Do you find yourself drawn into articles about the latest lurid scandal? If so, you’ve got plenty of company. It’s hard to avoid being caught by those headlines, especially when they involve powerful, wealthy and influential or connected individuals.
Those headlines have special meaning for online reputation management professionals. When we read the article, we see a slightly different story—one that is hiding underneath the story on the page. There are several questions we always ask:
– Is the story credible?
– Is there a history of similar behavior or claims, and did they involve legal action against the accused?
– Could there have been previous, unreported incidents? Does the accused have the clout or financial resources to prevent such information from going public?
– If the allegations are proven correct, will the scandal threaten powerful institutions, families or organizations?
Predicting How the Scandal Will Play Out
After those initial questions, there are several actions we can take to predict how the scandal will play out. First, we evaluate how much information appears online about the participants (about the accused, then the accusers and any witnesses). Does a Google search produce less than a page of results? Are multiple entries on the first page over a year old? Does the online information about them communicate stability? Is there any information online about them at all? If not, there soon will be – and it won’t come from them.
Once those questions are answered we can assess if the tools of online reputation management will come into play. Can any damaging information be removed from the Internet or substantially displaced so it does not show up on the first two pages of Google results? This will be very difficult if there is a reported history of similar behavior—and especially if that history is backed up by court records, which are given high page ranking by Google. Investigative and feature coverage from well-respected media outlets is also ranked highly by Google and holds its place regardless of SEO and online reputation management efforts.
Attacking the Credibility of Watch Dogs
As a scandal begins to unfold we generally see attempts to attack the credibility of the accusers or watch dogs. History shows that strategy is an effective one—and it still is, if the accusations are false. It’s becoming less effective when there is a strong basis to the story. Technological advances allow investigators to find and reveal the truth, which may be found in digital photography, surveillance videos or texts that can be forensically extracted from hard drives and other instruments.
Such content can also be published online. When a scandal is shown to be based in truth, denials and cover-ups will more often than not increase online fallout. Facts and public opinion shared on highly ranked platforms like Twitter and Facebook will keep the story a highly ranked one. So we now see the targets of scandals—or at least those with the best advisors—working to manage public discussion through apology and atonement.