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"Online reputation management" is the latest buzzword in India's corporate world.
Amid cutthroat competition, Indian businessmen are leaving no stone unturned to keep at bay anything appearing online that might hurt their company's image.
Firms and individuals with expertise in online reputation management have thus become a big hit among corporate honchos keen to use their company's reputation as an asset to gain investors, clients and market share.
Adopting cutting-edge tools, such firms help such companies tackle negative publicity unleashed by their competitors through the Web, as well as victims of libel and cybercrimes.
David Miller, an official spokesman of one such firm, aReputation, says online corporate visibility is at an all-time high since the explosion of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
"A slip-up that goes unchecked is likely to leave a long-term hole, leaving an indelible mark and putting off prospective clients and joint-venture partners, banks providing credit or employees about to enter a new relationship," he said.
Miller said if a client company's image is maligned online, whether it be by a competitor or a sacked employee, aReputation's lawyers in Britain or India can file a defamation suit while its technical experts "deploy cutting-edge online reputation management tools" to tackle the problem.
He noted that a company's image can be also damaged by unscrupulous elements sitting across the borders.
"The World Wide Web is a highly complex phenomenon. A person sitting in the U.K. may one fine day be staring at scandalous content on a website hosted in Croatia by a person sitting in Argentina."
"Who do you go after? Which country do you file a defamation suit in? Even if you won a suit, how do you get it removed? This requires a thorough understanding of libel, defamation act and freedom of press and how the libel laws supersede the freedom of press," he said.
Miller said his firm works with lawyers across the globe on a retainership basis. "It is a model designed to break the issue of jurisdictional cover," he said.
An official of a Delhi-based infrastructure design training and consulting company that was being targeted online by its competitors said aReputation helped it "unearth an elaborate strategy to tarnish our reputation."
"We were attacked online by our competitor, posing as a student. He created a negative Facebook page, blogs, and even brought false articles in the local media that reflected on the Web and hurt our business."
She said aReputation not only traced the IP address of the negative postings to a competitor but it also then helped her company remove the material.
A similar situation was faced by the Delhi-based subsidiary of a Hong Kong shipping company.
In this case, some disgruntled ex-employees posted native content about the company, and also mailed links to its customers.
"These links were posted on all the 90 websites of the firms, and stated showing on the first page of search engine with our company name," an official of the company said.
Within two weeks, the official said, aReputation "helped bury all the negative links from Google in 30 countries where we have clients."
"Their lawyers have also removed 40 percent of links and are in the process of removing others."
Miller pointed out that once something ugly gets out there, the legal process recommended by online reputation managers to suppress it can sometimes entail a long and tedious legal process.
"But once the job is done and the customer breathes a sigh of relief, it is very satisfying. There are a number of case studies that reflect this behavior," he said.
Miller's company also takes on cases of individuals seeking to have undesirable content about them removed from the Internet.
"A minor offender went to prison for stealing a pack of batteries from a store and served her sentence. Eleven years had passed, but still when she searched her name, a local news channel link popped up describing the offence she was held for. This was causing issues with her employment, her right to earn a livelihood and her right to move on with her life."
"We spoke to the news channel on her behalf, giving medical proof of the mental trauma caused by that one single link. It was enough for them to realize and the link was removed."
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