The web is full of high-ranking complaint forums which accept anonymous postings, often obviously from shills or competitors. These posts often stir up pent-up sentiment from other anonymous posters, and frequently mention companies, executives and others by name.
Now, Google is showing forum posts in the main search results, despite the fact that this page is rapidly getting more and more complex. I also found listings for Yahoo! Answers and others. With these brand-name and person-name posts, I think we will see an increasing importance of forums in the ORM strategy of many companies that didn’t worry about them before.
While there were lots of examples of super-helpful forum listing insertions, I immediately found several cases where complaint forums’ posts were showing for brand name searches, meaning that companies will need to pay more attention to the internal postings on these forums in their Online Reputation Management monitoring.
A Hole in the Garden Wall
In the past, these “walled garden” forums were difficult to penetrate – often plagued with horrible usability, which “protected” businesses from forum rants. Now, with popular forum posts surfacing, the garden’s wall has a nice big hole to look through, in the primary search results, using the posts’ title in the listing. Google appears to index forum posts that have a lot of interest (e.g. a lot of replies) early in the list, even if the discussion itself diverts from the initial complaint.
I’m not sure this is a smart idea for Google. First of all, forum posts are not always high quality information – excepting perhaps technical discussions. Looking at forums such as cafepharma.com and others, the forums become cesspools of anonymous crap – much like the bathroom wall at a truckstop.
The Headline Kills You
However, what’s notable about this issue is that even if a reputation-aware companies notice the complaint and handles it with skill, the forum post subject remains in place. The final post of the forum might be “company X rocks!!!!” but the subject can still be “Company X Sucks!” – Google cannot determine sentiment that changes as the posts go on. Strategies including starting new threads about the complaint resolution or possibly posting helpful “blog-like” posts in these popular forums to saturate the headers may come into play. One could ask the original poster to add something like “(resolved)” to the post headline.