Online Reputation Management for tobacco companies: A social crime?

Do I have flexible morals?”                                                                                                       Let’s say you became a lawyer and you were asked to defend a murderer. Worse than that, a child murderer. Now, the law states that every person deserves a fair trial, would you defend him?”                                                                                                  I don’t know, I guess every person deserves a fair defense.”                              Yeah, well, so do multinational corporations.”

O.Sacks, D. (producer), Reitman, J. (director). 2006. US.                       Thank you for smoking.                                                                                         Room 9 Entertainment                                                                           ContentFilm

According to PRNewswire (although is not the only source that says so), “Only government and tobacco have worse industry reputations than financial services.” It is no secret that the tobacco industry has one of the worst reputations in the market, and this is mainly because of the aggressive campaigns that have been promoted around the world in defense of the health of citizens, some of them even based on inaccurate information. Every time, smoke-free zones get wider, to the point that smoking is a factually impossible activity in some places. To this extent, improving the online reputation of this industry is considered an offensive matter, mostly seen as unethical, almost as much as the fair defense that even a serial killer of children deserves in a democratic society. The question is whether it is justifiable to manage the online reputation of the tobacco industry… and the answer of this article is yes.

While they were not the first to ban it, some of the most famous anti-tobacco laws were those that operated in Nazi Germany. In fact, the term “passive smoking” was coined at that place and time. Hitler wanted to protect the Aryan race from the evils of tobacco, according to him, “the wrath of the Red Man against the white.” For this reason, even several smokers were executed during the Nazi dictatorship. The Nazis were not the only ones to be so strict when it comes to forbidding smoking: the Soviets, Mao’s China, and, of course, the United States of America. The reasons have always been the same: the direct relationship with various types of cancer and respiratory diseases, as well as the pollution and the eventual degeneration of embryos during pregnancy.

Apparently, a plenty of States have been really concerned about the health of their citizens, and, therefore, have promoted increasingly intense campaigns. Thirty years ago, it was possible to see people smoking at the office, and ten years before, even on airplanes and waiting rooms of hospitals. What’s more, it was common for an athlete to light a cigarette before competing. When did it become such an awful activity?

Recommended: When did smoking become so unpopular?

It is more than a rhetorical question. As Immanuel Kant said in his famous essay What is Enlightenment?, it is important to foster critical thinking in people (especially kids and teenagers) and going beyond statistics and the second and third-hand data that support any popular belief. In fact, there are activities, products and services that negatively affect the health of people, equally or even more than smoking, but, interestingly, they are not that watched by their critics. Even though is already encouraged to stop using fossil fuels (mainly for environmental reasons), nuclear power, genetically modified or high-sodium foods, those awareness campaigns never reach the same intensity, nor produce much displeasure in the population, as, let’s say, lighting a cigarette on a public library. Why does this happen? If the use of cell phones and the exposure to the invisible waves of Wi-Fi are also responsible for the deteriorating health of citizens, why are not as unpopular as the mere fact of smoking? Sapere Aude, says Kant.

Related: Companies that pollute the most (and which urgently need better Online Reputation Management), by ReputationDefender

Even if the black propaganda is true, there is nothing wrong with improving the online reputation of the tobacco industry. Most people consider that bad reputation, in general, is a matter of social justice, something that the guilty people deserve (regardless of the bad reputation is produced as a result of the own acts or the acts and/or words of others.) For this reason, people consider that it is not just unethical to defend and improve the online reputation of a so hated industry, but it is a must to keep it so, as the raison d’etre of such a reputation is the protection of the nonsmoker society and a way to avoid new smokers.

The problem is that this reasoning is not only unfair if applied in cases where the bad reputation is produced after the wrongdoings of others, instead of the own actions. This reasoning is also problematic since it teaches people not to think for themselves and stop looking for evidence that gives sense to everything they believe in.

Online Reputation Management for tobacco companies: A social crime?
Image courtesy of Jake Gordon at Flickr.com

Smokers know what they are doing, just as sedentary people, speed racers, cheese hamburgers lovers and martial arts fighters know what they are doing. Placing warning about the hazards of tobacco is a useless measure (there are actually jokes about asking packs with lung cancer warnings instead of sexual impotence warnings…). In fact, there have been cigarette brands, like Death that don’t include those warnings, because their logos are skulls and crossbones (and customers don’t mind and even feel tough guys thanks to it.)

When the certainties of each person and their life decisions are based on second or third-hand information, the concepts of truth and freedom stumble. Allowing others to reach their own conclusions and making their own decisions (even if they are influenced by tobacco advertising, just like are actually influenced by the advertising of Coca-Cola, Nike or KFC) is to promote and ensure the basic principles of democracy and free societies. On the contrary, attacking these bases, encourages States to adopt the common paternalism of dictatorships. What are the rules of the game then?

Online Abuse – What Does It Look Like in Other Parts of the World?

A recent Guardian investigation has looked at how internet-based harassment is handled in various countries around the globe. The study was a part of the Guardian’s “Web We Want” series, which focused on the “dark-side” of online activity. At Reputation Defender, we assist clients struggling with online abuse, so we have direct experience of the difficulties inherent in prosecution, especially across international boundaries where a patchwork of different laws apply; few of which are really geared toward internet-based crime. Our privacy services work to help clients remove unwanted information whenever possible, but instances of online abuse continue to grow making this a pressing issue for legislatures around the world.

This is a brief look at how online abuse is dealt with in six different countries as reported by the Guardian:

China and Russia – The Horror Stories
  • China – China has at least 688 million people using the internet and in spite of the government’s well-known censoring capacity, few resources are spent on preventing or stopping abuse. Cyberbullying on social media sites happens frequently. A recent study across approximately 1,500 secondary school students found that 57 percent of respondents had experienced bullying, whilst 35 percent admitted to have taken part in the mistreatment. Mass attacks in which large numbers of people band together to destroy one person’s reputation are common. These are known as “human flesh” search engines or search groups. They often occur in response to a minor offense, but there is usually little proof and the attack goes far beyond the perimeters of the original crime committed. The case of Ding Jinhao, a teenager who allegedly defamed an Egyptian temple by carving his name into the wall, is one example. Thousands of strangers shared personal details and accusations across the web and his school website was hacked. A public apology from his family did little to undo the damage.
  • Russia – In Russia, the government also pays little attention and may even be behind many forms of online abuse. So called “troll-farms”, which are probably linked to government connections, are bursting with professional bloggers writing to fill the internet with spam propaganda and harass leaders who criticize the Kremlin. Opposition blogger, Ruslan Leviev, says he has faced numerous internet threats and phone calls after a pro-government site published his address and phone number. Leviev is unsure how sympathetic the police would be and says they rarely follow up on this type of internet case.
Europe – Moving in the Right Direction
  • United Kingdom – In the UK, legislation is beginning to tackle the issue of online abuse. In April 2015, a law criminalizing revenge pornography went into effect. Revenge porn is the public sharing of sexually explicit material without consent. This type of individually targeted attack is one of the most common forms of abuse in the UK. It begins as a personal vendetta, but much like the “human flesh” search engines in China, it can spread far beyond people who know the original target. In the 6 months after the stricter law was introduced, the police received almost 200 reports of revenge porn in Britain and Wales, leading to 13 convictions. Most victims of these revenge porn cases were women, whilst the majority of perpetrators (12 out of 13) amongst those convicted were men. The new law is expected to continue reducing instances of revenge porn, however these cases can still be difficult to prove. One particular clause that requires proof that the offender “intended to cause distress” makes conviction more difficult.
  • Sweden – In June 2015, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (NCCP) published a study showing that only 4 percent of the reported cases of online abuse actually result in conviction. This is because either the offense cannot be classified as criminal under existing laws, or because there is not enough evidence to identify the perpetrators. The NCCP found that, like the UK, most cases of abuse in Sweden were targeted: 44 percent of instances reported by women were fuelled by an ex-partner, whilst half of the cases reported by children were carried on by someone they knew from school. Men were more likely to be victims of defamation that included a criminal accusation, while women faced more sexually orientated abuse. One well-known Swedish case from 2012 did result in prosecution. Two teenage girls took revenge pornography to a whole new level when they invited teenagers in the local city of Gothenburg to send photos of other teens to their Instagram account, accompanied by testimony of alleged sexual activity. This resulted with a collection of 200 photos, usually with a name attached and an allegation of sexual misconduct. The site quickly sparked a brawl at the local school. The two girls were tried the following year and found guilty of defamation. Under juvenile law they were sentenced to community service and a payment of compensation to each of the thirty-eight  victims.
Elsewhere in the World
  • Australia – Australian law directly prohibits “menacing, threatening or harassing” via a “carrier service” such as Facebook, but recent cases suggest that this law is not well enforced by police. One woman who accused a man of making a rape threat via Facebook said the local authorities were “not responsive to her allegations” and seemed to have little understanding of how Facebook worked. Specific provisions can vary in different states and territories; in some cases “mere words” are not taken seriously, whilst in others they may be considered as assault. In February 2016, a Senate committee recommended a new law addressing revenge porn specifically, but as yet none exists.
  • United States – In 2014, a Pew study found that 40 percent of internet users had first-hand experience of harassment – with young women being the most common target. Well known cases exist, such as Anita Sarkeesian; the feminist gaming activist who has received repeated death threats, yet little action has been taken. Laws vary from state to state, but few are aimed at directly targeting online harassment. Like Australia, police often show little understanding or interest when reports are made. In 2015, the Supreme Court decided in favor of defendant Anthony Elonis, who threatened to kill his ex-wife on Facebook. According to the court, there was no proof Elonis intended to follow through with the threats, therefore the incident did not constitute a crime. It is generally considered a defeat for online privacy and safety activists. However law professor, Danielle Citron, pointed out that the case did set a precedent for online harassment to be considered in the same category as other threats, which could help with successful prosecution in other cases.

Online reputation management for internet sellers and auctioneers

Websites that allow people to buy and sell second-hand products or collectors items, as well as auctions, are becoming increasingly important as time passes by, due to social tendencies and the possibilities offered by new technologies.

There are several examples out there that show how to craft a good online reputation within a website of sales and auctions, based upon the trust that sellers transmit to their users.

Trust within a website that allows any sort of transaction to buy or sell products or services should be obtained, in the first place, with a clear and direct exposition of all the issues that a user might be concerned about. In that sense, the price of the usage of the site is yet another one of the values to consider. It’s advisable to indicate in a separate section the costs of the service. Users should know how money can be earned from the people responsible for the site. If they see everything offered freely, they might become suspicious, be it for a lack of transparency or trust.

And you, as a seller, should always provide a section of frequently asked questions, since in these kinds of sites users generally ask tons of questions about how to use, navigate and especially about how to pay for the products that they want to purchase. In these pages, it should be easy for a potential buyer to contact the seller directly in order to get answers to any possible questions.

In order for these sites to convey trust, it’s also advisable for a constituted company to be legally backing the project. The absence of social responsibility would cause a lack of trust that would keep the project from being successful.

Another factor that improves the online reputation of a website with these characteristics is the catalog itself. How updated it is, the amount of products it has and the quality of the products is vital for users to perceive the site in a positive way.

The update process and the amount of products are something that administrators can control. Providing the categories of each sector does not only allow a better navigation, but it also gives a global idea that the catalog has a considerable size.

The quality, however, will depend more on the photographs and the kinds of products that users will be able to see from the sellers themselves. This happens with any online project in which others are responsible for publishing the material, however, sellers can be encouraged to make an effort in this regard, in order to guarantee a maximum visibility of the products.

Each catalog should be built in function of the sector to which it is aimed. Navigation should be fluid, intuitive and it shouldn’t allow users to get lost among the many existing options, which will improve the final experience, and at the end of the day that is what will encourage a positive perception of the website.

Keeping your customers happy is extremely important because it means that they’ll be more loyal, and they can refer their friends and family, or it can mean an increase in positive ratings if you sell on a site like eBay or Amazon.

Image courtesy of Intel Free Press at Flickr.com
Image courtesy of Intel Free Press at Flickr.com

When you have negative criticism or insults on, say, Facebook, this can damage your online credibility and your digital reputation can be harmful for you or your business. For a company, online credibility means everything. An important component in e-Commerce is the lack of real contact between the seller and the buyer. Each buyer gives a vote of confidence every time they buy something, because they cannot really experience what they ordered until after it’s been delivered. If you walk through that path with them, you will significantly increase that level of trust.

However, it’s enough with making a mistake only once, and months or even years of effort can be compromised. If you are unlucky and you stumble upon a buyer which is not very reasonable and even demands the impossible, sometimes it doesn’t matter if you have the right to reject their requests and you will obtain a negative review. Some will read it, and others will believe it.

The problem with negative reviews is that they cannot be deleted unless they’re defamatory, and in most cases it’s quite difficult to prove that a revision of the criticism should actually take place. On the other hand, you cannot afford to ignore the negative criticism if you want to keep selling online. It’s necessary to repair the damages to your reputation as soon as possible.

Related content: Read ReputationDefender’s “Online reputation management (ORM) for far-right individuals and politicians”

Online reputation management (ORM) for far-right individuals and politicians

Some economic analysts believe that right-wing movements tend to get stronger in times of recessions, and they usually have prominence in the politics terrain for an average of ten years. It is difficult to pinpoint this phenomenon perhaps, but the fact is that the discourses of right-wing movements need crises for getting stronger. For the right-wing, the current state of affairs is usually very bad, and they offer radical options for resolving cultural, social, economic and political problems. This political position is usually wide accepted, especially in the working class sector, as it happened during the following years of the First World War in Germany, while the Nazi party was rising. However, when things get better, people often opt for less radical solutions and, in many cases, feel guilty for extreme measures taken by the far-right politicians when things were tough. Not only that: in times of stability, the right becomes quite shunned. In fact, when has been affiliated with a right-wing political party, or publicly defend a politician who moves in this line, often wins a very bad reputation everywhere. To this extent, because political views are so changeable, the bad image of politicians and individuals associated with the far-right movements can also be changed in order to adapt to the new changes. This is where the Online Reputation Management comes in.

The popular wisdom warns us that it is always better to put aside religion, sports, and politics in conversations; and this is often true for one simple reason: discussions become emotional when someone finds an opponent, and it often triggers fights (that may be easily avoided.) One of the consequences of these fights is, of course, bad reputation.

Read also: 5 Easy Steps to Handling Any PR Crisis, by ReputationDefender

But why the right-wing produces such a bad reputation, especially on the Internet? The main reason is that, on the one hand, since the sixties, the Western culture has been increasingly aware of the rights of minorities, and societies have become increasingly tolerant, taking into account the arguments of multiculturalism (even to the extent of tyranny); and, on the other hand, right-wing movements often go against these speeches. The right often ideologically attack the inclusion of immigrants, the rights of the LGBT community, feminism (and their struggles, for example, abortion), euthanasia, the legalization of drugs and secularism in politics and education. Therefore, being associated with these political ideas is equivalent to have a bad reputation among a largely progressive society.

One of today’s most perplexing examples related to the right is Brexit. Referendum voters, both those who were for and those who were against the departure of the United Kingdom of the European Union, were surprised with the results. It brought a lot of discontent in the next few days. In fact, many of those who voted for the departure felt ashamed because of the negative consequences of their votes. However, the Internet always remembers, and those who promoted this decision prior to the referendum, have been remembered and labeled as rightists since that time, especially politicians. What if they want to change their images?

Image courtesy of Rareclass at Flickr.com
Image courtesy of Rareclass at Flickr.com

Another interesting example is Donald Trump. After eight years of a progressive and Democratic administration, a large percentage of the population admits agreeing with the thoughts of the Republican candidate. Since Trump became a presidential candidate, the polls all over America have brought many surprises: the American people are apparently hungry for “justice” and desperately need to blame someone or something for all their economic and social ills. The truth is that since Hillary Clinton entered into the debate, Americans have become polarized as never before. The problem is that the political position of others is a relevant issue for many individuals. How many people have lost jobs opportunities, for example, because they have publicly supported one or another candidate?

The big drawback for the supporters of Donald Trump, maybe, could be an eventual victory of Hillary Clinton. How can they clean the image of right-wing extremists? It applies to individuals, politicians, businessmen and celebrities.

Recommended: What explains Brexit, Trump and the rise of the far right?

Perhaps, the social sanctions over far-right supporters is not a big deal most part of the times, and perhaps their bad reputation are not so difficult to clean. Nevertheless, in other areas, this issue may be particularly serious. Currently, the international community is divided on the conflict in Syria. Some support the US and NATO, and others are in favor of Vladimir Putin (widely considered a far-right leader), Al Assad and Iran. Some are still neutral, but if the conflict grows to global dimensions, it will be difficult to stay out of the discourse of “friends and enemies”, because in the great wars, those who are not in favor of the powerful, are considered enemies. So, what to do in the case that someone wants to change his/her political views, in order for not being branded a “fascist” or a political enemy in the future?

For this reason, online reputation management is a viable solution. One of the advantages of the Internet, despite it records everything, is that the online reputation of anybody can be a moldable matter. How do I want to be perceived by the public eye? It’s a similar question that a plastic surgeon does to a patient and is a question that actually an ORM company makes to its customers.

(For further information about how to build your own online reputation, this article may be interesting to you.)

Your online reputation is your very own uniform

The essence of the human being is to always tend to grow as a person. Being part of closed and hierarchized organizations that are already positioned and with a role and a social image labeled by society as “bad cop” or “good cop” can do little to help differentiate its members.

In fact, before the emergence of social media, the fact that a cop performed in a positive way, but differentiated before a role as well-defined as a uniform, and shown himself to to others as his very own personal brand outside of the established institutions was unthinkable.

If you decide to go public with your professional condition linked to an institution, it’s quite difficult to unlink your personal image from the police uniform.

Your image sells

Many people abandon their accounts in social media because, according to those who do it, they are boring and they represent a lot of work for what’s obtained from them. Others have went on with their profiles from the very beginning, and they have learned how to adapt and to accommodate their message in order to connect with users, and they’ve created a broad and stable networking process. They have shown themselves and now they don’t lack offers from customers to be at the top. You must keep in mind that any post or comment in social media generates an impact that is usually much greater than in the offline world and that, in any case, it should not be shared necessarily to reach the general public. In other words, we never know who may be reading and the consequences that this can generate.

The reputational image is not just something that companies or institutions should worry about, it represents us as people and with it we transmit our reality.

What happens as time goes by?

Some people insist in creating virtual realities while others choose to stay with earthly ones.

But one day, you find that your only weapon is a computer mouse and the objectives are separated by hundreds of miles, apparently behind a screen. Day by day you receive the problems of thousands of users who tell you, literally, that they have been scammed, publicly humiliated with their image shared ad infinitum on a website or that the data of the company that they worked so hard to keep up have disappeared. They all have something in common: extreme suffering, powerlessness before the unknown and seeing how a virtual monster that is only a few years old is ending their lives or their company’s.

How to reach people with a mouse and a screen? Start from scratch

We all have tough beginnings, the “beta” version of our profiles. A landscape or a fictitious character as an avatar and a rather poor description about ourselves. Those who write the most, if anything, may have an abandoned blog. It’s soon to realize that users who read you or who look for information about your business, will read that poor description and they’ll move on. If you can’t grab their attention with 140 characters, few will have positive expectations about your profile.

Image courtesy of unsplash.com at Pexels.com
Image courtesy of unsplash.com at Pexels.com

You don’t have to be a neuromarketing expert to realize that messages reach other people. Optimizing content and connecting with the rest of users is just a matter of time. That’s the true interaction. The genius of a profile is in the capacity of bringing something really different to the scene.

Get me a personal branding, please

If you control your posts, little by little you will be able to obtain valuable information and feedback from others, thus managing to turn yourself into a real influencer.

Even if you publish the silliest thing you can think of or if you post an inappropriate comment, social networks have their own idiosyncrasy and utility. If something works or has to work, it will. If the comment is unfortunate, you will surely know it.

It doesn’t matter what topics you choose, nothing is difficult, it only takes one single screw up or a timely comment to be at the bottom or at the top.

Policemen and cyber crime: to infinity and beyond

The virtual battle happens with one subject: the online world, which moves at an abysmal speed as users get lost in the hundreds of thousands of applications and alternatives that exist out there.

In the meantime, in the physical world, many users, potential victims, struggle hard to learn, forcibly, the dangers to which they are exposed, and the most vulnerable, young and old, are the ones who are most subject to the web’s innovative and changing nature.

With this landscape, the strategy is easy to figure out and conjugate with your personal background and your passion for your job. You should learn how to stand out and differentiate yourself. The way you use language will evolve as you generate content, and your online persona will be much more defined.

What not to do

If you want to define yourself as a serious brand, dark humor, your personal touch or visceral comments are frequently useless.

If your timeline is full of information that you don’t need, that will be one of the reasons for abandonment. You should select profiles that generate contents of high quality to attract your target audience and don’t intoxicate the rest with the same discourse, posting irrelevant information that doesn’t really define you. Many users look through your posts before deciding if you deserve their daily attention. Show them that you have a lot to offer.

Online bragging doesn’t last forever

Writing about how great you are or how well your company is doing, how well you get along with and how much you are congratulated by the people in your timeline, is a tedious manifestation of your ego branding, which few are interested in. Don’t retweet every compliment or all the mentions you receive. Remember that your quality followers see you and read you, and they are aware of how great your personal brand is. If you want no unfollows or to be muted, don’t abuse by including your followers in endless chains of “good morning”, favs or retweets, or by sharing the things you do every five minutes.

Related content: Read ReputationDefender’s “How to manage the online reputation of bakers and confectioners”