Chances are that when you run a search for a company on the web, blogs with negative content will show up on the first page, if not as the first search option.
For example, a Google search for "Airtel broadband + reviews" or "Tata broadband + reviews" throws up blogs that don't exactly praise these companies' services. This is the case with many other services like Dish TV and Tata Sky.
Apart from the embarrassment, these “crazy blogs” — as companies term them — force India Inc to spend crores of rupees to repair the damage.
Many companies now are choosing an easier option and contacting a host of online reputation management companies that clean up the negative content from the web. It's already a Rs 200 crore industry in India, and growing.
Companies like eBrandz, Communicate2, Value Pitch and Id8lab, among others, are offering this service.
Value Pitch CEO CH Venkataramana said companies will find it difficult to stop this practice themselves.
“The guys who do it are faceless and nameless people — maybe from competition or disgruntled employees or even pranksters — trying to malign companies. On the net, these blogs have mini-newspaper status and crop up on every search, even after a decade,” he said.
There are also “cribbing websites” like mouthshut.com, complaintboard.com and customercomplaint.com, while content of a defamatory nature are also put up on the web. “We call them cribbing websites because they only contain negative content,” Venkataramana added.
But how do they do it? Most companies refused to divulge what they called "trade secrets", but Communicate 2 Managing Director Vivek Bhargava said the first thing is to identify the source and if possible to pull the site down with the creator’s permission. If not, these companies create more content to confuse the search engine, so that the crazy blog doesn’t come up on the first page.
But these are basic steps; the rest involves much more complicated, specialised work.
Although online reputation is a new sector in India, globally, this is part of the paid search industry – that is, firms getting paid for every search you do - that stands at around $18 billion.
The problem is certainly huge. For example, an earlier campaign on the net alleging use of Sodium Laureth Sulfate (a chemical that allegedly causes cancer) had raised doubts about the reputation of shampoo brands like Clear, Fructis, Palmolive and O'real, said eBrandz, an online reputation management company, CEO Milind Mody.
“Companies are spending crores of rupees to promote their brand and yet a single high-ranking negative blog can destroy their reputation,” Mody said. Rankings of blogs depend on the number of users visiting them. The higher the number of users, the higher the rankings.
In India, a considerable amount of malicious content has also cropped up on the web on the issues between the Ambani brothers, the Wadia-Danone fight over the brands owned by Britannia, the tussle between Austral Coke and Gujarat NRE and the Bajaj family.