this is a major fast food franchise that has always been closed on Sundays, an astonishingly rare thing for a business in any consumer vertical, these days. Most would also agree that the freedom of speech is something that cuts both ways. The ownership of Chik-Fil-A has every right to voice an opinion that is against homosexuality, just as the rest of us have every right to either support that viewpoint, or speak out against it.
One more point that leaves little room for argument: Chik-Fil-A’s reputation took a real hit. Sure, there will be many conservative groups who applaud the company, perhaps even more than there will be marriage equality groups that boycott it. Still, it is undeniable that this brand has become, in a sense, tainted; this incident will likely always be remembered and not necessarily favorably.
For proof of how bad the damage is, simply Google the company’s name. You will likely notice that the first page of search results is populated with many unfavorable reports of the incident. This is a front-page Google scandal—and that’s something that brands tend to suffer from.
What About Your Business?
Chik-Fil-A is hardly the only company to get a bad rap on Google, of course. In fact, it’s something that could happen to any company, even on a much smaller scale. You may own a small business start-up, and have just a couple of employees. Just because you’re not a ubiquitous giant like Chik-Fil-A—and just because your products and services are superior—don’t fool yourself into thinking this kind of thing could never happen to your brand.
Consider that all it takes, in many instances, is a single negative review, posted to an online review site like Yelp. That review may come from a real consumer, but it could just as easily come from a business competitor, or from a disgruntled ex-employee. Regardless of how factual that review is, it can seriously damage your brand.
Bad reviews are just one example among many, of course. Lawsuits, consumer complaints, negative BBB listings, personal defamation—these are all very real threats to businesses of any kind. This is especially true when these negative listings appear on the front page of Google. More and more consumers are basing their purchasing decisions on what they obtain about a business via online search, and most consumers never click past the first page of search engine results. Thus, the first page of online search result listings can really be make-or-break for any business.
Protecting Your Brand
The obvious question, then, is simply this: What can be done about it? How can you defend your brand from online defamation, and keep your first page of Google results from being overwhelmed by scandal and ill repute?
A big part of it is being proactive. You shouldn’t wait until a crisis happens, but instead should start erecting a strong defensive wall now. Build up strong defenses on Google—and hopefully, they will prove resilient enough to keep negative reviews or unwanted listings from breaching that first page.
A good place to begin is buying all of the exact-match domain names associated with your brand. Say, for example, that you run a company called Big Star Electronics. You will want to ensure that you own bigstarelectronics.com, .net, .org, and so on. You may not actually use all of these domains, but upload some content to as many of them as you can—something as simple as a brief company description—and you will likely find that these listings populate Google’s first page.
Some other tactics involve snatching up social media accounts. Start a blog, using WordPress—a service that is favored by Google. Get a LinkedIn profile and another social media account or two, if possible.
From there, work on strengthening those online assets. This can be done by simply adding new, fresh, relevant content to them, as frequently as possible. Regular content updates will help these listings solidify their placement within the top ranks of Google—and in doing so you’re helping to strengthen your own defenses against online attack.
These are the same basic strategies to employ should bad reviews or online attacks actually happen. Damage control is often seen as a matter of addressing negative listings head-on, but a better approach is usually just to focus on populating the search engines with more listings that portray your brand in a positive light. Count on these listings to help suppress unwanted or undesirable reviews and Google entries; truly, this is the most effective way of responding to a search engine crisis!