David Coursey and I have been working on a book about online reputation management for awhile now. We’d done the research, talked to people who know this stuff inside and out, and drawn on our combined decades of experience in the online world. I’d have told you that I knew EXACTLY what to do in almost any situation facing someone with a Google problem.
Trust a lawyer to throw me a curve. I was walking in downtown Dallas with my long-time lawyer, Charles McGarry. He asked how the book was coming, and then said, “I’ve got a client you might be able to help. Can I give him your email?”
Soon, a very nice gentleman I’ll call Michael Unusuallastname sent me an email. He explained that there were just three people in the country with his name — a professional athlete, him (a real estate investor), and a convicted child molester. A few months back, Michael had started to notice that people had stopped returning his phone calls — and he was missing out on “sure things”. Finally, someone told him he should Google himself….and the very first hit when you entered his name and the city he lived in was, “Michael Unusuallastname is a convicted child molester…”
The story was six years old — originally an award-winning expose of a treatment center for child abusers, published in a newspaper in a city several states away from where Michael lived. And the title? “Arrested Development”, just like the sitcom. The magazine was uploading its archive of content to a new website, and their six-year-old story was suddenly showing up at the top of search engine rankings and hitting Michael squarely in his wallet. It got so bad that poor Michael had consulted the attorney we share about legally changing his name.
The title meant that none of the standard Googlewashing tools would work — because the search engine algorithms would keep picking up the article and putting it at the top of the search results because the TV show remains popular. Sure, he could have hired an SEO consultant to get enough positive articles out there to have a chance that someone might see “the real Michael”, but there was no way to get THAT article off the top spot.
Eventually, plain old-fashioned begging convinced the editor of the publication to edit the article to read, “Michael X. Unusuallastname is a convicted child molester…”, leaving Michael C. Unusuallastname the task of making doggone sure that his middle initial was on EVERY document, EVERY email, EVERY social media post, and everywhere else he could think of to put it.
It was a relatively easy “fix” — but his reputation may never recover. It’s been a few weeks, and he is working again, though the hit to his income remains.
And it left me wondering just how exact the science of reputation management is. So David and I went back to the drawing board, and are re-editing some sections of the book. We’re looking for experts, those who’ve faced trying to get their reputations back after an online issue, and lawyers who can talk about the legal issues inherent in this problem. Contact deb at davidcoursey dot com if you have a story to share. Thanks!