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Realtors and brokers managing web reputations – what about when it is a crisis?

It's more than protecting yourself- what do you do when your name is smeared?

Online reputation management for real estate

So you’ve learned about all of the listening tools for conversations happening about you online, you’ve done your homework and are actively engaged in the community so you can earn the reputation you desire while monitoring the space…

But what if your name becomes a bad word online, you become an internet meme, you become the target of viscious blogger bullying or your company is being drug through the mud? What if a picture of you leaks that is less than flattering? What if a former client writes on their blog lies about you and is the first result on Google when searching for your team website? What if you go through a divorce and your ex is posting crazy stuff about you all over the place?

What if you experience a crisis? The kind that feels career ending and soul crushing? Your monitoring tools can’t fight a crisis, they can only warn you of an active crisis.

Feeling like beating up a blogger?

Responses vary depending upon your experience level online.

The beginner: If you’re brand new and you see a chastising tweet about you (or to you), you might immediately scream libel to anyone that will listen. You may call the person who tweeted and threaten their business and call them names. You may call their broker and lecture them on the virtues of the Code of Ethics. You’re just not used to the culture of the web yet and it all feels so big and uncontrollable.

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Intermediate: If you’ve been online for a year, comments have less of a sting. But if someone focuses a blog article on you personally and uses your name in the title with derogatory terms, leaves anonymous comments all around blogs or starts a Facebook page about how much you suck (true or not), that is bothersome. Your response will likely be to contact that person directly and politely ask them to remove the content and discontinue. You won’t threaten to kill anyone and at this phase, your skin isn’t thick but it’s thickening.

Native: If you’ve been online since you were a teen, you know that trolls come in all shapes, sizes and professions and they can’t be trained. You’ll give them a dose of their own poison, spin the situation your way or let it go altogether. It doesn’t hurt personally unless it is a personal friend and at this phase, it is doubtful that you’ll spend much time on anything that isn’t business-threatening.

But what if a crisis becomes too big?

When a real crisis occurs that is spreading like wildfire, your name is appearing as a pejorative all over the internet, and the crisis threatens you personally or professionally, there are two solutions: (1) take things into your own hands to attempt to reclaim your name by having your own URL and writing prolifically or (2) hiring a professional to scrub the web like Reputation.com and others can.

NYT recently covered the rise of companies that offer the ability to erase the digital past. Methods include contacting webmasters and the like and there are teams that are devoted to removing the negative items. They know all the terms of service of each web host, blogger platform and social network and know how to negotiate the system. If you’re a successful agent or brokerage, you don’t likely have time to become an expert in yet another field, so professional help may be necessary if your name is being smeared and you don’t want consumers to be distracted by blogger mafias or heresay.

When you are beyond professional help

The truth of the matter is that if what you’ve done that is being spread around the web is legitimately bad and you’ve screwed up, a lawsuit is not your answer, and an apology and explanation goes much further than “just be yourself” like the social media gurus are telling you. Some things can be spun, but if not addressed fast enough, you’ll be beyond any professional web scrubber or public relations professional’s help and your only recourse is to apologize, explain, take it on the chin and keep working your butt off. If Alec Baldwin can recover from screaming to his child that she’s a little piggy, your sins will eventually be forgotten by the majority too… IF you own your mistake rather than lie about it or ignore it.

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Recently, Bob Parsons, CEO of GoDaddy.com posted a video of himself killing an elephant in Zimbabwe. Internet users called it a brutal killing and criticized his bragging about murdering an endandered animal. Parsons said this was a “problem elephant” that trashed crops and the Zimbabwe people have so little he was simply providing them with food. He filmed the villagers frantically hacking the elephant to pieces for food and he dubbed in AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” for effect.

The public relations world let out a universal gasp as his videos were released and his response has been flippant as he maintains he is a savior to the villagers. Parsons is beyond professional help and as the world calls out for boycotts of GoDaddy with step by step instructions posted around the web as to how, his business will likely take a hit. His only reproach at this point is to apologize (which he has said he won’t) and to let time shift the focus to the next reason to be universally angry.

The takeaway:

If your business is shady or you’re just an awful person, your chances of being targeted online are high. There is a sense of justice in the defensive world of internet culture and when you violate what the most vocal of your niche believe to be “right,” outrage will ensue. You can choose to deal with it yourself by being active in comments and being your own public relations team and try to outrank the posts yourself or hire a professional.

Either way, just remember John Gabriel’s theory, try to do the right thing at all times and be a good person, and when all else fails, there is professional help.

As a sidenote, if you are threatened personally in a way that puts your safety at risk (someone is posting death threats online or publishing your home address encouraging people to burn your house down, etc.), PLEASE don’t fret over calling a professional, you need to immediately call the local police.

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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