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Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo - Dealing with Unfair Online Reputation Attacks
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Wednesday, 01 October 2014 00:00

Dealing with Unfair Online Reputation Attacks Featured

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A close friend shared his experience about a recent online attack.

He runs one of Nigeria’s leading indigenous e-commerce businesses. XHost.com (let’s leave it at that for now) specializes in website domain purchase, website hosting, bespoke website and e-commerce portal development.

They are unarguably a top 3 player in Nigeria with monthly revenues in millions of naira. They are accredited by the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA). During the Get Nigerian Businesses Online (GNBO) Initiative of Google Nigeria, they were one of the busiest partners of the initiative.

Since it was founded several years ago, it had distinguished itself through exceptional service delivery, bespoke product offering, competitive pricing and an improving user interface. In many ways, it is the kind of organization that Nigeria should be proud to showcase at global Information Technology events. The fact that members of its management team are all under 33 years makes it the kind of story that is good for the ears. Furthermore the “boys” are successful serial online entrepreneurs with their hands in many pies.

Such is my faith in them that it is only their services I have used and continue to use in Nigeria.

So it was with a mixture of sadness and disgust that I listened to the story I am about to narrate.

It started about midnight a few days ago. A well-known personality in the Nigerian IT space (lets call him DE) had gone to the XHost.com’s website to purchase a website domain.  He selected a domain and made payment on the site using one of the site’s several payment gateways. The purchase was successful.  However, somehow DE wasn’t sure so he inadvertently placed another order for the same domain. The request was declined with the message, “the domain is not available”. Almost immediately, DE got 2 emails; one was a fresh order for the same domain.

DE got mad and a little after midnight, he sent an email to the 24-hour support team of XHost.com. The support agent on duty responded to the email almost immediately. The agent promised to get back to him shortly with a resolution. DE didn’t wait for the response, which came 14 minutes later. He was on Facebook in a jiffy and wrote amongst other things that if anyone knows XHost.com they should tell them (XHost.com) not to mess with him. He accused them of running a sub-standard business and that if they cannot run a world-class service, they should not operate. Furthermore, he stated emphatically that this was the reason he did not do business with Nigerian e-commerce companies. The response was swift and fast. Other users rushed to XHost.com’s defence and stated emphatically that this could not be true of XHost.com as it was perhaps one of the leading service-focused businesses in its sector.

Well while this was going on, XHost.com’s agent had sent an email to DE. The email explained that 1) DE had placed the order twice; 2) DE had already bought the domain; 3) the email about the second order was automatically generated due to the order placed; 4) The second order automatically cancels itself if the payment is not made; 5) Even though the second order was generated, they (XHost.com) had canceled it on their own; 6) In essence there was no cause for alarm – DE owned the domain and had not been charged extra.

This response and resolution took 14 minutes but by then the damage has been done on social media by DE.

DE did not go back to his post to give an update. As if that was not bad enough, my friend sent DE an email asking him among other things to kindly go back to his post to correct the impression not just of XHost.com but also of Nigerian e-commerce businesses being fraudulent and unreliable. That was unfair generalization.

What can be worse than an insider taking down an industry? DE did not respond to the email request and did nothing to clear the air. It is all well and good. Don’t we all have customers who even when they are wrong refuse to eat the humble pie? I for one have been insensitive to some organizations in the past. To err is human is it not?

As my friend lamented, it struck a chord with me as recently incidents like this have plagued some clients of mine.

So what should you do if your brand is being attack unfairly online? I recommend a 3Is approach: Ignore, Inform or Involve.

Ignore

People are entitled to their opinions. From hate speeches, careless rants, unfair comments, etc your brand can face unprecedented negative attacks that are so vicious that joining issues with these persons might mean demeaning your brand. Abusive and derogatory comments as well as threats deserve to be ignored. Don’t belittle your organization. Some things are best left unsaid and out of the public space. It’s your digital footprint out there. If you believe your response is appropriate at this moment, will it be appropriate in 6 months time!

Inform

When comments are false, you owe it a duty to your organization and the interested public to clear the air. While misleading comments are also people’s perceptions and opinions, they should be educated. Whether these persons will be willing and ready to change their opinions is another matter that should not be ours to worry about.  Is the comment grounded in fact? Is there a basis? A “named” and authorized representative of your organization can make a formal response. The response should be in the same or similar media that was used by the perpetrators.

Involve

In extreme cases, you might need to involve the 3rd party owners of the platform where such comments were made. Opinions are free yes, but facts are sacred. Let the venom exist on the perpetrator’s personal social media accounts and within his/her circles.

Unfair online attacks are a reality. The sooner we accept it the better we are able to respond appropriately. To respond, use the 3Is – Ignore, Inform or Involve.

P.S: This article was also published in the 1st of October 2014 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read  

Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo

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