Anyone that follows this blog will also likely have seen my profiles on Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter. Although I wouldn’t call myself a prolific user of social media, I engage with it fairly regularly, in addition to my work on this blog. The longer I’ve been on the platforms, the more connections I’ve made. Most, admittedly, are people I knew growing up, have made friends with, or have worked with at one point or another. The more I use the platforms though the more connection requests I get which aren’t people I already know. They’ve seen my work and want to connect and thus far, I’ve never been one to reject them (unless they look exceedingly dodgy – K3NY3NL0TTERYWINNERS doesn’t usually take much sussing out 😉).
As a result, I’ve made a few connections with other investing and lifestyle bloggers – we read each other’s work, pass on a bit of considered feedback, and generally work to support each other. About six months ago, I was pretty shocked when one of my connections suffered an online attack on his reputation. Over a year ago, he wrote a review of an investment opportunity (which I won’t name for fear of retribution against myself) and advised most investors to steer clear. Personally, I don’t think he was wrong to do so – their contract terms were odd, their website was rather amateur looking, and the ‘guaranteed’ returns of 8-14% were just too good to be true).
After he wrote his article, it turns out it had rather a large impact on the investor’s profile. Where they previously weren’t struggling to get people to send over money, all of a sudden there was a well-written article questioning the sustainability and legitimacy of their venture. First of all, people started asking questions, then they started writing their own articles, and next thing, these guys couldn’t flog their opportunity to anyone!
Unfortunately, these guys didn’t take well to being rumbled and immediately engaged a negative PR campaign, setting up multiple sites to slander the author of the original article, posting bad reviews of his books and questioning his reliability. They accused him of being a con-man, a fraud, a ‘get rick quick’ schemer and more. The author was understandably rather irritated. Traffic to his blog collapsed, sales of his book slipped, and all because he’d tried to warn the public about something he considered to be a dangerous investment (note: he didn’t directly accuse the opportunity of being a fraud, he simply highlighted some facts that made it look highly likely. When he attempted to contact the organisation to get a response, they refused.)
Protecting your reputation
When I was younger, this kind of behaviour was less dangerous than it is today. The internet was only just being established and any online smear campaigns were likely to be unfindable unless the knew the URL of the website hosting them. Even IF, by some chance, people found a sound smearing your name, there were so few people on the internet that any damage would have been very limited. Fast forward 20 years and that has all changed. Online commentary, social media and the prevalence of cheap or free publishing platforms mean that someone with an axe to grind can quickly cause damage to your reputation.
To counter this, the author released a video, explaining what had happened, laying out the facts as he saw them and challenging the various charges of being a con-man with independently verifiable statements. He released an explanation of his investing philosophy, reviewed his portfolio, and told the world about his business failures (as well as the successes). It could all have been made up, of course, but most people saw it for what it was – an honest guy showing the world how he did business and why.
It was a text-book response to an online smear campaign, was well-executed and seemed to do the trick. Within a few weeks, his traffic was returning, and bloggers in the community had rallied around to support him.
It\’s a big concern and can be devastating for anyone that runs a blog or a small business. Truthfully, the only thing you can really do to combat this kind of behaviour is to be open and transparent about what you do and why you do it. Be truthful about your goals, your aspirations, your business dealings and if someone takes it upon themselves to attempt to smear your reputation, you’ve already told the public everything you can about what you do.
Where most individuals and companies fall down is on forming a genuine response to reputational challenges. The number of total non-statements I’ve seen to rebuke challenges of corporate misbehaviour are unbelievable. Seriously, it’s not THAT hard to hold your hands up and be honest with the public, but for some unknowable reason, some PR and Marketing types think it’s OK to hide behind meaningless statements about ‘reviewing the situation’ and never releasing the results of the review.
Being truthful is the best policy
The trouble is, people remember the charges, and if you never counter them with meaningful counterarguments, they tend to stick. Unless you’re unfailingly honest, unflinchingly truthful and absolutely transparent about what you’re doing and why, people tend to assume the worst. So why trying to cover up the mistakes? We all make them – I’ve had investments go wrong, jobs not work out, and projects that I thought were a great idea and turned out to be a disaster in the making!
It doesn’t mean I’m not good at what I do though, so if anyone ever asks me, I’ll tell the truth. If you ever want to know what my worst investment was all you have to do is ask me.