Reputation Management for Politicians & Political Scandals

Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper. – Thomas Jefferson

What if the only things we knew about Thomas Jefferson were the accomplishments inscribed on his tombstone? We would know that he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and that he was the father of the University of Virginia.  Uh…what?  Wasn’t he our third president? Didn’t he make the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and initiate the Lewis and Clark expedition? Isn’t his profile on the nickel; doesn’t his portrait grace those rare $2 bills?

If Jefferson’s tombstone was the internet, that may have been all we would have known of him. And just like a tombstone, whatever is written on the internet will be there forever. These days, most people are apt to get their information from the internet, especially political information. Of course people can see speeches and news reports about politicians on television (or in Jefferson’s case, print media), but these days most people find their opinions online. For politicians this is an extremely new and delicate situation to be in.  The very nature of politics dictates that people will not always agree with what you have to say or have done and will go to great lengths to make it known.

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you. – Thomas Jefferson

What happens when the debate goes too far, or when the wrong information circulates?  Small mistakes can easily be blown out of proportion. The internet makes it too easy for misrepresentations, falsehoods, and downright lies to circulate and to do so at light speed. If this happens, you may need to implement a reputation management campaign to restore your good name.

When your reputation is the foundation of your career, it can be terrifying to know that someone/something that has been solid and respected for years can quickly become doubted and questioned.  And not only is it your own reputation at stake, but that of your party, your policies, supporters, community and the country itself.

The best way to avoid this is vigilance. Conduct a Google search and see what people are saying about you. Use Google Alerts and Vocus to receive notifications whenever you are mentioned in a search query and keep track of what information ranks on the SERPs (search engine results pages).  If it is not the most positive stuff, it is important to respond.  But do so wisely.

You must not hop into every forum and bicker with your opponents. Nor should you respond to comments that are years old and sitting on a back page of results. Fresh content on such a page will boost its rank and make it visible, which you don’t want. However, there are definite strategies that you can use to avoid and correct any misleading or negative information that has been posted about you.

Thomas Jefferson could definitely sympathize with politicians being attacked by unfounded accusations.  Jefferson himself was victim to one of the worst smear campaigns ever documented in presidential history. In a time when religion was the backbone of society, the Federalists that opposed him portrayed Jefferson as an infidel and a nonreligious heathen. While he did not subscribe to an organized religion per say, he was very spiritual, supported freedom of religion, and even wrote his own version of the Bible.  But many people believed this false information so whole-heartedly that they went so far as to hide their Bibles at the bottoms of their wells fearing he would confiscate them!

Imagine Jefferson checking his Google Alerts and seeing such defamatory claims! Especially the one The Connecticut Courant wrote saying that if he were elected, “There is scarcely a possibility that we shall escape a Civil War. Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” How would he respond? Where would he begin? The sheer volume and maliciousness can seem overwhelming at times, but there are steps to take.

As we’ve said, you cannot remove something that has already been posted. Of course, you can contact the site administrator and ask them to remove the comment, but that is ultimately up to them and leaves you at the mercy of their discretion. The aim of reputation management is to give those negative comments, blog and forum posts less impact. How? Through Reputation Management strategies that borrow from SEO methodologies that will allow you to use these negative comments to your benefit and displace negative results effectively pushing them down and off of the first page(s) of Google.

First, discover what long tail search terms people are using to search for you.  Jefferson could have used “Will Jefferson confiscate our Bibles?” Through SEO, he could then brand this term and make it his own by publishing articles with this title that explain what he really believes and intends to do. Controlling the information that comes up on SERPs is a major component of reputation management.

By writing opinion pieces on Federalist blogs and forums, his opposition would have been introduced to Jefferson’s view and be more apt to listen out of respect for his nerve in coming onto his adversaries’ turf to address the issues.

Offering to speak with individuals that have addressed their concerns in the comments section is important because it takes the back-and-forth out of the public eye, and shows others that what is being said may not be true because he cared enough to respond and discuss the problem privately.

It is important for Jefferson, or any other politician dealing with unsubstantiated claims, to look at this as an opportunity to understand people’s issues with a campaign or policies and to address them. Not only does this kind of action demand respect, but it is also an opportunity to win votes from people that may agree with you once the hearsay has been addressed.

Be Your Own Authority

Don’t let others dictate what people can find out about you. Create several blogs and websites with content that explains your position, intentions, and goals. Do this using other long tail keyword terms that introduce negative results to your SERPs. This way, your high authority pages containing positive information will appear in results before the negative one(s) do.

The whole aim of reputation management is to master the SERPs to such an extent that all negative comments are pushed onto back pages of results where most people won’t see them and are addressed on the first page where people can see.  This, coupled with some well thought out and informative content will question the validity of negative remarks on your opposing party’s pages and lend authority to your own.

Stay Positive

It is important to stay positive, which can be difficult when faced with what people are saying about you. But you can never make it better unless you address the issues. Use these different avenues to highlight positive policies that you have enacted or supported. Make people aware of fundraisers and events that you have attended and endorsed. If you have done anything truly spectacular or noteworthy, schedule a press release about it.

Do something that makes people relate to you. Let them see you with your tie undone. Bill Clinton played the saxophone. Barack Obama sang an Al Green tune. Not many people are aware that Jefferson was an avid violin player. Imagine if he had a video of that go viral! All of the news stories and comments about that would be sure to usurp many of the negative comments in the SERPs. And while that may not have won everyone over, Jefferson would have had his Google Alerts and Vocus ready to address any negative comments.

Be the Good You Wish to See

Remember that a reputation management campaign only has the potential to be as good as you are. Reputation management specialists cannot help you if what is being said about you is ultimately true and you are not trying to change it. It is important to behave in a manner that makes malicious accusations laughable, or least questionable. This kind of campaign cannot hide what you do, but it can serve as a way to defend an honorable reputation and to negate a past mistake.

While we may know the slanderous things that people wrote about Thomas Jefferson because they disagreed with him, it is also true that our perception of him isn’t negative. He had enough positive content and actions to make him one of our most beloved presidents.

As a politician, you should be aware of your online presence, have a plan of attack for negative comments, and a way to respond so that you can control what information SERPs display about you, your campaign, and your party. If you don’t know where to get started, contact Optimum 7 and let us help you do so!