the story of how we closed the false shelter with the help of SERM and black PR

In 2021, the reputation management team, which I am a member of, decided to help volunteers close down an animal shelter where scammers worked. But little did we know what kind of noise would rise because of this case.

In this article, I will tell you how we managed to help animal rights activists using black PR methods and reputation management approaches – and specifically SERM technologies. I will also share the details of this story, which combines two opposite principles – “do no harm” and “help your neighbor”. Interesting? About everything in order.

Setting

The key direction in building a positive reputation on the network is SERM, and its scope is all search results. Roughly speaking, with the help of SERM approaches, you can create a serene and positive issue that the user will see when he enters the name of the brand or company in the search engine. You just need to remember that the law of the other side of the coin works in relation to everything in the world. In other words, SERM tools and approaches can be applied with a minus sign.

The projects of clients of reputation agencies may differ from each other, but the methods used are generally similar to each other. In SERM, the main application for success is the creation of a large amount of content.

Reputation management agencies have an internal database of bots, influencers, agents of influence. They form a behavioral factor, that is, indicators of user behavior: views, average time on the site, likes with comments, etc. The appearance of interest in the content is created, and this attracts other users by inertia. A simple example – for a Friday night, you are unlikely to choose an empty bar. All these indicators are read by search engine algorithms – as a result, the site gets into the top of the results.

Case history

Our team consists of a young and, in a sense, daring team. We are accustomed to call a spade a spade, and therefore, after listening to the story of acquaintances, we were not shy in expressions.

The guys help homeless animals: they feed them, collect money for their treatment and attach them to new owners. So, on their recommendation, one of the animal protection volunteers turned to us for help.

He spoke about the animal shelter and veterinary clinic. We know that many organizations help pets absolutely free of charge. But unfortunately, there are others for whom this is a serious business. So, this particular veterinary clinic-shelter was noticed in fraud – the owners profited from donations from caring people and volunteers. The veterinary clinic also bred unnecessary procedures for animals, billing tens of thousands of rubles! At the same time, the animals lived in incomprehensible conditions, they were treated cruelly and, naturally, no one spent the embezzled money on their treatment. Let’s note – just such organizations spoil the reputation of the whole industry! Trust in animal rights activists is decreasing, and there are fewer people willing to make donations – accordingly, animals suffer again.

Naturally, the guys applied to the authorities, but nothing changed – the shelter continued its activities. We talked with volunteers, studied the information on the network and the photos provided. And we decided to help them with reputation management tools.

The case against false shelter

For us, this case was more than atypical, because we are a reputation agency – our task has always been to build a positive reputation on the network, and not vice versa. Given that the request was received from volunteers, we immediately decided not to take money from them.

So, we were going to use the SERM tools, but this time we switched on the black PR mode. Moreover, we planned to use the approaches of online reputation management (ORM), including in social networks (SMRM), as a whole.

The task was to disseminate information about the office on the Internet. This information was supposed to pop up in the top of the search results – so that in the future people would not turn to the services of the organization. We want to talk about how this information field was created.

In total, 6 people worked on this project – a standard team for any other project of the agency:

  • account manager – determined the vector and strategy of the entire project

  • copywriters – they generated the content

  • placement specialist – determined where to post all the content

  • PR specialist – he went with texts to small media

  • monitoring specialist – tracked the effect of all actions taken

Next, we developed a plan consisting of several stages.

Step 1. Reviews and sites

We determined a list of targeted user requests – they were supposed to be used for reviews and comments that bring the shelter to clean water. These reviews were supposed to fill the entire “air”: forums, social networks, reviews and information platforms. We ourselves created social media sites and blogs – they also had to appear in search results for a shelter in this area.

In total, we published content in 10-15 resources: forums, reviews, blogs, groups on Vkontakte and in local media.

Step 2. Forums and petition

Conditions for organic traffic were created – discussion threads and topics on forums where users could leave comments, express their opinions and share experiences. It just so happened that gossip and rumors are more than an effective PR tool.

We have also started a petition for change.org – mainly to appeal to it when dealing with the media.

Step 3. Publications in the media

At the same time, we prepared content to be published in various media and on sites with a free publishing policy. We have already collected enough materials: comments on blogs, social networks, forums, a petition, publications on some Internet resources.

From all this, we planned to prepare a press release and send it to a number of small media outlets so that even more people would know about the activities of the scammers. As a result, we did not need it – the previously taken measures did their job.

So the wheel of fate is spinning

There was an understanding, in order to achieve a reaction from the public and / or authorities, it was necessary to fill the information field as much as possible. Among our actions was the participation and support of discussions on forums, the promotion of a petition, the posting of reviews and publications on online platforms. Volunteers through their connections also connected to the dissemination of all this information.

For 2 months, the generated materials about this shelter have already popped up in the TOP-10 of search results. However, the shelter continued to function. Nothing seemed to be happening. We waited.

At the end of the third month, we began to notice some activity – comments began to appear on the reviewers. Someone complained that the shelter scammed them for money, others thanked for the timely information provided. Step by step, they began to refer to the petition.

And then the false shelter itself got in touch.

Story climax and denouement

Representatives of the shelter came to the platforms with detailed topics for discussion. At first, they responded to all comments, wrote that all accusations of fraud were lies. But then they made a strategic mistake: they turned on aggression and began to confront users. In parallel, they, apparently, involved their employees – they defended the shelter wherever they could. And this only provoked the public – give users on the network only a reason for a showdown. By the way, a very indicative case applicable to PR and SMM – an inadequate response to criticism by all participants creates only additional problems.

Further events developed rapidly. There were more and more comments, discussion threads went to the tops on the forums. People began to call for action, publics joined with a rather large audience of Overheard and Peekaboo.

Long story short, the activists began to demand decisions more and more loudly, and even to break into the territory of the shelter to take the animals. They also switched to personalities – the social networks of the owners and employees of the shelter began to spread on the network, pressure from the indifferent audience intensified.

As a result, after a short period of time, the shelter was closed. Our goal was achieved, the volunteers thanked us for the work done. They also took care of the further fate of the animals from this institution.

For our part, we were glad that we could help, albeit with non-classical methods of dealing with fraudsters. After some time, with a sense of accomplishment, we decided to post a story about this case on vc.ru … (There it can just be found through a search engine)

… And rushed

Let’s face it, we understood that the case was ambiguous, but we did not expect such a stream of negativity in the comments on vc.ru. We were called cybercriminals, lynch organizers, troll factory, and, finally, just “rare s*ndons.” In the professional community, too, not everyone understood our motives and methods. To be fair, there were those who supported us, but they were a minority.

There is some kind of evil irony in the fact that the published case during this period hit the reputation of the reputation agency. And yet – we would have done exactly the same now, but ten times we thought about whether it was worth posting the details on the Internet.

The article does not aim to justify any actions, we hide this story and do not deny it. On the contrary, we are re-publishing a story about this case online to give an example of how SERM technologies can be reversed and used with a minus sign, but at the same time – a paradox, for good purposes.

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