The conversation starts like this:
(Eric’s phone rings at 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time)
CEO of Small-Cap Public Company: Hey, Eric. Some jerks are saying bad things about our company and stock on some websites.
Eric: Email me the links and I’ll check it out.
(Eric calls CEO at 6:40 a.m. Pacific Time)
Eric: The good news or the bad news first?
CEO: Gimme the bad news.
Eric: Google has cached the negative pages so you’re stuck with them for a while.
CEO: Ugh. Give me the good news.
Eric: The message board websites have removal request policies, and maybe if your lawyer sends them a letter, they’ll actually remove the posts. Also, it looks like you can respond to the posts.
CEO: Not sure my lawyer will let me respond or even acknowledge this at all. What else can we do?
Eric: The rest is the long slog. Create a blog, use social media. Use all the SEO tactics you can to override the bad content with your own good content.
CEO: Sounds expensive and time-consuming.
Eric: Well, it definitely takes time. But these tactics work.
CEO: %$#@!*& short sellers are scum!!!
The company is then typically paralyzed by legal, cost and time issues. Legal doesn’t want to deal with it, and nobody wants to take the time or pay someone to write the content, set up social media personas or build blogs. So nothing happens, web searchers continue to find negative content about your company and, in the short term, the stock languishes. But there is hope.
First, A Word About the Small Cap Neighborhood
Let’s be honest about Bulletin Board and Pink Sheet stocks. We’re in a bad neighborhood and the smallest misstep by the company will have the short sellers smelling blood. And shell companies often have a bunch of old garbage lingering around in various websites – either about the old company or the old management, or both – so you’re stuck with it even if it isn’t completely relevant anymore. So, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to deal with short sellers and the negative comments they generate. Whether the short sellers are behaving legally or not is not relevant.
The key is to acknowledge that people with an interest in your stock’s failure are going to say bad things, then go on the offensive by building a positive online reputation!
What Is An Online Reputation?
The good and bad things that people are saying online about your company and stock is called your “online reputation.” And, in practice, online reputation management (ORM) is very similar to search engine optimization (SEO). But first, a few definitions:
Online Reputation: The ratio of positive to negative content about your company or products contained in various websites or online services (like Twitter). If people are writing lots of good things about your company, you have a positive online reputation.
Online Reputation Management (ORM): The practice of measuring, monitoring and improving your Online Reputation. Many of the same strategies and techniques are used in ORM as in SEO: keywords, back-links, blogs, social media, PR, etc., but ORM for publicly traded companies also includes participating (either directly or through third-parties) in online forums, bulletin boards and message boards.
The Best Defense Is A Good Offense
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in online reputation management. That means getting ahead of the bad guys by posting as much positive, quality content about your company and stock that you legally can.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Content is king
Here is where the content comes from: Accurate press releases; blogs (a blog for each company division or product, and other personas); a LinkedIn account and group; Twitter personas; links with smart keywords to your press releases in the message boards, bulletin boards and forums.
You need to diligently and consistently create high-quality content to be sure your pages get into the search engines so your content pre-empts bad stuff.
2. Own the negative words
The shorts are going to use these kinds of words: scum, fraud, jerk, liar, psychopath, inept, stupid, incompetent, sleaze … you get the idea. A well-done off-brand or third-party blog can utilize these words so the search engines direct people to a positive blog rather than a negative one.
Also, your SEC filings may contain good keywords you want to own (like “fraud”). Be sure you include this news content on your site, and perhaps have a “Financial News” headline section.
3. Respond professionally and graciously
As appropriate, thank writers for saying nice things about your company, either on a website or directly or privately to the writer. Tell nay-sayers that you hope that you can eventually convince them of how solid your company is (create some boilerplate text with your legal team that you can quickly post and forget).
Yes, this takes resources. And yes, it takes time before you see results. But, you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing your short sellers eat their … shorts … while your company builds a long-lasting positive online reputation.