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The problem is that any prospects researching his company on the web by searching in google for the company name, get these messages in the top 10 results, he lost a sale last week because of this.
My question is can he ask the owners of these forums to take down the posts?
And if the owner refuses can he take any legal action against the forums owners? Although he would like to avoid this cost.
Or should he get links and the company name mentioned on as many sites as possible in an attempt to knock the forums down the search results to page 3 or whatever.
Any advice/comments on this would be greatly appreciated.
Contact the forum administrator/owner in question, notify them that the material is defamatory and ask them to remove it immediately.
The forum owners only legal defense is to state that they did not know about the post and therefore could not act.
In most instances they will comply. If they don't, you will have a paper trail confirming that the admin knows about the post and took no action.
Hope this helps.
Check the forums disclaimer policy - it could very be that they clearly state that views are those of their members and do not represent the forum owners.
I think contacting the forum admin is the way to go, but go for the polite diplomatic route over the legal bashing.
Simply say that you believe the competitors have posted these comments and ask for the forum admin to check the IP addresses of the users who posted the comments (im assuming its several posts under several usernames?) - if they match then the admin will most likely remove them as being spam.
If the admin will not remove the posts, I would get your friend to register on the forums and respond to the points, making brief mention of the fact that they believe the competition are responsible for them.
At worst, the posts will remain, but your friend will appear to be on the ball and receptive to criticisms, which could ultimately shed a better light on his business.
Assuming of course he can deal with the posts tactfully and it doesnt result in a flame fest! ;)
Points to note:
1. Any specific claims of poor service, etc ask for specifics. If you know for a fact that any comments are bull, then say politely that you are unaware of these points and ask them to provide more specifics. When they dont, post back saying that you are dissapointed that the matter couldn't be resolved and as yet still cannot find any record of that customer.
2. You cannot win an arguement on the Internet. Period. So dont get into one. Be polite, diplomatic, even to the extent of thanking them for their input. It wont help, but it will piss them off. ;)
3. At the point when the poster is clearly without a leg to stand on (not posting back, not providing facts or evidence), then "out" them as being the competition. You have no proof, but neither to they. Simply point out that you are posting there to resolve the issue that the person was flaming you for, and they were unable to cooperate, so clearly they are a competitor. It's a very delicate way to win back the support of the public, so be careful.
4. The whole process could easily devolve into a flame fest, so dont let it. Be proffesional, and if the thread looks like its going to repeat the same stuff over and over again, then end it by saying that you went there to help but it wasnt getting anywhere, so you wont post back - leave your contact details for the business "incase anyone wants to contact you further"! ;)
5. They wont let you have the last word, but that's fine. After your final post keep an eye out and if they say anything out of order, then contact admin and ask them to remove it.
6. If the admin are decent, they will allow an objective discussion to take place. But dont count on it.
You can think of it as being an opportunity to turn around some bad PR and make a good thing about it. But it's a can of worms, so be warned! It could all fall back on your face! ;)
Chuck me a sticky with the specifics and give you my 2c on it - I run a forum myself where people can mention company specifics (sometimes in a bad way), so Ill give you some input on it from a forum admin point of view.
Thanks very much for your in-depth advice, its great and will help immensely. Funny I have a friend studying law, I asked him yesterday about this, all I got was text book jargon and to conclude all he could say was it is to much of a new area, laws are constantly being changed and tested, I have a feeling there will be much controversy over the next X years regarding Internet law.
It could sooooo easily backfire and end up with worse publicity.
re: Internet law - I believe there was a thread not long ago about a US court ruling that a forum / mail list admin was not responsible for the comments of their posters.
So the most important thing would be to choose a person to represent the company who isn't going to get emotional about it. Even if the other party starts flaming, they absolutely have to be reasoned and rational in their response. So pick someone levelheaded, and have someone proofread their responses before they fire them off, if you're taking that approach. Try to avoid too much slick corporate-speak, too, as that tends to provoke derision in a forum.
That's my little bit of advice.
One forum I'm involved with has discussed a few semi-scams. These aren't illegal, but the value of what buyers receive is less than what they expect. The forum tends to be at the top of the SERPS for the names of these operations. We've tried to keep the discussion focused and factual, editing or deleting posts as needed while not shying away from substantive comment. Overall, this approach has worked pretty well. We were contacted by one operator who wanted the topic deleted, but was satisfied with a few edits that we felt were justified.