Managing your online reputation is an important aspect of a Corporate Digital Brand. Many companies offer online reputation management services. But, I came across Ripoffreport.com and my feathers got ruffled.

Imagine a company going out and planting bombs in buildings and then charging the building owner to remove the bombs.

But, that’s more or less what Ripoff Report does when it comes to consumer advocacy and the way they sell corporate memberships.

Power To The People

The website offers a place for people to complain about companies / others who have done them wrong.

To be clear: one of the things I love about the internet is that it DOES allow people to complain and effect change — power to the people!!!

So, if that was the goal of Ripoff Report, I’d be a 100% supporter. And, in fact, they’ve done some good in this area, no question.

However, it appears Ripoff Report makes a concerted effort to ensure that complaints on their own site are part of Google organic search results for a company. Because companies don’t like seeing complaints as part of the search listings, they are eager to consider solutions. Therein lies Ripoff Report’s questionable business model.

Forcing Opt-Out is like Reverse-Paid Advertising

Get this. In order for companies to respond to / react to these complaints, Ripoff Report SELLS a membership service to companies to remedy the situation.(which I assume includes de-prioritizing the complaints in Google organic listings). Kind of like reverse-paid advertising.

Companies don’t “opt-in” to the Ripoff Report remediation program like other marketing efforts (such as AdWords or banner ads).

Once a complaint is registered, your company is already included in their marketing program whether you like it or not. You have to pay to “opt-out.” In fact, there is NO OTHER WAY to manage the complaints on their system (and the subsequent Google search listing) other than to pay Ripoff Report.

I wonder how consumers posting the complaints feel knowing that their complaint fades away when a company ponies up the correct amount of cash to have “search engine listings change from a negative to a positive …”?  Quoted from: http://www.ripoffreport.com/CorporateAdvocacyProgram/Change-Report-From-Negative-To-Positive.aspx

Cash For Chaos: Gaming Google Search?

The thing is, most companies want to help customers who are unhappy. But, is that really the goal of Ripoff Report? They sell their service as “Corporate Advocacy Business Remediation & Customer Satisfaction Program” Once you sign up, I assume customer complaints from their system magically disappear from Google. Sounds less like advocacy and more like capitalism. Is this a blatant, greedy money grab by gaming Google search?

Like social media, having a mix of good and bad customers stories is a natural part of doing business. But, at least companies can participate in the social media conversation without having to pay for it.

Is Ripoff Report illegal?

This really boils down to four things:

  1. Are the complaints from customers on the site valid? Yup. (probably … since it’s anonymous and I’m pretty sure that they don’t validate or vet the complaints, that may not be true either, but I’m not here to argue that point).
  2. Have they done some good? Yes. (remember, I LIKE the internet’s power to the people!)
  3. Is the way Ripoff Report approaches it ethical? Nope. (at least, not the way my Daddy taught me)
  4. Is there anything that can be done about it? Nope. Unless you pay.

In the bigger scheme of things, it feels like this “opt-out” thing is illegal; not sure it’s covered under CAN-Spam (or in Canada, the new Canadian CASL law coming into effect July 1, 2014), but is there an advocacy or anti-competitive law that this falls under?

Perhaps Google should have a look at Ripoff Report and diminish it’s authority in organic search?

All Companies Who Pay For Ripoff Report’s Reputation Service Are Good Companies

(that’s sarcasm in case you didn’t feel it)

Their tagline is “Ripoff Report: Businesses You Can Trust.”

Let me alter that a bit: “Ripoff Report: Businesses That Have Paid Us.”

Conflict of Interest? You tell me. Feels like Ripoff Report is the very type of corporation it’s trying to help consumers avoid.

Physician, Heal Thyself

Freedom of speech is for everyone. To Ripoff Report, I would say this: you can’t have it both ways. Make money some other way. I like the idea of your membership, but only if it’s a level playing field; i.e. free. I would then encourage companies to join and participate BECAUSE THEY ARE GOOD COMPANIES, not because they have some cash for a membership. Alternately, I would recommend that a company pays for your online reputation management service if you remove the Google gaming for complaints from your own site.

Am I missing something here? I welcome a conversation with the company if you’d care to enlighten me … email me stephen@stephdokin.com.

As an aside, I’d gladly take $1,000 to remove this post. (he said, tongue-firmly-in-cheek)