Anyone who has spent time on the coast is probably familiar with the phrase "crabs in a bucket". It's a reference to the behavior of these feisty crustaceans, when placed en masse into a bucket or other walled container. There's always one crab who fights harder to get out of that bucket, but all the less active crabs pull the "lead" crab back in their efforts to get out.
In human terms, this phrase is used to describe a person (or persons) who attempt to pull a more successful or enterprising person down in order to improve their own odds of success, or to prevent the more successful person from achieving a goal they feel unable to achieve.
A few months ago, something very similar happened to IndigoTea. Not physically, or directly - but by a more insidious tactic that's becoming all too common in this age of online anonymity. A business acquaintance, via the use of false online personas, posted negative reviews about IndigoTea, in spite of the fact that we'd never worked together, or even had any clients in common.
Ironically, this smear campaign by a would-be competitor turned out to be the best thing to happen to IndigoTea. I'll explain how that worked out for IndigoTea, and what you can do when someone attacks your business reputation online.
1) Before all this, I hadn't really worried about establishing business reviews via the major review sites, such as Google, Yahoo! or Yelp; a large percentage of our business comes from word-of-mouth referrals from current customers, which allows me to "vet" customers before taking them on as clients. Unfortunately, this allowed the competitor to get in the first blow, by using our online contact information to list bad reviews from non-existent companies. While it's easy enough to demonstrate that these fake IDs don't track back to a real business, it's enough to give potential new clients room for pause.
The solution? We'd previously begun to gather reviews on IndigoTea's Facebook page, but when Facebook chose to do away with that application, all those online reviews were lost. When the "smear campaign" began, I reached out to my customers, and explained the situation. They were more than happy to re-post their reviews, and provide a more accurate reflection of the business.
How you can be pro-active about your online reputation
At the end of every business transaction with your clients, request their feedback on their experience with your business. Provide the link to your company's profile on your review site of choice so that your customer doesn't have to go digging for it. I recommend a site that allows your customer to identify themselves by their business name, so that it's clear that you're not just using your friends and relatives to pump up your stats, or hiring one of the shady SEO companies that provide this service.
2) Most businesses provide a means of interacting with their customers on their websites; IndigoTea is no exception. For instance, at the bottom of this entry is a comment section, to allow you to comment on this article. One of the nice things about the CMS I use is that it automatically tracks IP addresses whenever a comment is left. That made it fairly easy to identify the malicious comments' origin, and run a simple database update to remedy the situation. Another great feature of most CMS is that moderation can be activated, so that all comments can be pre-screened before publication. If your website doesn't have these features, talk to your web services provider about implementing them.
The final irony? Having a certain number of "negative" reviews can actually improve your overall reputation; consumers develop a distrust for companies that have nothing but glowing reviews for their business. Once I took these steps, my business became even more successful, and this year looks to be even better than last!