Online reputation management is a growing issue for all kinds of businesses and individuals, but network marketing companies and distributors face some unique challenges.

A whopping 88 percent of top network marketing companies have negative results on the first page of a Google search for their company. No other business sector comes close to that, even those notorious for customer service issues and billing problems, such as mobile phone, cable TV, and utility companies. It’s not that the negative isn’t there for them—it is; it’s just not showing up on page one of Google.

Every industry has its own particular problem words. In the auto industry, it’s “lemon” and “recall.” In network marketing, it’s “scam,” “pyramid scheme,” “lawsuit,” and “complaints.” Over 75 percent of network marketing companies have one or more of these words show up in Google’s suggested searches for their brand.

Some Internet marketers post “independent and unbiased” reviews in order to promote their own business, such as leads, training, or a marketing system. These reviews are often positive, but they’re still hijacking your brand for their own purposes.

Another challenge is that the field is competing with the company. If distributors are representing the brand well, this may be okay. But if they have a domain name that includes the brand, or if they have other compliance issues on their site, that’s a problem.

So what do you do about it?

Admit you have a problem. Do an assessment. Search for the company name, product names, company executives, and top leaders, not just on Google but on all the major search and social sites. What are the top twenty results? Suggested related searches? What are the top search results for those negative suggested searches? Plan to keep checking them once a month.

Allocate resources or get help. Whether you do it yourself or outsource it, this needs to become a major job priority for someone. It’s not going to fix itself. If you assign someone internally, be sure to allocate time on an ongoing basis for them to learn as well as to execute. Search engines are constantly changing their algorithms; you have to keep up with those changes.

Web monitoring. Check daily for new mentions so you can respond appropriately. A combination of Google News Alerts, Google Blog Search, and SocialMention are a great start—for free—until you need a more sophisticated listening tool or service.

Secure your brand. While having profiles on dozens or hundreds of sites may not help you much, it won’t hurt you, either. However, letting an angry customer, an ex-distributor, or a brand hijacker get hold of one you’ve missed might indeed hurt you.
Become a content machine. Search engines love content; give it to them. At least six or seven of the top search results for your brand should be your social media and other content channels.

Engage. Search engines may love content, but they love it even more when people like it, share it, and talk about it. Multiple highly active, well-promoted social media channels are your best tool for protecting your online reputation.

Get technical. Great content, shared by others, still doesn’t always rank well. There are numerous technical aspects to making your content attractive to the search engines. Learn them, or hire an expert.

Traditional PR. Continue (or start) working on positive coverage by mainstream media. It’s easier to rank than anything new you can create. If you’re not on Wikipedia yet, that coverage will also help you meet their inclusion criteria.

Don’t feed the trolls. Search engines love long, active discussions. When a negative review appears on Ripoff Report and distributors respond with how great the company is, every single rebuttal is a ranking signal to Google. These sites are not your friend. You will never get the post taken down. You will never get the last word, at least not without paying their extortion fees. There are only two ways to handle these negative sites: first, don’t participate in the discussions; second, take legal action and hope for the best, which is to have Google de-index the negative comments.

Take legal action against defamation. You can’t sue if it’s true, but if it isn’t, act quickly and decisively. You can sue anonymous posters. Many of the negative sites operate offshore and don’t cooperate with the courts, but reputable major sites and hosting companies will. Know your process ahead of time so you can act swiftly when something comes up before it starts climbing the search engines.

Enforce compliance. Many of the complaints about network marketing companies are the result of distributors bending the rules—product and income claims, deals outside the comp plan, misrepresentation of the opportunity as a job, etc. Compliance is as much about protecting the brand’s reputation as it is about protecting you legally.

Treat people right. Sure, that seems obvious, but the key is to be aware that everything you say or do may become public online. A decade ago, an unreasonable customer might only tell a handful of people. Now, they tell the world. Make the extra effort to resolve problems amicably. The cost of a bad review may be higher in the long run than the cost of just fixing the problem to the person’s satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if you’re right—wanting to be right isn’t always the best financial decision.

In a relationship-driven business, your reputation can be your greatest asset, or it can become a liability—not just metaphorically, but in real money. Protect your brand and assets, or you risk losing them.

SCOTT ALLEN is director of client solutions for Momentum Factor,
a digital marketing firm serving the direct selling and network marketing space.

He is coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online and The Emergence of the Relationship Economy.