Undoing SEO Damage Caused by Global Reputation Management Disasters

We’ve all heard of mistranslations in advertising messages.

We’ve even seen or read about companies who make major brand mistakes when proper “localization” is ignored.

For example, Nissan’s “Moco” which was launched in Latin American markets failed to take off because nobody really wanted to drive a  “booger” car around (“booger” is the translated slang word for “Moco”).

However, thanks to the widespread global adoption of social networks, something that is funny, crass, or insulting can instantly go viral, destroying key brand SEO ranking with massive social chatter.

Starbucks in Ireland is another example. Earlier this month, the @StarbucksIE account sent a tweet to their followers in Ireland asking them to show how proud they are to be British.


If only the author of Starbucks’ tweet knew that Irish people aren’t British and how incredibly insulted someone from Ireland feels when being referred to as British.

The fallout was immediate.


Starbucks deserves some kudos for immediately responding (after a few hours) and apologizing. Yet, by that point, it was already too late.

“Starbucks Ireland” – their main keyword – had been nearly completely demolished in Google’s search results:


In hours, whoever is in charge of social media wields scary power that can wipe out years of SEO work. All that fighting competitors for positioning is now replaced by your company’s embarrassing news as the new competitor in search results.

Initiating Damage Control

After you’re done giving the social media advocate a good beating (kidding!), it’s time to do a lot of damage control.

Start by facing the reality that social and SEO are closely tied together – social media monitoring/tracking is as important as ranking reports and analytics are to SEO.

You’ll need to learn how to:

  • Create a tracking system.
  • Stamp out sparks when they flare.
  • Constantly build up good stories to replace your negative remarks.

Creating a Tracking System

Global social media tracking isn’t easy. Like an onion, it has many layers.

There are also local terms, dialects, and regional terms to just add to the confusion of figuring out what terms to track.

My suggestion: develop your tracking system as if you were tracking each country separately (not by language!). Make sure you have your native speakers in place in those markets and create an “objective system” that all countries can adopt.

Determining What to Track

You will want to track all of your English terms as well as your X language terms per country. Those terms are:

  • Slogans
  • Brand names (including retired ones)
  • Campaigns
  • Trademarks and patents
  • Competitors
  • Business partners
  • Industry conferences
  • Brand slang 
  • Industry terms

Determining Who to Track

There are two types of people to track:

  • Internal influencers: This include future hires, current employees (all the way up to the CEO), ex-employees, clients, unhappy ex-clients, investors, business partners, and board members.
  • External influencers: This includes bloggers, Twitter users, social network users, and media/journalists. Make sure they are local to the country they write about.

Once you’ve compiled your black book of who to track, you will want to profile the people you’re tracking. Determine who are the most influential critics and advocates and who are the ones that show signs or potential of becoming one.

Remember, you need to do this on a per country basis.

‘Super Fans’: Developing & Creating Advocates

Once you have completed your list, it’s time to concentrate on building your social media advocates.

Advocates spin positive information. As your advocates grow, so does your ranking of positive content.

Most companies fail to recognize potential advocates. Believe it or not, many are sitting at the company and would be willing to contribute the companies success on their personal social networks.

In a recent presentation on social media around the world, Insites Consulting referenced a study that noted of the top 2 percent of employees at major companies, 61 percent in Europe were proud of the company the work for, yet only 19 percent were willing to share or talk about their company in their social networks. That’s a huge missed opportunity to bring internal staff up as advocates.

You could use a number of tools to determine which advocates are the most influential. Some of the well-known ones are:

  • Kred
  • PeekYou
  • Traackr
  • MBlast
  • PeerIndex
  • Klout

Reshaping Opinions, Cleaning up the Disaster

Once you recognize which countries are the trouble areas, it’s time to build a plan and approach the issues head on.

The first step is to immediately respond and apologize or defend your position. Provide facts to critics and work with them to get the story straight.

Develop content for your advocates. Remember, it takes a lot of time to write an article. Providing a framework for your writers as well as examples helps them come up with stories that benefit you.

There isn’t much you can do with bad comments from critics after the fact, but with enough positive and good advocates, you can possibly change opinions that are negatively effecting ranking.

Continue to be persistent. Keep critics engaged and provide them with content to share, discuss, or critique.

On of my favorite examples of online brand reputation management came from KFC Malaysia. They discovered an employee who posted on YouTube a video of herself and another using dirty rags and dumping them in the marinating sauce pan for the chicken.

When the CEO of KFC Malaysia found out, he immediately launched into disaster control mode. He apologized, showed sincerity, and he encouraged customers to express their concerns on Facebook. He developed a YouTube video and went online to apologize and explain.

When you search for KFC Malaysia, they were hardly damaged, with only one negative SERP showing up in the results.

KFC Malaysia is proof that when you’re doing global SEO, reacting quickly to social media disasters is paramount to a successful international SEO job.

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