Online Reputation Management: The Rise of the Anti-User

by Elmer Boutin  |  Published 9:00 AM, Thu August 28, 2014

One of my primary duties at Rockfish is helping our clients with their online reputation management. When I first came on board, my colleague, Steve Plunkett, stressed that one of main purposes of engaging customers online is to provide “… quick, caring and courteous customer service.” As I like to say:

It’s less about what others say about you; it’s more about how you respond to them.

To be sure, social media and review sites give consumers unprecedented access to brands, as well as unprecedented influence over other consumers’ purchase decisions. Some brands do a great job of embracing those who take to social media and review websites when they have an issue; some do not.

Online Reputation Management: The Rise of the Anti-User

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Social Media

Many customers take to social media because they truly want to have a good experience with the brands they love. Some “take to the air” because they feel they have exhausted all other means of getting attention to their issue. Most of the time, people can be reasoned with, and the issue resolved one way or another.

A small minority of people, however, get so angry or are unreasonable to the point where they start a vendetta against the brand. When someone crosses the line from dissatisfied, or even disgruntled, customer to the point of being unreasonable they become what we term an “anti-user.”

What Is An Anti-User?

Anti-users take several actions that go well beyond those taken by other dissatisfied customers. Those actions can include:

  • Registering a domain and starting a “hater” website, like “i-hate-brand.com” or “brand-sucks.com”
  • Starting a “hater” website on a free hosting space, such as “brand-sucks.wordpress.com” or “brand-sucks.blogspot.com”
  • Starting one or more “hater” social media profiles like negative pages on Facebook or Twitter handles like “@BoycottBrand”
  • Starting a petition on Change.org , Causes.com or similar site
  • Posting negative comments on a review website and then reposting the exact same comments on the brand’s other pages on that website or other websites.

Registering a domain to start “hater” website is especially troubling because if someone is willing to pony up cash to get a domain and buy hosting, they are very angry indeed.

I’ve seen many examples of the last point. Someone will post a review on the Yelp! page of the brand’s location where the issue occurred, and then repost the same review on the Yelp! page of every other location of that brand within a metropolitan area.

Don’t Feed The Trolls

Some people very naturally confuse anti-users with trolls. There is one very distinct difference between them: Anti-users are focused on one issue from which they derive their motivation. Trolls, on the other hand, do not usually have a specific cause they adhere to. Trolls generally post whatever they think will cause an argument. They seek to stir up fights and discontentment within a group regardless of how they do so. Trolls should be ignored because they will not stick around if there’s no discontent ongoing.

There are also those who are passionate about a cause who will sometimes look like an anti-user. These people are normally focused on one thing like politics, environmental issues or animal rights. Don’t confuse the passion these people exhibit about their cause with being an anti-user. While you may consider them bothersome because you disagree with them, for the most part they can be reasonable.

And that’s the true test of the anti-user – whether or not they are reasonable.

So Now What Do I Do?

You might be wondering how to protect yourself from the person who turns into an anti-user with a vendetta against your brand. Let’s say, for example, you have an angry customer to whom you’ve reached out several times to attempt to resolve an issue only to be rebuffed each time with increasingly unreasonable expectations on their part. What do you do?

Before that ever happens, you need to cover the basics. A great book that will help you learn about how to get started in managing your online reputation is Repped: 30 Days to A Better Online Reputation by Andy Beal (I reviewed Andy’s book on my website). The better foundation you build for your online reputation, the less likely it is to be toppled by an anti-user.

It’s also important to carefully evaluate how much weight someone has to throw around before getting too worried about what they are doing. When you see one or more of the actions of a potential anti-user behavior listed above, check the following:

  • Do they have accounts on Twitter, Facebook and/or Google+? How many friends/followers do they have? Are the profiles set to “private” mode?
  • Do they have a website they regularly manage and maintain? If they do, what kind of readership does it have?
  • Have they demonstrated anti-user behavior in the past? A quick check of their name on your favorite search engine will reveal a lot.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone threaten to “take to social media and tell the world about how terrible you are,” only to find they have a Facebook profile with a handful of friends, aren’t active on any other social channels, and have no way to quickly build an audience.

More often than not, an anti-user will give up their efforts after a few days of not seeing any results. That’s not to say you shouldn’t keep on eye on things. Events can go viral with little or no warning, so you want to stay on top of things. If you’ve covered your basics and respond to reasonable customer service issues in a reasonable way, you can most often ride out all but the most determined detractor.

Lastly, it’s very important that you pay attention to the root issue that caused the anti-user activity in the first place. If you see a pattern of activity that leads to many customers having similar complaints, you might want to see if changes are needed in your business. Sometimes the person you look at in your mirror can best provide solutions to to your customer’s problems.

If you’d like to learn more about the rise of the “anti-user,” I’ll be presenting on this topic at PubCon Vegas on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 in the session entitled “Social Media – The Great Equalizer.” If you happen to be attending PubCon, please stop by and say “hi.”

About 

Elmer is Associate Director, Search Strategy with
Rockfish, where he specializes in Search Strategy and Online Reputation Management.

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