Gini Dietrich

Trolls, Smear Campaigns, and Reputation Management

By: Gini Dietrich | October 18, 2012 | 

I am a big fan of The Good Wife. Not only because it’s set in Chicago, but because it’s really well-written (and, let’s be real, Mr. Big is on it).

My winter training has begun, which means I’m stuck on the trainer for one or two hours four times a week. The Good Wife (and Revenge and Scandal) get me through those long boring hours.

This past week (not a spoiler if you haven’t see it), there is a lawsuit against an Internet search engine because they dropped a company’s rankings from the first to 28th page in results. All because the company wouldn’t buy advertising with the Internet giant. Choosing, instead, to invest that money into staff.

A little far-fetched in today’s world, but it goes to show how important reputation management is online and what can happen if one person, organization, or group decides they’re going to take you on…and they have deeper pockets and more resources.

Trolls are Alive and Well

A good example of this is Scott Van Duzer, the pizza restaurant owner who hugged President Obama during a campaign stop.

But once word got out Van Duzer is a registered Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and is planning to do so again next month, angry conservatives flooded his restaurant’s Yelp page with negative reviews and began staging a boycott.

Even if they’d never been there.

A sample gem:

Notice the reviewer is from New York? The restaurant – and Van Duzer – are in Florida.

The story ends well in that real patrons of the restaurant came to Van Duzer’s defense on Yelp and posted so many good reviews, they knocked the bad ones down. And it’s reported sales are up for the pizza maker.

But not everyone is so lucky.

Smear Campaigns Exist

Sri Lankan hip hop artist, DeLon, was recently forced to resign as the opening act for Lindsey Stirling, an America’s Got Talent artist.


In 2008 (yes, four years ago), DeLon called out M.I.A., another Sri Lanken artist, for her implied support of  terrorist group the Tamil Tigers (or LTTE).

She accused DeLon of doing it for publicity and he paid a high price for taking a political stand, including death threats and a vicious Internet smear campaign created to ruin his reputation.

Tamil Tigers supporters even went as far as to fabricate and spread a news story claiming DeLon had been arrested in Thailand for unthinkable acts against children.

Although the Sri Lankan government confirmed these reports were lies and DeLon has worked to clear his name, he had to quit the tour because,

Fans, sponsors, and parents who took their kids to his concert were a Google search away from believing he was a criminal.

Reputation Management

These are the types of stories that concern business leaders when we talk about the pros and cons of using the web for business growth.

Understandably, they don’t want people posting negative things about them or their companies online. So they take the ostrich approach instead. If they can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

But people are posting things about you online, even if you’re not participating or listening to what is being said.

Trolls and smear campaigns don’t happen to most businesses, but it’s no longer an option to ignore.

If there are negative things being said about you online, those things last forever on Google. You can’t erase them.

But you can begin to rebuild your reputation by working with brand ambassadors, creating extremely valuable content, and collecting testimonials.

Those types of things will push the negative reviews down in the Google search results, providing you the opportunity to change the conversation.

But one note of caution: If your customer service sucks or operations are whack or you don’t deliver on time, it won’t matter how much you do to help your positive reviews, from a PR perspective.

Get your business model fixed first so people aren’t enraged. Then a good reputation management program will help.



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About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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66 responses to “Trolls, Smear Campaigns, and Reputation Management”

  1. KenMueller says:

    I’ve seen these sorts of things happen on the local level, and it can get pretty ugly. Don’t people have better things to do with their time?

  2. SandeeJackson says:

    Great post — Certainly, the anonymity the web offers (some of) us has given rise to trolls. I think they are generally people who wouldn’t say / write the things they do without the comfort of a monitor and keyboard. Still, if businesses do their best to fulfill their brand promises, it does seem to help cut down on trolls and haters – though we know you can’t please everyone! It’s definitely a multi-step that involves doing good work in the first place, practicing active social listening and addressing it quickly (and wisely) when you do see something that could be damaging.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @SandeeJackson Very true. Most people who post negative things about your organization just want to be heard. If others see you publicly address the issue, they’ll come to your defense when a troll keeps hounding you. It’s human nature to stick up for the people we like. So give them a reason to stick up for you!

  3. DaveThackeray says:

    @ginidietrich they all own gnomes that look like Charlie Sheen?

  4. belllindsay says:

    “….or operations are whack” ? I think @ginidietrich has been listening to too much M.I.A.! ;D

  5. Well, you know my perspectives on trolls. 🙂

  6. I have nothing to add to this conversation except that The Good Wife is my favorite show. Kalinda is my inspiration 😉

  7. stevenmcoyle says:

    Revenge and Scandal are awesome!!!! Great examples. Yelp reviews are always tricky.

  8. Not much to add other than if you have a business you are better off trying to funnel the conversation to your online outposts where you can try and manage the conversation.
    Can’t kill the trolls but you can demonstrate to the lurkers the trolls are wrong or misguided.

  9. stevesonn says:

    Excellent advice! One of the great things about social media is that it gives people a voice. Yet, one of the bad things about social media is that it opens the door to unfair smear campaigns that can garner significant negative attention. Brands can’t afford to sit on the sides but need to be actively engaged in managing their reputations online, or someone else will do that for them.

  10. FocusedWords says:

    Maybe I’m way off base, but I see the Trolls as an opportunity.  In the case of the pizza restaurant, most of them were obvious in their lack of real knowledge of the business and therefore are easy to repute.  The opportunity is to show that you are open to criticism even if it is way off base, answer the trolls concern and invite your loyal followers to prove the troll wrong.  (I LOVE social media!)

    • ginidietrich says:

      @FocusedWords That’s because you get it. Most business leaders are so scared someone is going to say something negative. When you talk to them about it, from the perspective of unhappy customers who traditionally tell a handful of friends, it’s a little more bearable. But the idea that it can spread like wildfire is pretty frightening to them.

      • FocusedWords says:

        @ginidietrich Thank you!!

      • FocusedWords says:

        @ginidietrich Thank You!!  It’s much easier to highlight your positives when you are responding to a negative than the other way around.  When someone compliments your business about all you can say without sounding egotistical is Thank You; but with a negative comment you can pull out all the customer service skills and show the world that not only are you interested in this one individual but that you are interested in all your clients.

        • ginidietrich says:

          @FocusedWords I had dinner with a friend last night who complimented me on my ability to diffuse criticism online. He said he was reading the reviews on Marketing in the Round and was really impressed at how I handled it. I said, “Well, I’m a PR person. I’d better know how to handle it.” But it’s really because I’m like you – I see it as as opportunity to move the conversation in a different direction.

        • FocusedWords says:

          @ginidietrich OOOHHHH!!!  I’m going to cut this out and frame it!  Gini Dietrich said she was like me!!!!  (All kidding aside, I’m honored.)

  11. ginidietrich says:

    @CiviliNation Thanks!

  12. ginidietrich says:

    @ljcrest Thanks, love!

  13. ginidietrich says:

    @sierratierra I feel sorry for DeLon!

  14. lauraclick says:

    When I worked for the court system, I talked to judges and courts all over the country about reputation management and social media. Unfortunately, the judicial system has a big tendency to take the ostrich approach – mostly because they feel they have to remain neutral and unbiased. Although judges and court systems can’t really respond to all of the negative (and often completely untrue) comments out there, they CAN educate the community and share the good things they are doing to offset all of the bad stuff.
    I had a slide in my presentation with a girl shouting in a megaphone that said “people are talking about you online!” and they were always stunned to see the stuff I could dig up on all of the social networks about judges, courts, etc.
    Point is, whether you participate or not, people are going to talk about you. The question is will you be listening so you can respond?

  15. ljcrest says:

    @MattCarracino Hey you! Thanks so much for the RT of @ginidietrich ‘s post @SpinSucks — good one, no? Appreciate it much-ly 😉

  16. fitbizbyjoyce says:

    @forfeng ironic in “GW” is that in trying to manipulate perception led to bigger problems. Always act w/integrity online & luv Chris Noth!

  17. gayanemar says:

    RT @ginidietrich Protecting your online reputation when things go horribly wrong

  18. jasondyk says:

    Is there a good definition of troll anywhere? Online reputation is huge, and only becoming more and more important to be aware of how to manage it.  One thing that strikes me with the pizza place is the preventative side of crisis/reputation management – It’s “easier” to combat bad reviews, crisis situations, etc. if you already have an engaged community that knows, likes, and trusts you.

  19. Veribo says:

    You raised one of the most important points about online reputation management that many people don’t realise – You can’t just remove the ‘bad stuff’ from Google because you don’t like it. Trolling on the internet or the use of negative reviews to market your own brand is insidious, but for the most part we tend to ignore it. For the small business owner though it can have a massive impact on their bottom line if they don’t react immediately.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @Veribo AND, even if you do awesome work and you have that one negative review on page one of search results, it can really harm your business.

      • Veribo says:

        @ginidietrich You’ve nailed it exactly. For the small business owner or professionals, like doctors, plumbers, lawyers etc, it can be the death knell of an up and coming business. We always encourage clients to ‘stay alert’ and continually monitor review sites in their geographic and business area so that they are able to respond immediately. You’re so right – it just takes ONE negative review to hurt a business.

  20. ginidietrich says:

    @MattCarracino Thanks Matt!

  21. […] Trolls, Smear Campaigns, and Reputation Management, […]

  22. wickedjava says:

    @geoffliving sounds like last weekend

  23. cweinbren says:

    @DeLonMusic That sucks man I am almost got fooled myself. But Karma is everything

  24. […] Gini Dietrich discusses “Trolls, Smear Campaigns, and Reputation Management” at Spin Sucks. […]

  25. @ginidietrich this is really good and quite scary point. It’s been game-changing in many ways to re balance the power between customers and companies but in so many other ways the end result seems to be more about dragging someone through the mud than improving an experience or simply sharing a complaint.  To some extent, I don’t believe anonymous postings should be supported. If you’re going to go after an individual or company’s professional reputation then I think think who you are should be transparent and available. After all, you can’t cash a check without ID, you shouldn’t be able to trash someone’s reputation without it either.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @rideboulderco I totally agree with you on anonymous postings. It’s why I’m so OCD about moderating those people out of here. If you have something critical to say, by all means say it. But do it to my face. Don’t hide behind some anonymous avatar.

  26. […] like what they read on a Facebook wall – and now he’s wearing the scarlet letter of social media shame AND he’s […]

  27. […] This year, why not consider a new tradition: Manage your online reputation. […]

  28. […] good news is, there are ways in which companies can respond to negative reviews, we well as engage in damage […]

  29. […] Scott Van Duzer found out the hard way that hugging President Obama would cause a media assault on his restaurant.  Angered republicans battered his Yelp page with negative reviews of his business – even though they hadn’t been there.  In the end, patrons of his pizzeria came to the rescue drowning out the negativists.  Others aren’t so lucky.  The Sri Lankan musician DeLon was linked to a fabricated story that he was arrested in Thailand for disturbing acts with children.  Even after vindication from the Sri Lankan government stating that the story was indeed fabricated, the damage had been done and he had to cancel his tour ( […]

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