The "Ugly" - not realizing that consumers now control your reputation
United Airlines is the latest in a string of corporations who have found out the hard way that the web has shifted power to the consumer. Businesses, large and small, no longer unilaterally control their reputation. Consumers post comments and reviews online about every interaction with a company and typically they are about negative experiences...probably because they only get motivated enough to post when they are really ticked off. Unfortunately for United Airlines, the Sons of Maxwell band had the skill and platform to make this music video about their bad experience that has spread virally. While this one and been written about all over the web, most businesses (especially small businesses) are ignorant of the fact that there are dozens/hundreds of online comments and reviews that comprise their online reputation.
I see this all the time with the small business customers of my company. They spend their precious few marketing dollars on a search or display advertising campaign and wonder why the results weren't as strong as they expected. We advise them to "Google" their business name and sure enough they see some negative comments/reviews that turned off potential customers who researched them before buying. While the consumer now has control, businesses can take steps to manage their reputation online.
1. They can directly address negative reviewers by politely replying online and offering to rectify the issue. This can be dangerous so the reply must be a sincere, well-written apology and offer (never argue with or flame the reviewer - it just looks like sour grapes).
2. They can offset the negative reviews by getting lots of positive reviews from their happy/loyal customers. It's pretty simple to hand customers a flyer or send them an email that says "If you had a good experience with our company please share it on x, y, and z review sites."
3. They can try to push negative reviews down to the 2nd or 3rd page of search results by creating and posting more of their own content (blog, syndicated videos, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) such that it gets indexed on page one by the search engine. Research says that most people don't look past the first page of search results so if they can own the content on that page then consumers might not get down to the negative stuff.