Are You Defending Your Good Name Online?

Luke Middendorf
Luke Middendorf at WSI Connect in Concord, CA, said the best way for a shop to manage its online reputation is to proactively request positive reviews from its customers.

Your reputation online is always important, but during the pandemic it’s more vital than ever.

Everyone can agree there will be fewer cars on the road moving forward, as more and more people will continue to work virtually.

With more competition fighting for less work, a shop’s reputation online will carry more weight, and that’s when some shady operators might resort to doing sketchy things, such as posting fake reviews to disparage the shop down the street.

In one case, a disgruntled former employee wreaked havoc online for a shop. A body shop owner fired a tech, who had a couple sons who were computer whiz kids, and they destroyed the owner's online reputation within months. It went from being just business to being personal, and the shop in question lost a significant amount of business as a result.

In another scenario, a body shop that was producing subpar work hired a company to defend its reputation by creating a ton of fake reviews and posting positive things about the shop to push its bad reviews down the line.

In yet another case that occurred recently, two shops in a small town started manufacturing false negative reviews against each other, but in the end Google black-hatted both of them and took down their respective websites.

You can have amazing employees, great DRPs and a lot of repeat customers, but in the end all you have is your reputation. Competition is healthy, but sometimes people’s passions make them do things they wouldn’t normally even consider.

In 2008, I began writing for a growing company that provided “digital privacy solutions.” Their approach was to create a deluge of positive content about an individual or company so any bad things online about them would be bumped down the ratings. The goal was to get the negative articles, reviews or blogs off Google’s first page, because 75% of all browsers never look past page one, according to Junto Research.

During that same period of time, I was also contacted by a company that wanted to pay me well to write fake negative reviews. They had established a ton of bogus emails and online profiles and were targeting companies identified by its clients. When I asked them if it was illegal, they said no, although they admitted it was at least immoral, so I opted out.

Luke Middendorf at WSI Connect in Concord, CA, protects his clients’ online reputations, including body shops.

“We've been implementing reputation-building campaigns for almost all of our clients,” he said. “The best way for a business to manage its online reputation is to proactively request positive reviews from its customers. Google and Facebook allow businesses to proactively solicit reviews and there are a lot of automated tools that make the process easier to manage. It is against Yelp's policies for businesses to request Yelp reviews of their business so it’s much more difficult to work with.” 

Middendorf said you can’t rely on websites like Yelp to monitor reviews or check for their authenticity.

“All of the review sites do a very poor job of combating fake reviews. Most of the time they avoid getting involved in any disputes," he said. "They will remove reviews that violate their policies which include personal attacks and explicit language. However, those need to be reported/flagged by someone so that they can be reviewed and considered for removal.”

How can you continually monitor your online presence? It’s actually not that difficult.

First, perform a search on your shop name in Google, Bing, Angie’s List, Yahoo and other search engines. Delete what you can, including all of your own social networking pages, where you can easily delete your own posts, photos, comments and videos.

Ask people who have posted negative things about you to delete their comments, videos and photos. If they refuse to delete a photo, for example, you can usually untag yourself, so that the photo will not appear in any search including your name.

If there are news articles, blog posts, videos, photos or other mentions about your shop that are unflattering, you can always request the page’s publisher to remove them. Not everyone will cooperate, but try anyway. If that doesn’t work, or if you can’t get a hold of the people who posted it, push them down in search results by creating positive content.

In many cases, the personal approach may be the best way to go. Quietly unfriend people who are apt to post negative things about you, as well as those who have their own damaged reputations to deal with. You don’t want to be linked to anyone with a questionable reputation, because one rotten blueberry can ruin the whole bunch.

On a regular basis, check for any email jokes or other items people send to you or share with you online. We all have that one buddy or associate who sends silly videos all the time, but think twice before you share them with anyone else. You don’t want to share anything that is sexist, ageist, racist or political because you never know who might see it and be offended. Just delete them if you’re not sure, and avoid sharing inappropriate content.

If the situation gets really bad for any reason, it might be time to lock down your pages. Change all of your privacy settings on all your websites so that only certain people can see what you post and respond.

Another smart move is to limit what others can post about you. For example, in Facebook’s privacy settings, you can easily block other people from tagging you in photos without your permission. They can still tag you, but it won’t be public until you approve it.

When none of these techniques work, start drowning out the bad content with new positive content. One of the best methods out there is to advertise the fact that you help the community, mentor local auto tech students, give cars to deserving people, etc.

You worked hard to earn five-star Yelp reviews or positive comments on Facebook, so why not take the time to protect them? As more and more people go online to search for a body shop, your reputation is more vital, because just one negative review can affect you in many ways and none of them are good. 

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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