In light of the ‘Chessington case’, in which Dr Peter Cave launched a concerted campaign against Chessington World of Adventures, criticising the theme park’s safety record, CorpComms explores how to respond to online attacks.

In the article, Simon Wadsworth, managing director of Igniyte, highlights the importance of being positive online and explains how Igniyte helps individuals and companies to achieve positive content in page one of Google.

The High Court refused to grant Chessington’s an injunction to stop Cave’s campaign. The regulation of the theme parks is a ‘matter of public interest’ and therefore Cave has the right to exercise freedom of speech. The decision emphasises the conflict between the ‘right to freedom of speech’ and the right to be free of harassment.

‘Companies have faced attacks from those who disagree with them for decades,’ says Lucy Hartley, social media consultant at Investis. ‘The difference now that we are in the social age of the Internet, is that everyone has a platform and a voice.’

So, how should companies respond to the increasing number of hostile attacks?

Igniyte is an online reputation management company helping clients to clear unwelcome content and criticism from Google by pushing up positive content instead.

‘We deal with a lot of issues around reviews often posted by competitors and disgruntled ex-employees,’ says Simon Wadsworth. ‘Quite a few cases involve companies and key senior figures being trolled online in a concerted campaign that can include specifically set up blogs defaming the company and its executives. This can be very damaging.’

Wadsworth says that one of the first things Igniyte does is to get the client not to react. ‘The better approach is to analyse the content, see what terms and conditions and legal frameworks we can use to calmly approach the publishers or Google with a well thought and evidenced case where appropriate. Often in these cases we can get the content pulled at source,’ he says. ‘Where we can’t take this route we then work with the brand or company to improve the positive content online to counter balance any negative flaming.’

The perpetrator may not immediately notice the change, but over time will find they need ever more resources (and willpower) to maintain their campaign.

‘Where we can pull content then we can deliver quick wins but in most cases it’s a long process,’ continues Wadsworth. ‘We are at pains at the start of most projects to make the client realise there is no quick fix.’

Wadsworth cites a global luxury brand that came to Igniyte over a significant online backlash to a Facebook advert that was deemed to be in bad taste.

‘They had ten negative pages on Google and it took us 18 months to make a significant impact on that,’ he says.

Be proactive

According to CorpComms, when trying to confront and respond effectively to hostile attacks, the best advice of all is to be proactive. In the same article, Alexandra McCready, an associate at law firm Schillings, believes that by pre-identifying risk, companies have a better chance of challenging hostile attacks. Also, she advises, by training communications teams in the relevant regulation, they will know in advance exactly what needs to be escalated to the legal team.

Responding to hostile attacks is not going to be an ease case, but even the worst scenario has a potential solution. As the number of such attacks increases, so does the number of experts with experience to deal with them.

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