This is bad news for companies such as Comcast, a leading US cable provider. If a potential investor types the company’s name into Google, up will pop, on the first page of results, a YouTube video of a Comcast employee caught taking a nap on the job.
While big shareholders have bigger things to worry about, retail investors are likely to take such anecdotal evidence into account when deciding where to stash their savings.
One private shareholder I know likes to visit the high street stores of retailers he might invest in, to get a feel for customer demand and how the businesses are run. If he found an employee crashed out at a counter, he would think twice about buying that company’s shares.
But companies can fight back against negative publicity online, with the right know-how. The 2009 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide by MarketingSherpa explains how a major bank reacted to a highly ranked site attacking its reputation.
The bank contacted other sites linked to the negative one and got them to de-link, lowering its importance to search engines like Google. In addition, the bank added lots of search-optimized content to its own site - like blogs, videos and press releases - to fill up more of the top spaces in search listings. As a result, the offending site was knocked from the top page of results.
With so many retail investors turning to the internet for information, a company’s online reputation is an IR as well as a PR concern. IROs should check their company has a strategy is in place for when the web turns hostile.