A financial advisor’s first reaction on seeing a less than flattering online posting about his or her business may be to avoid all electronic devices. However, doing so can only lead to more problems in both the real and virtual worlds.

“The biggest mistake you can make is try and just pretend that something didn’t happen,” says Geoff Evans, founder of the Social Media Coach in London, Ont., “because, invariably, someone has captured a screenshot of it, so you can never escape it.”

It’s very hard to have content removed from a website unless that information is untrue. Most websites and social media platforms have policies in place to remove content if you can prove that it is false, says Loic Jeanjean, director of sales and marketing with Advisor Websites in Vancouver.

If the content is, in fact, true, consider whether there is real cause to panic. For example, having one negative review online isn’t necessarily going to destroy your business, says Evans. However, if there are multiple complaints or negative comments, then it’s best to address the problem immediately.

Whether it’s a negative review on Yelp, a complaint posted on Facebook or a regulatory sanction from 20 years ago, you can handle the situation in two ways: address it directly or try to push it lower in the search engine results.

Pursuing the first option and responding to a negative comment online can help demonstrate to prospects your dedication to customer service. “That’s an opportunity for the advisor … to deliver outstanding customer service,” says Jeanjean. “It shows that [the advisor] cares.”

Tread carefully, however, if you decide to engage directly with an unhappy client online. Tone is particularly important, because the last thing you want is an ongoing battle of words in a public forum like the Internet.

“You’re not getting into the details … you’re not explaining why you did what you did, that’s not the place,” says Evans. “You’re just trying to reduce the customer’s anger or frustration and demonstrate a willingness to resolve it.”

As such, it’s best to wait to respond until you feel you can do so calmly and without anger. The response should be genuine in expressing regret that the individual was not satisfied with the level of service he or she received. It’s also a good idea to encourage the client to contact you privately to discuss the matter further.

Regulatory sanctions, in some cases, can also be addressed head-on. For example, if you encountered a small fine relating to a mistake made early in your career, Evans suggests writing and sharing a blog post discussing the sanction and the changes you’ve made subsequently to improve your practice. Of course, such a step would need to be done with the approval and help of your compliance department.

When responding to negative attention, it’s important to use the same key words that were used in the original posting, regardless of how unflattering they may be, as these are the words people will use to conduct an Internet search. Using the same words will ensure that your response will pop up alongside the negative review in a search, thereby allowing prospects to read both sides of the story.

“Don’t soften it,” says Evans. “Don’t generalize it.”

Responding to negative attention directly does have its dangers, though. This approach comes with the risk that it will add fresh content to the website with the original mention, pushing it higher on search engine result rankings, thereby making it one of the first things a potential client will learn about you.

In fact, Matt Earle, president of Reputation.ca in Toronto, believes that a direct response should only be done as a last resort.

An alternative strategy to minimize the damage of a negative mention is to bolster your online reputation by producing newer, more positive content that will ideally rank higher in a search engine result.

“The idea is to just push out a big, powerful, positive reputation,” says Earle, “and then it’s harder for other stuff to rank inside their top ten [search rankings].”

The first step is building an online profile. If you haven’t already done so, you can start by creating a LinkedIn profile and a web page for your business. You can further build your online presence by participating in forums and by sharing content that would be interesting to clients and prospects via social media.

This is the second article in a three-part series on image rehabilitation.

Up next: Strategies for cultivating a positive reputation.