It is very difficult to describe the moment where you first realise that your business reputation is being tarnished all over the internet. This unforgettable moment normally follows by many sleepless nights, tiredness, frustration and of course money problems. And then you experience the unpleasant process where a few flames rapidly turn into massive balls of fire that burn and raze to the ground everything you ever worked for.
Disgruntled employees are in fact, responsible for much of the online defamation postings. Not surprisingly at all, the more inflammatory the internet postings about your business are, the quicker they tend to spread - by blogs, web links, twitter, Facebook, emails and other electronic means. A single link to a defamatory website about your business could end up being viewed by thousands of potential customers who are certainly not going to be impressed with what they read about you or your business. You see, some of your employees are likely to possess impressive amounts of knowledge about you, your business, your practices, your procedures, your errors, mistakes and regrets, as well as about your true feelings about things that matter to your customers. And if the above was not enough to unsettle you, following your initial shock of being defamed online, you start to find that more and more defamatory material is mushrooming on the internet without fear. At this stage you know that you have become a live target.
You get hit left, right and centre and with very little opportunity to defend yourself. A close friend or one of your customers, who for some reason decided to remain loyal to you then tells you, rather embarrassingly that your customers are being sent emails with links to websites which contain terribly unpleasant allegations about you and that often, these allegations are ‘backed’ with some ‘insider facts’, which are aimed to damage you and your business as much as possible. These ‘insider facts’ are beginning to add strong elements of reliability to the largely defamatory posts about you on the internet. Then, all of a sudden the phone stops ringing and the bookings dry out. Your instincts are now telling you without a shadow of a doubt, that if this carries on for another short while, you will need to start thinking very seriously about making some redundancies in your company due to the sudden drop in business.
In the meantime, the online defamation attacks are starting to increase. Links are being shared between people and more defamatory material is now being posted by people you did not even know or ever heard of, as well as by past customers who having read the original defamatory posts, are starting to feel aggrieved themselves about their own experience with you or with your company. What a nightmare. Former employees can initiate some very powerful and effective online reputation attacks. The level of detail that they give about your business in their defamatory posts, gives their campaigns the level of credibility that normal negative online reviews don't get.
But the worst is yet to come. The internet defamation campaign then catches momentum almost at once, at the moment where your former employees decide to release their well crafted Google Bomb.
They use stolen confidential data, which contains your complete mailing lists, of possibly thousands of contacts, leads, customers and past customers and they simultaneously email them internet links to take them to the defamatory posts about you and about your business.
At this point in time, the reputational damage that has been caused is very often beyond repair. To minimise the possibility of you being a victim to a devastating online reputation attack, you must tackle any issue of potential or actual online defamation by an employee or a former employee with a great deal of decisiveness. Don't allow yourself to be held to ransom. Appeasement does not normally work.
But there are a few simple steps you could take from the outset to reduce your exposure to online defamation by employees.
First, always remember that even some of your most trusted employees could one day turn against you so choose very carefully who you invite to work in your organisation. Often, though not always, ‘troublemakers’ can be identified very early on in their employment days. Always look for signals of disgruntlement by employees and deal with these signals appropriately.
Second, share sensitive information with care. If sensitive information about your business, your customers or the way you handle them finds its way online, then you could be in serious trouble for obvious reasons.
Third, restrict access to sensitive data, particularly to your customer’s mailing lists. Keep these lists in a safe place, preferably password protected. Don't make your full mailing lists freely available to your employees and certainly not in a downloadable form.
Fourth, make sure that your organisation fully complies with all the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998. If you neglect your legal obligations to protect your mailing lists from being stolen, you could find yourself liable to criminal prosecution. This is the last thing that you or your business organisation will need to deal with.
Fifth, make sure that your employees are aware of the fact that you take an uncompromising approach towards breaches of Data Protection laws.
Sixth, place a contractual requirement for your employees to comply with Data Protection laws and spell out in their contracts the fact that breaches of Data Protection laws could constitute a criminal offence.
Seventh, if you have evidence that an employee had been downloading sensitive business information for their own use, deal with the issue immediately. Challenge them and remind them of their contractual as well as statutory obligations.