how just one article can damage your online reputation (photo by

how just one article can damage your online reputation (photo by[email protected]/)

You may feel pretty confident about your online reputation. You’ve got some active social accounts, your own blog that you regularly update, and even a few flattering, appropriate photos that show up in Google Image searches.

There’s just one thing: that mug shot from three years ago, or a single, yet scathing article that details an embarrassing legal battle. Or there’s that single one star review for your business that for whatever reason, Yelp keeps filtering to the top, even after two years have passed.

Even if your online reputation is in good shape overall, that single red mark on your online brand can cause serious damage. It can turn away job prospects, potential employers, even your next date. One bad apple can take down your reputation.

Why One Bad Article or Review Matters

You may look at your online reputation as a matter of averages. If you think you look pretty good overall, surely others will judge you the same way, right? Think again.

New research indicates that for 21.9% of customers, all it takes is a single negative article for them to decide not to buy a product or service.

When recruiters, clients, and other interested parties research your reputation online, they are of course looking for positive indications. Often, they want to see that the good impression they already have of you lines up with what they can find out about you online.

But when people search for you or your company online, they’re also on the hunt for red flags. And the tough news is that even a single red flag can send them running, especially if it’s particularly bad. Red flags that people are generally on high alert for include:

  • illegal activity including drug usage
  • badmouthing former employers, clients, or partners
  • embarrassing or lewd photos
  • legal trouble including criminal charges
  • hate speech
  • vulgar language or profanity
  • lying about qualifications

The Real Consequences of One Negative Entry

What happens when someone finds a red flag? Sometimes, if it doesn’t seem to indicate a pattern of bad behavior, people will brush it off. But a mug shot, news article about criminal activity, a scathing bad review, or single inappropriate photo can be enough to call your reputation into question. Even if you’re not immediately dismissed, most people will want to scrutinize your background more carefully than they would if they’d found nothing questionable at all.

The unfortunate truth is that even a single red flag can cause you to be dismissed from a job search. In fact, 34% of hiring managers report that they’ve dismissed candidates based on social media findings including inappropriate content, legal challenges, or lying about qualifications.

Just one dumb tweet can turn your online reputation sour. Consider Justine Sacco, who made a single stupid tweet about not contracting AIDS while in Africa because she is white, and the Internet turned against her while she was still mid flight. Of course, Sacco’s fallout has not been limited to one negative entry, as the first page of a Google search for her name is almost exclusively made up of references to her ill-fated tweet.

In the case of a single bad review, 21.9% of customers will walk away from a product or service based on just one negative article. Two articles will have 22.3% turned away, and 15% will be turned off by three negative articles. Only 10.7% of customers would need four or more articles to reconsider their purchase.

A one star increase on Yelp can lead to a 5%-9% increase in business revenue. And unfortunately, just one negative review can cost you 30 customers.

With these statistics in mind, it’s clear that just one negative review could cause you to lose almost a quarter of your potential customers — possibly before you’ve even been in contact with them.

How to Beat That One Bad Apple

The bad news is that even if you’re plagued by just one bad review or negative article, it’s not going away any time soon. Information doesn’t often just disappear from the Internet, and it’s not likely you can convince the owner to delete it — not even if you try to pay them.

The good news is that even when you can’t delete the one negative article that’s plaguing you, it is possible to put up a good fight against it by simply pushing it down. That’s right: you can beat the negative entry on your online reputation by drowning it out with positive entries, so much so that no one really notices it on the second, third, or fourth page of Google results.

Here’s how you can fight the bad with good:

  • Monitor your reviews and reputation: Find out about negative entries immediately by setting up accounts and alerts that will email you any time you have a new entry that needs to be checked out.
  • Claim review pages and social media profiles: Before someone else does, take charge of your business review pages and social media profiles for yourself and your business. By claiming these accounts, you’ll not only be able to control them better, you’ll also increase the potentially positive social media results for your name as you fill them with active, reputation building content.
  • Attract positive reviews: Dealing with bad reviews is pretty simple. You can work with the negative reviewer, but in addition to making amends, you should simply ask your happiest customers to leave a review. With more positive reviews, the impact of a single negative review will be lessened, and on most sites, bad reviews will be pushed down by newer positive reviews.
  • Encourage positive press: Positive articles can push negative entries down as well. Develop press releases, get asked to complete speaking engagements, and get on good terms with journalists who might be interested in writing articles about the exciting — and positive — things you’re doing.
  • Avoid further damage: It should go without saying, but if you have a negative review, unflattering article, or serious legal issue that plagues your online reputation, be sure to avoid making the same mistake again. While one negative entry from a mistake years ago can do some damage, it’s not likely to render your reputation unrepairable. On the other hand, a pattern of bad behavior can make building a positive online reputation much more difficult.