Hello and welcome to the Career Success podcast. I’m Jason Connolly. If you are regular listener then it’s great to have you back, but if you new, welcome to the show. in this series every week we speak to the biggest names in business all across the globe. We talk about their career stories, the lessons learned, how they overcome challenges, and what success habits they practice. Practical advice to help you in your career if you have a passion for business, then this is the podcast for you.
In this episode I’m delighted to be joined by Kent Campbell from San Francisco in California in the US, Kent is the chief strategist for reputation X, an online reputation management firm that helps individuals, celebrities, and companies improve everything about their online profile. This often involves editing Wikipedia, improving star ratings, and amplifying positive online content while suppressing anything negative. In the end, he helps people choose one personal brand over another by engineering the lens through which most people see the world today, IE search engines. Kent, thanks for joining me. Well, thank you for inviting me Jason, I appreciate it. That’s really interesting topic then online reputation. It’s the first thing you do these days when you go on to to buy something in the likes of Amazon is you. You check the ratings so will come on to that in a minute because I think it’s a really interesting topic. What you do and I’d love to find out more about that, but tell us about you, how you know how your career got you to this place. Well sure I began and search engine optimisation, which is basically making websites work better and search engines. And I’ve been in it for a long time, I mean. Pre Google even my we used to build websites years ago for AltaVista which was pretty easy to game and then Google came along and just absolutely change the game. So I eventually moved from search engine optimisation into a subspecialty of online reputation management, which is for individuals for political entities, for governments and people you know and people you’ve never heard of before, but really interesting and kind of how have you been in this industry?
Oh, gosh, gosh, years. I’d say it’s only been called online reputation management for 15 years probably, but it’s been quite awhile. It’s been it’s been a great ride really. We wanted to develop a an organization reputation X that everyone who works on our team. They’re kind of digital nomads and that’s been that way since the very beginning. In fact, selfishly, when we founded the company, my idea was. Well, maybe. Maybe I could take my kids around the world for a few years and. Kind of home school them with this great new company, and lo and behold, a few years after doing that we did just that. Got on a plane and just travel the globe for years. Home-schooling our kids and working remotely and it’s been. It’s been wonderful. Wonderful trip since then. That sounds like a really interesting experience for your children as well. It’s going to see the world and taking loads of different cultures growing up that must have been, you know, did that kind of their career now that kind of start in life. You know it. It was kind of a double edged sword in a way it? Yes. They. To learn French, they got to learn Spanish. They got to be in parades in Hong Kong. You know doing crazy things? You know when we wanted to teach our kids? You know about ancient Rome, we’d go to ancient Rome. I recall sitting in the Coliseums in Rome with an iPad, watching Roman movies and just kind of stopping the action and walking around with the kids. We did the same thing in Pompeii. We did the same thing at Stonehenge, you know, and all over the world. So there’s really nothing better. But I’ll say when after an experience for growing up that way you bring your kids home, specially back to America. American kids are kind of mean sometimes you know and kids around the world. According to my kids, tend to be nicer. Actually then American kids. Yeah interesting, and so they kind of got picked on because of their experiences and eventually they just stopped telling new people that they met about their experiences so they wouldn’t be singled out. So you know, that’s sad, isn’t it? Yeah, it really is, but. You know at the end I think you know the benefits certainly outweigh anything negative, and so when people come to you, then is it normally up the back of not having a great reputation? Or what’s the kind of process that you know people go through to use you? Well, I think it probably starts with somebody Goggling their name and like that and thinking Oh my God, how long is that? Been there, you know? And then we’ll get that phone call for reputation repair. But a lot of times as people who are looking to make job transition and they know that today. Just about every HR person is certainly going to Google them and they want to make sure that what is seen is the best it can possibly be, and that ranges from just cleaning up some minor things to what we call engineering. Someone’s online mythology, which can even include the creation of Wikipedia pages for some people who are notable enough to be able to earn one. It really runs the gamut and then others come to us just for brand building. You know, there’s nothing really bad, but they know that it can be better and they know that you know today. As you mentioned earlier, the lens through which we all see the world. Is search results, you know, a couple 100 years ago when you were spent your life traveling no more than you know from birth to death more than 12 miles from your place of birth. You know reputation was nothing that you couldn’t really do much about it because everybody knew you. And but today, especially during the pandemic, the lens through which we see the world is Google. And the interesting thing about that is Google is fungible. Google is changeable, and so it’s almost like a Google is a form of augmented reality, but that. Form of augmented reality can actually be manipulated for good and for evil. It’s more about that, well, you know I was at a DEFCON conference few years ago in Las Vegas, NV in the US and a gentleman. I believe his name is Chris Rock gave a very interesting presentation. He talked about how to take over a country and the method that he used. It was a combination of methods. One of the things was to hack into government websites and subtly or dramatically change the content while simultaneously hacking into banking websites, changing transaction data. And then using a negative propaganda, campaigns etc in order to get the people to turn against their government. And he did it in such a detailed way. I couldn’t believe that he was showing the code about how to do this. Now he’s been hired by security government security to simply know how are there is a Middle Eastern company, their country that they were targeting. But how are how is it possible that somebody could attack us and this was his actual report that he provided to me and 1000? Packers, well, the fact that a small group of well funded third parties can go in and change by changing Google by changing search results by editing Wikipedia pages by editing the references to Wikipedia pages to, you know, Moldovans out there filling social media with fake news and misinformation. You know that’s on a large and dramatic scale, but it happens on a much smaller scale as well. To that level of evil. Haven’t done much smaller scale. It happens with individuals. So, for example, will have be careful who you date. OK, if because you feel a partner and things don’t go well and they have even us minor understanding of search engine optimisation and media, be careful of dating PR people because they can absolutely destroy your life using many of the same methods minus the hacking by simply place it inside so to even think that you know people would be so malicious. Well, you know it’s an emotional thing. We have had many clients who had been in relationships and that didn’t go well. Didn’t go well at all, and the jilted lover would then go to the press and just make up stories. And of course, the sensationalism that story carries it up in search results, especially if someone’s name is in the headline. A lot of people visited a lot of other websites. Link to it creating links that strengthen something negative. And then it’s really fuelled and amplified by humans. What we call negativity bias when you see something negative, you’re just going to turn your going to look. You’re more likely to look at to watch a train wreck than to watch. Someone walking a little old lady across the street, you know, and that’s just the way that we are. And we’ve evolved. So when you have something that’s negative and sensational, people are going to pay attention and the real problem is if someone comes along and runs a retraction later that doesn’t really generate the same amount of sensationalism, does it? And So what happens because of the way the algorithms work? Is the negative information, even though it’s inaccurate or completely false, rises to the top and it stays there. It’s interesting as well, it’s kind of, you know, the news in general. Anything negative people jump on the back of its, you know what makes the whole news industry go round, doesn’t it? This? That’s kind of the, you know, it’s funny, you know. Back in the olden days before Google, you know the model was completely different. You know you could brand, you can have in the United States, Walter Cronkite, and he would do this weird thing where he would go along and he would just read the news. You just read the news and we would you know it was. It was not colour really in any way but today because we have, you know, everything’s ad supported these days. In order to get somebody to click on something you really have to make that a sensational click bait headline. Even if it’s not accurate, because your entire business is based on getting people to click on the headline and then to stay on the page for a certain amount of time so you can serve ads. It’s not any longer simply about communicating the truth. It’s been monetised and that means that it’s been weaponised. Interesting, so is there like a typical kind of usual circumstance you find when people come to your zip code and you know quite varying and broad peoples situations? Or is there kind of a typical you know usual set of circumstances? You tend to see? You know, there really are all across the board. Celebrities have different problems than politician and it really depends on what the problem is. If something negative is online, let’s say that you have the New York Times very, very powerful, powerful publication. It shows up worldwide. It’s not like a local news channel that may only show up in Google in a in a small region, but you’ve got something really powerful. Whether it’s true or not, accurate or not, based on a few technical factors, that’s going to be really, really hard to be, and that happens quite often to political clients to celebrity clients. But then you’ve got, let’s say you’ve got a financial CEO who’s got some issue, and it’s maybe more of a local thing that’s a lot easier problem to solve because. Local publications online are a lot easier to either have something removed, which is rare that it can be removed, or to have it more and more likely to have it suppressed so that its visibility drops. If you can drop something down to Page 3 or four or five in search results, it’s like a tree falling in the Woods. No one cares, but if it’s on the first page of your branded search results, it can kill you. Yeah, and I guess you always had it before. In my business people put malicious, you know Google reviews and you know it’s it’s not easy to get rid of these things once they exist. Yeah, well, you know you think about the actors out there. There’s a lot of money, but imagine you want to make you want to short some stock. Well, if you have the apparatus in place, you can make it look even just for a short period of time like that company is having problems before the fact checkers catch it and remove it. But it happens fast enough that you can actually catch a dip. You can cause a dip and so we’ve had clients come to us saying, you know we’ve had. This is all baloney and this is all false and we, you know we have law enforcement after it, but it’s happening. International actors are doing it. How do we? How do we do this? So how do we get around this? So the only thing that we can do at that point because it’s happening so quickly is to strengthen their first pages of search results so that if something negative is posted, it doesn’t rise. Flushing out the bad with the good’s yeah, yeah, well, yeah, we’re kind of crowding it out exactly by strengthening it by putting the right stories up there by countering information very quickly. And if it’s necessary, sometimes using their own site, sometimes setting up custom websites to be able to do it, so that if someone is doing due diligence. On a product service company and individual, at least for a short time we have, we have a counter story up there about what’s really going on and when the bad news passes. Then we’ll take that website and will take any of the social media we’ve done about it. Down and clean things up so there’s no residue after our work is done, so I’m guessing you’ve worked with some high profile people who you know have come to you with all sorts of a matter of challenges we have. We have, and I would love to be able to give you a list of names, but as you can imagine, if I were to do that confidentiality would be broken. But I can say that they are all over the board. Their clothes are hanging in your closet, their products are in your kitchen, and you’ve heard of quite a few of them. Quite a few haven’t. Though you know there are a lot of lot of people who are really under the radar who make things happen that prefer to stay under the radar they operate in the background, and when someone drags them by their by their collar to the foreground saying bad things, there’s just nothing. It’s funny how many billionaires will come to us that have just. Nothing online about them, and if there’s nothing online about you and then something negative is posted now it’s the only thing online about you. As a result of your humility is negative. Oh wow. So then you have to go for a process of starting to give them an online presence. So it’s so yeah, if someone wants to be private, there’s a reason why this is not anything. Come up and you necessarily coming along, saying actually, the only way to get rid of this bad is for us to put a lot of good out there. I can imagine that doesn’t always go down too well. Well, that’s the conversation, you know, if somebody who’s recently given. $50 million to charity. I think that’s fantastic. Would you give it to and they give us the list and we do a search and we say, but you’re not mentioned. Well, you know, I just I like to give anonymously and that’s when the forehead palm happens. You know, I appreciate the humility, but we have to have something to work with here. You know? Yeah, you’ve got to help me help you. Yeah, yeah, I’ve been surprised over the years to how many very well to do individuals are so humble. They really are. They’re just wonderful people. Even no matter how nice you are, bad things can still happen to have you ever had situations where you know kind of morally and ethically you know you, you don’t agree with necessarily fixing this reputation, or has that never been an issue for you? It happens every day. How do you deal with it when it’s? Do you ever have to turn things away saying you know thanks so much? But this just isn’t for me. Well, we have something internally called the Board of Soccer moms. Most of the Board of soccer moms. Yeah, yeah. Nearly everyone in the company is female. I’m the one of the very few men in the company. And So what we do is we turn it over to the Board of Soccer moms and they make a decision as to whether we’re going to take a client or not, and they’ve got some hard knows anything. That’s ****** bad for children. Extremely bad for the environment. If it was recent and a few other rules, you know we just we don’t take, then we got some grey area things. For example, we had a famous Hunter who was caught bagging. Legally, bagging big game in Africa alright didn’t break the law, but it doesn’t look good. Yeah, that’s not really the sort of thing you want to be associated with. Yeah, it’s not a good look, and it was all over the first page. You know, someone famous person and we end up not taking that one because just at the end of the day really, you don’t want anybody to work on something they don’t want to work on if they don’t feel good about working on it and you’re not going to put your best forward, you’re not going to do a great job. Also, we only take something where we have an probability. Of improving their situation, strongly improving it, so something’s kind of in the in the middle grey, or it’s really, credibly difficult, like if they’re in the middle of a major lawsuit in the SEC here in the United States, is going after them, and the New York Times is writing about in the New York Post. Is writing about them CNN. And it’s just a crazy, crazy probable will tell them. Look, we really need to wait till the dust settles here about. And there are a lot of people who will take your money. But we suggest just kind of grinning bearing it for a few months. Daedalus settles down and then we can talk. Yeah, there’s only I guess so much you can do. You can’t wave a magic wand if you are absolutely working with somebody with this negative articles coming out to places like the New York Times every day. There’s only so much you can do to suppress that. That’s a challenge in itself, especially with this site as powerful as that. So yeah, I totally get you there. What advice would you give to people then? So someone’s got a business you know? Is there some Good Housekeeping that you tell people all the time? This is what they should be doing to ensure. Their online reputation is one of health and prosperity, and all things abundant to you know, making money. Yeah, well I I think the basic advice that I give to individuals as well as businesses is first of all understand who your customers are. Who are your stakeholders who are examining your brand and then kind of put yourself in their shoes. Do searches, for example, let’s say that you’re a firm that has international locations you want to see what your search results look like from each of those locations you want to see what they’re seeing, and you want to, you know, Scroll down a couple of pages. Then what you want to do is look at an individual or a firm such as your own. That’s similar and take note of the types of search results that they have on their first and second pages. Take a look at what kind of social media exposure they have. And then do a gap analysis. Just look at it and say, well they have this and we’re in the same industry. Maybe we can get this and that gives you an idea of what your
public relations should pursue. Because you know that if three of your competitors have an article in forms that you probably could get an article informed somehow you know, and so that’s the first thing is to do that. Another thing to do is to take a look at things like your Google Knowledge Panel, which is that information box in the upper corner of, for example, desktop. Search results and to make sure that it’s accurate to claim your knowledge panel is little button at the bottom of knowledge panel you can you can click on that. You have to prove who you are. Obviously they don’t want someone else controlling your panel. And to do that you take screenshots of the back end of your website and social media etc. And your identification and what that will do is it will allow you to change your name to update some of the information on the Knowledge Panel and into to see where that information is coming from. Because very often I mean Google smart. But it does not always get things right. Those are a few things you can do and is there times when you come in dealing with a client where literally you know you’ve tried, but you know this one article that you need taken down and actually this is a legal issue and you know you’re going to have to go down the route of defamation. Or is that where you’re kind of services? Stop? If it really is defamation reliable so often people say there this this person is defaming me, but it really isn’t going to stand up in court. You know, it’s a very hard thing is expensive as well. And that’s the other thing. Reputation management is less expensive, you know, by two attorneys you know that can really even start really racking up the dollars with attorneys so, but we do work with a lot of attorneys. So for example, in the aftermath of a lawsuit will be asked to come in and clean up, and usually what will happen is that in the settlement or whatever financial award has been given that will have reputation management built into it. Because, you know, we need to clean up everything you know if something’s in Google, people assume that it’s true. You think about it, Google’s job is to organise the world’s information, but it can’t tell what’s true and what’s not true. It can tell you what’s relevant, but it can’t tell you truth. They must need to be at some point in the future. There’s people are going well. I think the world is waking up to it now. Maybe things like fake news stuff. It’s not real, and there seems to be a lot being done. Well. I say there’s a lot being done, really. Is there a lot being done but you know, with things like untruths online, especially on social media, there’s. That does seem to be a lot of conversation about that. Yeah, and then people are trying to, you know, the only way to really solve this is algorithmically because the amplification of social media untruths, you know can’t recall who said it, but you know allies made it halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on, right? And so when things are amplified, they just move so quickly. Even if you take it down 5 minutes later, it still reach 10s of thousands of people in some cases, and they believe it because of confirmation bias. We tend to believe things that we already kind of believe. You know, if you say if you’re gonna, if you’re going to live, mixing some truth makes a little truth into the lie and it’ll be a lot easier for someone to swallow. The same thing happens online. There’s definitely a level of cynical. I could. I get cynical vibes from you. Are you been in this industry?
I can see you’ve been there, done that, wore the T shirt and you are a online reputation veteran. So it’s really interesting what you said and you know I think there’s going to be Nuggets here for you know people, and I think it’s, you know, great conversation to be having because I think you make some valid points about actually going and doing some research into. You know how the brands you know kind of sells itself online and a lot of people you know. I’m guessing by the time they come to you, this has been going on for some. Some time and they’ve only just got to a moment of realisation, so I you know, I guess one bit of advice, but I may be taking from this is to maybe do a regular health check online about you, your company and all things associated you brought up. You know, kind of bitter X is and you know I I’ve had situations unpack my whole life story, but I’ve had a very similar situation. And you know there, there there’s you know, a sense of severity with some what some of these people have been through. You know a lot of the time it sounds to me like you’re you. Receiving calls from victims of untruths and things you know which are actually having a detrimental impact on you. Know someone’s mental health. Yeah, that’s absolutely true, but it really is and you read something that’s not true and Google isn’t it because it’s not defamation and it’s not a violation of Google’s terms of service. For example, if you’ve got **** pictures of someone underage or you have, you know some IP like you own, you own a photograph at somebody’s, you know, using it and you know it illegally. You know there are so many things you just have to be so careful these days, don’t you? It’s how you doing, you know you do. Be careful what you put in writing and what you do because. You know it could lend up on the Internet, and you know, that’s yes, we will more connected than we’ve ever been, but with that you know can come problems so you know, I think you’ve made some really valid points. Ken. And if people want to find out more about you, or indeed reputation X, where can they go to wellgooglereputationx.com and then only be good stuff about you online I’m? I’m assuming you mostly, but there actually is 1 post and it’s buried so far back I don’t know, but. There was a competing reputation management company. We never figured out who it was and they put all that information up about us. It’s a negative information and they cut and pasted the same information for other reputation management and PR firms. Word for word and only changed our name and so we managed to get most of it taken down, but it is. It is up there. It’s a cutthroat world out there. Even for us. It is an I. I hate you there. And I do agree Ken. Thanks so much for joining me on this episode. It’s been insightful. Thank you Jason. I really appreciate it. That was Kent Campbell from San Francisco in California in the US, I’m Jason Connolly. This is the Career Success podcast until next time goodbye.