It is hard to understand why the management of any company would begin each day with the goal of accumulating more and more unsubstantiated slander and complaints on their website. However, Reputation Advocate’s Steven C. Wyer receives calls on a daily basis from companies and individuals listed on sites like pissedconsumer, ripoffreport and complaintsboard. Complaint portals are growing exponentially and their victims ask Steven C. Wyer, “Why?”
First of all, says Steven C. Wyer, these sites are very inexpensive to create. Most are created through free scripts like PHP BB or something similar, explains Steven C. Wyer. An individual can start a site for $1000 or less and that gets them a full-featured complaints portal web site. Next, adds Steven C. Wyer, these companies do not depend on employees. Once the sites are set up they run with very little human intervention. There is a reason that there is no phone number or address, points out Steven C. Wyer – there is no one to talk to.
Additionally, states Steven C. Wyer, these sites don’t need a marketing budget since the complaint site will come up in the search results under the names of companies or individuals posted on their site by visitors. For example, both ripoffreport.com and complaintsboard.com are top 5,000 Alexa sites. They are nearly in the top 1,000 most visited websites in the U.S.A, reports Steven C. Wyer. These sites don’t even have an advertising campaign to feature a complaint site, because they simply don't need one. Steven C. Wyer says that they generate their site traffic through search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. They don’t have to hire writers since the visitors to the sites are all too willing to hammer away at some unsuspecting business or professional. In other words, virtually all of the content is user generated. Steven C. Wyer’s experience with Reputation Advocate clients has indicated that most complaints filed against small businesses originate from former employees or competitors, not actual disgruntled customers.
So, the next question is, how can this be legal? Steven C. Wyer tells Reputation Advocate clients that it is because the U.S. federal government protects these sites. In the same way that citizens have the right to express opinions through the right to freedom of speech, says Steven C. Wyer, posts to blogs are considered freedoms of expression. According to section 203 of the Communications Decency Act, they pretty much avoid all liability. The real challenge to blatant misinformation being posted on the Internet, points out Steven C. Wyer, is that almost all such content is posted anonymously. There is no way to confront an accuser. There is no intermediary such as the Better Business Bureau to assist in complaint resolution. In short, anyone can say almost anything at any time without the fear of recourse against them.
So, asks Steven C. Wyer, if isn’t illegal, but how do these sites make money? Steven C. Wyer explains that they make most of their money through ad placements on their heavily visited sites. All web based advertising rates are determined by the number of “hits” or “eyeballs” that see an advertisement in a given day. Post up a million unsubstantiated complaints, sell advertising, have no employees, incur no writing or posting costs, exploit search engine algorithms and Reputation Advocate’s Steven C. Wyer says that you have the makings of a very profitable, although amoral, business.
According to Steven C. Wyer, there are also iterations of complaint sites. They usually fall under the review site category or opinion forums. They may specifically target professionals like doctors and lawyers and present themselves as “legitimate”. The business model is still basically the same though, adds Steven C. Wyer.
Now you, the unsuspecting victim enter the picture. You find a comment posted on one of these blogs. Perhaps a customer has pointed it out to you. Naturally, comments Steven C. Wyer, you can quickly see that there has been a mistake and you assume that you can simply contact the site and explain the error and have it removed. However, says Steven C. Wyer, you find out that reality is very different. Most of the time there is no way to contact the owners of these sites short of hiring a private investigator. Steven C. Wyer states that if you do actually reach a real person you will probably find that they could care less. That is of course, unless you are a part of their revenue stream.
Unfortunately, the misinformation is public and available 24/7 to potential customers, potential employers or even attractive singles of the opposite sex checking to see if you are “good and respected.” They will never call to confirm what they read. They simply assume it must be true, or at least that there is an element of truth to it, and you miss the sale, job or date.
So there you have it, concludes Steven C. Wyer, the perfect business model. Very little cost to get started, no ongoing expense, no employees to hassle with, free content, lots of web traffic, unsuspecting victims and all of it done in the name of free speech. Only in America…
Steven C. Wyer is the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, LLC. The firm specializes in online defense and Internet reputation management services. Steven C. Wyer may be reached at 888-229-0746 or by visiting reputationadvocate.com.