If you find yourself in the crosshairs of an online attack, one that is particularly vicious, mean-spirited, personal, sensational and unrelenting, then you’ll need to initiate an online reputation management campaign.
I am assuming you don’t have a online crisis-management plan in place, something that you can activate in order to quickly respond to the attack (an active or prepared corporate communications blog) while also counter-messaging (be it with social media or a Google AdWords campaign), siccing legal on it (no matter what people think some attacks crumble when they get a letter from a law firm), scrubbing, and working the negative content to the 3rd page (your good old ORM campaign).
Even if you do, most of these plans come up a little short, primarily because most high-profile clients, companies, and the agencies who love them, don’t have the stones, the stomach, or the creativity to add to the traditional “defensive SEO” campaign the strategy and tactic of misdirection and redirection.
Two brilliant strategies, one of which is taken from magic, the other taken from the Internet. “Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another,” according to Wikipedia; and, according to the Wiktionary, redirection is “the automated process of taking a user to a location other than the one selected.”
The top two methods of misdirection are actively breaking news hotter and fresher than the news plaguing you, your clients, business, or government (who cares about Syria when Miley Cyrus is stealing the innocence of America’s impressionable tweens by twerking on the MTV Video Music Awards); the other method is a special form of search engine optimization (SEO) that is a subset of defensive SEO that focuses on creating doppelgänger (an apparition or double of a living person), similar, and mutated content as well as initiating SEO and keyword campaigns that are aimed at promoting people, organization, companies, and products that have the same or very similar names as those who are under attack or under scrutiny.
It’s a surprisingly simple strategy that is both powerfully effective and amazing time-consuming; additionally, like any campaign, it takes time.
For example, let’s say I was under hostile attack online (assuming I was in no place to create my own news). My name is Chris Abraham. My first step is to identify anyone else named “chris abraham” or “christopher abraham” or any variation of my name. Secondly, misspellings. Also, Abraham Chris. Really mix it up. Then, be sure to register any and all domain names of all variants. chrisabraham.com, abrahamchris.com, abraham-chris.com, etc. Also, .org, .net, .us, etc.
Next, collect as many explicit URLs you can find, as deep as you care to go into Google Search. There’s nothing that’s too bizarre. Start with the keyword phrase fed into Google, Bing, and Yahoo! Without quotes or anything. And then just search as deep as you can, especially to the point when Google begins to fail on you. I am lucky, there are a number of Chris Abrahams in the world. However, I also benefit from a popular couple names, both Chris as well as Abraham.
If you dive deep enough into the ocean known as Google Search, you’ll end up finding all the crazy stuff: the lanternfish, flashlight fish, cookiecutter shark, bristlemouths, anglerfish, viperfish, brownsnout spookfish, bigeye tuna, bristlemouth, fangtooth, viperfish, daggertooth, barracudina, and stoplight loosejaw of the Internet Search world (forgive me, I am a oceanagraphics nerd).
What I mean to say is that when you get really deep into search, where the sun don’t shine, things get very bizarre. Google breaks apart and starts making surreal connections. Instead of “Chris Abraham” coming up with my web site, my Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook profile, or my Huffington Post articles, it goes much further. Past the other Chris Abrahams, the Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre since 2007 and the open source software developer for The Open Planning Project in New York. Past any version of Chris Abraham or Abraham Chris, and all the way to very cool corruptions such as “CHRIS Small LIVE as President ABRAHAM Lincoln at your next event” and “ABRAHAM Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party, directed by CHRIS Smith” — adding these sort of bizarre to your defensive SEO ORM “stone soup.”
And, most people never go this far. Misdirection and redirection are two of the most powerful tools of the online reputation management rockstar — and here’s why: organic search engine optimization (SEO) is hard enough. Online reputation “chaffing” and “flaring” it even harder. Know what’s hardest? Spending limited resources on something so outside the core messaging; however, if you really want to thicken the stone soup into a stew then you’ll need to kick up as much sediment as possible.
Misdirection and redirection is the equivalent of throwing the dogs off your sent by walking backwards in the mud, following the creek in the water, or doubling back; by donning a false mustache or a fake beard, or even just disappearing into the crowd after making a point of trying to dress like everyone else. By becoming the gray man — always invisible in plain sight.
Think of it this way: what’s the best way to keep a Saddam Hussein alive in the world as a despot? Body doubles! Doppelgängers!
Why are the best ORM campaigns so expensive, oftentimes costing agencies, companies, brands, and individuals upwards of $30,000+/month in client service and technology fees just to combat terrible search results? Because they all understand the power of not only combating the most obvious keyword or working only towards combating negative search results in the sort term but they’re also working diligently on reconstituting the entire Googlesphere in their client’s image — very similar to shipping your online reputation to Parris Island to go through Marine Corps boot camp in order to break how Google knows you completely down in order that they may well build you back up.
And you can do this, too. And you really should, too. Actually, everything you would do in response to a terrible, life-changing, online attack, you can do when everything’s just hunky dory. And, if you don’t have the expertise, the time, or the interest in armoring, fortifying, and bolstering your online reputation well in advance of any online attack — the equivalent of auditioning, hiring, altering, and deploying your army of body doubles before an assassination attempt — then you can always call your local neighborhood online reputation management agency (yes, me) and ask them for their help.
My colleagues at Gerris digital used to always complain that nobody ever wanted online reputation management in the form of crisis preparation — brand promotion — which is always easier with less of a time constraint (as in much, much cheaper) and only picked up the call when the search hit the fan — brand protection. We three would lament how easier and nicer it was to escape an ambush with a well-armored car with a driver who is a master evasive driver and surrounded by team of bodyguards who would be willing to give their lives for you.
Just to come full circle, I live in Washington, DC, and I see the president all the time. While his security is dependent on the bravery of his Secret Service detail and the imperviousness of his carriage, it’s more dependent on deviousness: the shell game that both the presidential motorcade and helicopter fleet enacts every day, both in terms of which Marine One out of three in which the president resides or which route the motorcade chooses.
A classic game of misdirection done in advance of and in order to completely avoid present and future crises.
And, if it’s good enough for the President of the United States’ security team as a strategy then you should give it a try yourself.
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(Disclosure: I am a former employee of Reputation.com and they continue to sponsor my work)
About Chris Abraham
A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and advisor to the industries' leading firms. He specializes in Web 2.0 technologies, including content syndication; organize search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.