Corporate social media is a huge buzz phrase. A company’s brand online- through social media reputation and word of mouth marketing is beginning to have more and more weight in today’s marketplace. In the past, the saying used to be that one bad customer could relay the story to ten you never met. In the social media world, one customer can reach thousands they have never met (sometimes millions). Today’s contender for brutality to a companies reputation is “The Worst Company in America Award“, via Digg, Google, and a million online readers.
This years contest winner was Countrywide Home Loans. 123 deals with companies having severe reputation and brand problems online, but Countrywide beats most of them on a scale of how problematic it can be.
I first found out about the tongue-in-cheek contest at Digg. The story had received over 1000 “thumbs up” votes. When an article receives that many votes the information is pushed onto the front page of Digg (which has 230 million+ pageviews/month and 26 million uniques) where it sat for the better part of a day. That roughly equates to about six million page views, along with 161 comments.
Examining the “big picture” of the “Digg Effect” brings in some truly amazing numbers when you search the Digg.com site for other articles including Countrywide. In the past year they have had many articles involving them (all bad) submitted to Digg, with a total of 11,820 votes. Multiply the number of page views by the number of times one of the stories found itself on the homepage and you have a much bigger issue.
Most marketers immediately think that the damage is self-contained to the community users of Digg. Unfortunately Google loves Digg. Stories reaching the front page often emblaze themselves permanently into the search terms for the article. In this case – the term was “Countrywide Home Loans”
Within 24 hours, the Digg story was prominently on the sixth result for Countrywide’s own name- reading ” Digg-Worse Company in America – Countrywide Home Loans”
By the end of the day Google had found the original content for the site running the contest and replaced it with the actual link to the consumerist article.
On the Consumerist site, the two originating articles that ended the contest received 31,000 and 34,000 views, with a total of 266 comments.
Before counting all the social media traffic that read these articles, we can assume that some of the 189 to 236 people a day who search for “Countrywide Home Loans” also read the articles when they see the search result.
How much brand damage does social media expose a company to? I would say a lot. In Countrywide’s case, proudly displaying the “Worse Company in America” title on your own name via Google is costing them millions.
Countrywide Home Loans has also found itself displayed on two other sites: CountrywideHomeLoanSucks.com where a neglected author states “Please take the time to read my story and see how I was ripped off by Countrywide Home Loan.” and Loansafe.org which is a community forum that has 446 conversational threads about Countrywide.
Some other examples of how social media is driving reputation into the ground:
Growing Pains Hit Dell’s Customer Service: In 2004 CNET had a review of Dell’s customer service, garnishing 129 comments. As time went on, customers lovingly began referring to dealing with Dell customer service as “Dell Hell”
Other sites dedicated to promoting company mistakes:
Rip-Off Report: Probably the most well known reputation destroying site, this site ranks in Google’s top ten search results for all sorts of rip-offs and scams, as an example case PepBoys (the auto store chain) has 115 mentions on the site. In the search engine world, Ripoff Report has been reviewed by experts like myself and Rand Fishkin over SEOmoz.org who examined if Rip-Off Report was merely a scam and extortion scheme.
PissedConsumer.com: This site ranks in Google’s top ten search results for companies like Capitol One, featuring a dozen or more reviews of the company that have received three to five thousand readers in the past two months.
If you have stake in a company, take some of the steps required to protect your brand and assets online. I’ve included links below to some of my articles on reputation control and brand protection, in addition to ways you can monitor and leverage different online assets in your favor.