Web Reputation

Web’s increasing role in an organization’s reputation.

Back in the mid-’90s, I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. As a PR Administrator at Amway, I was given an assignment to check out this “World Wide Web” thing and find out more about this guy who was saying bad things about our company.

Other than an account in Legal, nobody among Amway’s 10,000 U.S. employees had company-provided web access at that point. I recall the web being very slow on my big bulky desktop computer. But I also remember being thrilled that I had access to a universe of information, even though I hardly knew where to go or what to look for. Search wasn’t quite developed yet, so you really had to know where you wanted to go.

My main assignment was to check out the website of a guy who had collected every negative thing about Amway that was publicly available. It was like an attic full of forgotten or unwanted items … stored away from the sunlight and from most viewers’ eyes. But once you discovered this secret room, there was a treasure trove of information. Well, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. The site shared just about every lawsuit ever brought against the company (but typically not the pro-Amway rulings in the cases). Every negative review a product had ever received was there (but not the positive ones). Some negative articles had been scanned in.  Some opinion pieces created by the site author.  And lots of emails he’d received from site visitors (before comment sections had evolved) sharing their support for his negative views of the company and its business. Plus a few that countered his position in support of their Amway businesses.

I had to print out the entire web site so others could see what was being shared. It took three volumes and resulted in a stack of bound pages about six inches tall. My analysis of the site — back in Januray of 1995, I think — was that what those pages contained would seriously harm the company’s reputation, if they were seen by enough people. I said that, at that time, few people were online so it did not pose a huge issue immediately. But, based on trending, it soon would.

Within a few years, that prediction proved true. In the following years, Amway created its billboard-style website sharing all the positives the business had to offer.  Soon after that, Quixtar was launched to bring e-commerce to the direct selling giant’s North American business. Despite considerable online efforts, however, the company’s Independent Business Owners cited web-based criticisms as the #1 issue they faced.  It required drastic action.

Some advocated extensive optimization efforts that would simply push criticism off the main search pages. Certainly it was important to ensure the company’s own sites appeared high (if not highest) on search engines like Yahoo, MSN and Google. But SEO was not the sole solution. The issues at the heart of online critiques also needed to be addressed, and the company needed to do a better job communicating what it was doing to resolve those issues to a general public that had grown increasingly wary of its business offerings.

Informational sites helped. So did properties like www.thisbiznow.com, which provided third-party and IBO testimonials. But more was required to address the free-for-all commentary that continued on critic websites. When www.OpportunityZone.com launched, it provided a place where an honest, open and transparent dialog about the business could occur. Some basic rules were put in place to ensure decency and respect for opposing opinions were safeguarded.  The O’Zone was quite successful in helping increase the company’s share of voice in the online dialog about its business, reducing the amount of dialog in horribly slanted forums, and putting human faces on the business.

Through Real Quixtar Blog and, later, The SuperDu Blog, I became the first corporate blogger for Amway. It was a great experience to serve as a spokesperson for the business and to serve as an ombudsman of sorts. That is one aspect of the PR role that often is minimized or overlooked. True public relations is about creating a “mutually beneficial” relationship between an organization and its key publics. That’s hard to do when your communications are all one-way and don’t provide enough opportunities to listen to the questions or concerns of your targeted audiences. A wise person told me recently that you need to listen twice as much as you talk.

Whether it be site creation (www.Amway.com, www.amwayglobalnews.com, www.QuixtarResponse.com, www.ThisBizNow.com, www.InspireWellness.com), SEO/SEM program strategies and execution, or social media program strategies and execution (www.OpportunityZone.com and various Facebook, YouTube and Twitter programs for Amway product and business brands), I’ve had the great privilege to lead or contribute to programs to manage Amway’s web reputation. The company still has its challenges, but I am confident it is doing its best to resolve the issues that contribute to negative perceptions.

I’m proud of the body of work that I’ve contributed to over the past 10-15 years, and hope to look back on Luymes PR’s accomplishments in a decade or so with the same degree of pride. For me, the work will always come back to reputation. That continues to include tradtional media and other types of public outreach, but there is no denying that the web is garnering more and more of the PR professional’s attention. Because, in the end, you need to talk to people where they’re at.  These days, that’s online. After all, it’s where YOU are at this moment, right?

Author: Robin

Communications professional with more than 25 years' expertise in PR, crisis communications, social media, community relations, marketing communications and more!

10 thoughts on “Web Reputation”

  1. “I became the first corporate blogger for Amway. It was a great experience to serve as a spokesperson for the business and to serve as an ombudsman of sorts. That is one aspect of the PR role that often is minimized or overlooked.

    Even by Amway Corp. itself.

    When I first heard the “history” of Amway’s “engagement” in the Internet conversation, about 18 months ago on the international Amway PR Blogging Panel, I frankly was shocked that it took almost NINE YEARS to allow you to start The Real Quixtar Blog. And then another THREE YEARS to develop The Opportunity Zone.

    Especially when, in 1999, Amway reinvented itself as an e-commerce business (Quixtar). How could a web-based, worth-of-mouth business, not make web reputation the #1 priority?

    Flabbergasting, to say the least.

    I hope your future clients take a lesson and listen to you a little earlier than the big A did.

    And that they trust that you, most certainly, know what you are doing.

  2. Tex,

    This is Scott, a friend of Robin’s who’s doing some work on the site. Your comment was automatically held for moderation, most likely because the link in your name is the same as the link you posted in the comment. I haven’t checked with Robin to see if he wants to change his moderation specs, but he can approve the comment when he next logs in if he wants to. I can let him know about that.

  3. This time it’s Robin. Actually, I super-paused Tex. Let me be very clear. This will not be a forum for you to carry on your anti-systems campaigns. This website is about public relations and social media and I do use Amway examples in here, but I don’t work there anymore and I don’t want to be a referee to those debates anymore. I used to get paid to do that. I don’t anymore, so if it happens here, I’ll just unapprove comments. You just got your free pass. Last one! Thanks Tex!!

  4. You didn’t “referee” anything when you were with Amway. You dodged, bobbed and weaved, deflected, and everything else they teach you to do at PR school.

    You can’t overcome the FACTS, Luymes. PR can only take you so far when you lack facts to work with. There’s no need to referee the facts, they just have to get out there well enough until Amway’s pain to stay with the status quo hurts more than making the changes they should have made decades ago.

    You won’t be the first blog to “ban” me, although at least you have different reason. But if you try to keep using your BS stories from Amway, I’ll just post them on my blog and make comments there. You’ll be one more “trophy” I hang on my wall.

  5. Tex,

    You’re inability to spread any form of goodwill to anyone is absolutely flabbergasting.

    Robin,

    I wish you all the best in your new business!

  6. Thanks Tex. I guess I can’t win … even in my own house. Among facts (which I don’t feel compelled to put into all caps), I didn’t go to PR school. What I did do was benefit from a fine upbringing from a wonderful set of parents. I then went to journalism school and got a B.A. in English, where I studied a lot of literature. It was there that I learned that an object can appear to be different things depending on the vantage point of the viewer.

    I have never disputed your perspective on the issues in the Amway business. I know they are your opinions based upon the facts you’ve assembled. I have never stated that the Amway business is without issues, because I know that would be untrue. What I have stated is that wheels were set in motion to address those issues and it is my opinion that not all actions have taken place yet.

    But I’m not there anymore and I cannot speak for what their next steps might be.

    I believe that I’ve treated you with nothing but respect and honor throughout our dealings in the Opportunity Zone and elsewhere. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve actually defended your right to post opinions, even though your mere presence there caused others to stay away. It has been your pattern to overstep bounds of civil discourse.

    I think the fact that you might view me as some sort of “trophy” and basically are outright calling me a liar is disrespectful. Why should I welcome you in here?

    NOTE: Tex’s response to this comment indicated that he has no intentions of honoring the intent of this blog. After many years of dealing with his one-track agenda, I don’t feel compelled to do so here. I have used Amway as an example for prospective clients and others interested in the PR profession, and don’t feel like I need to wage any of the wars I used as an example in here. There are more appropriate spaces. Tex provided his link earlier, and you can go to Amway’s own sites or to http://www.thetruthaboutamway.com/.

  7. Robin, may I still call you Kia?

    Thanks for the awesome new website and I wish you the best in your new venture! I think you were more than fair to Tex’s comments in the past and even letting that last one in shows how willing you are to allow “civil discourse”.

    Take care, and see you on FB!

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