Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Per an article in Wired Magazine, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently been engaging in a bit of downright bizarre public behavior. This includes referring to himself as the model of restraint in light of allegations he’s using violent language regarding Brexit, brandishing a herring (also known as a kipper) when discussing the nation’s fishing industry, and saying he likes to paint old wine boxes into buses.
“One theory is that Johnson is trying to downplay negative news coverage of events by seeding news stories into Google search results using similar phrases and key terms that are more positive,” the article suggests. “His speech in front of the police was meant to distract from reports that the police were called to the flat he shared with girlfriend Carrie Symonds following an alleged domestic dispute, while the kipper incident was meant to downplay connections with UKIP (whose supporters are called kippers).”
The article goes on to quote several experts as it describes multiple reasons why this strategy, while it might work in the short-term, is by no means sustainable.
- People aren’t stupid. They’d eventually learn the game, start discussing it on social media, and cause the original negative results to resurface – perhaps even after the incident would have blown over in the first place.
- Google weights its search results on behavioral factors and sentiment as much as keywords. It’s not unreasonable to expect that someone with a poor understanding of Google might think they can game the SERP in such a way, but it’s a losing battle.
- Regardless of how well you manipulate the SERP, the negative content will still be there.
- Google is itself engaged in a continual game of cat and mouse with black hat SEOs who want to game the system. It knows their tricks, and constantly releases algorithm updates to prevent them.
Basically, if your brand is receiving a ton of negative press coverage, trying to overwhelm it with positive coverage isn’t the way to go about dealing with it.
Instead, your best bet is to engage with the negative coverage directly. Release an official statement on the matter across all channels, and respond to any media requests for comment. This commentary should hit the following notes:
- Whether or not the negative press is accurate.
- What you are doing to address the problem, whatever it may be.
- If necessary, that you apologize for the people you have impacted.
The idea here is not to drown out the negative press but to demonstrate to your audience that you are aware of the issue and taking measures to fix it. To show your customers that, whatever else may happen, you are committed to them. This display of accountability and authenticity can turn even terrible press into a means of building trust with your audience.
The negative PR will fade in time. But your audience’s memory of how you handled yourself through it will last.