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3 Companies That Do Not Get Online Reputation Management

Rich Duprey
May 30, 2014

Controlling the narrative is an age-old practice employed by politicians as well corporations. But in an effort to protect themselves from scurrilous and libelous critiques of their products and services, some companies have seemingly lost their minds with tactics that go beyond the pale.

Mediabridge Products is a recent example of a company that might have bankrupted itself after siccing its lawyers on a customer who left a fanciful, negative review of its routers, but others including General Mills (NYSE: GIS) have risked ruining the goodwill they've built up over the years by taking a legalistic tack against their customers.

The cereal maker, for example, was forced to back down from a firestorm of indignation that threatened to swamp its popular Cheerios brand after it tried to limit its customers' ability to sue if they merely "liked" its products on Facebook. However, KlearGear may have trumped them both with the retaliation salvo it unloaded against a customer who wrote a negative review of the company.

According to Ars Technica, a Utah man ordered two small items from KlearGear in 2009 as Christmas gifts, both totaling less than $20. After numerous times at reaching out to the company about the order, he finally spoke with a representative who said since they hadn't been paid for the order was canceled. The customer's wife, for whom the gifts were purchased, subsequently wrote a negative critique of the company on the RipoffReport website and savaged its customer service.

Compounding errors

Three years later, the owner of KlearGear, the Paris-based Descoteaux Boutiques, emailed the husband and demanded the review be taken down within 72 hours or pay $3,500 since he violated the company's "non-disparagement clause." After the customer refused to remove the review, KlearGear sent a collection agency after them, which subsequently damaged their credit, delayed their getting a car loan, and prevented them from getting a loan to fix a broken furnace. The couple subsequently filed a lawsuit against KlearGear.

In his ruling siding with the couple, a judge said not only did the couple not owe the company anything, but at a hearing scheduled for early June he will decide just how much KlearGear owes the couple.

Among the more egregious aspects of the case, aside from the insane PR policy of going nuclear on a customer, is the fact the "non-disparagement clause" KlearGear tried to enforce didn't exist at the time the couple wrote their review, but was inserted into its terms of service after the fact. That it sent a collection agency after them also ranks pretty high on the stink-o-meter.

More harm than good

These three cases are instances of companies trying to protect their corporate image, but in the process damaging it all the more.

In the case of Mediabridge, it may have killed its business because negative reviews of its products have swamped the positive ones and company also apparently violated the terms of service of