Reputation Management: Dealing with impersonators online
00:00 on Fri, 6 Mar 2009 | Industry Comment | 3 Comments
It was like a scene out of an Agatha Christie whodunit in the office yesterday. Plenty of earnest looks, a host of convoluted theories and the occasional 'who'd have done such a thing?'. Let me explain.
Some time back we'd been alerted to a Twitter comment which claimed our site looked a little similar to another site: KyanMedia. And on review yes, it did a little. Genuine coincidence, no big deal. If you look at it mathematically, it kind of happens sometimes given the number of web pages out there. We thought nothing of it and so moved on.
It therefore came as a bit of a surprise when our monitoring systems alerted us to the fact that one of our directors had been posting potentially incendiary comments regarding this presumed dead issue. OK, Steve likes to talk, but none of us could quite understand why he'd be challenging the authenticity of the Kyan site and accusing them of copying us, especially given they'd been around a good while longer than us. A frantic call to a taxi cab somewhere in London demanding to know what the hell was going on soon made it clear that this was not of Steve's doing. Clearly, someone was impersonating him online, presumably in an effort to undermine Further. Stranger still, the imposter had cited one of our website URLs which was only accessible via an Adwords advert, which in turn was only viewable within our local area. Meaning the offender was likely very close to home.
This is the moment when the reputation management wheel started turning. Within an hour we'd turned a potentially bad situation into a positive and identified the culprit.
Steve called Kyan to explain who he was, that he'd never posted the rogue comment, and that if deemed necessary to the interests of preserving good relations we'd change the Further site where applicable. The owner (Piers) was very decent about the whole matter, didn't feel there was any need to change our site, and even offered to help track the criminal mastermind behind these scandalous events. Within 10 minutes his IT team had identified the IP address of the person who was impersonating Steve. A quick look-up identified it as being none other than...
Look, no Scooby-Do moments here. We're bigger than that and you can’t throw mud without getting some on your hands. However, it is interesting to note that the action our competitors have taken is actually illegal under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) which came into effect on May 26, 2008. The UCPD specifically prohibits business from "misleading actions and omissions" online, legislation that is specifically targeted at businesses leaving fake comments (whether it is posing as consumers or other businesses). Naughty stuff.
Anyway, you might be thinking this is all a storm in a tea cup, which of course it is. However, the point which I think is worth making is that unless you're aware as a business of what is being said about you online, then you are never going to be able to react to it. In this instance we managed to stop a situation from getting out of hand, reached an agreement on design differences, gathered hard evidence that identified the culprit and hopefully nurtured a new relationship. Piers, we'll do that beer next time we're in London and thanks again for the help yesterday!
So, it goes to show that reputation management for business is worth considering and that it can pay dividends.