Why I think everyone should stand up to cyber bullies.

You can spend decades building a business; growing a team that feels like family, finding the customers who turn into friends and decorating the place to emulate a second home. Then one night, someone sets fire to it and you watch it burn to the ground.

That’s every entrepreneur’s nightmare.

There’s no scene quite more haunting than treading footsteps in the ashes of what used to be the centre of your world.

However, as the internet has emerged, a whole new kind of nightmare has come to life. Ashes have been replaced with aggressive tweets, hammering notifications, streams of unfollows and a user generated hashtag — all of which placing your business on the “trending” lists for all the wrong reasons.

Typing your name into the first page of Google feels like a heart attack waiting to happen, journalists start calling you to ask questions and articles start to pop up with all those different pieces of social media ashes painting the picture that your business is on fire.

And everybody knows about it.

They also think that you lit the fire.

They may be right. You could have behaved badly, said something derogatory or insulted your entire customer base through acting fraudulently or disrespectfully. Some people do set their businesses on fire for the insurance pay-out, after all.

However, a lot of the time, someone else is holding the torch — or in the case of the internet, the keyboard. And once the flames start to hover over the panels, everything can go up in flames very quickly.

The arsonists of the internet, or “cyber bullies” as they are should be called, can destroy sales, crash your website and rip apart your reputation at the touch of their fingertips. Justice becomes guilty until proven innocent and you could have more people in the jury than customers.

Your office chair turns into the defendant’s seat, your screen becomes the judge and your keyboard is the book you have to swear an oath to.

In that moment, it just feels like you against them.

It is with a tight, anxious knot in my stomach that I recall the time that my office chair became a defendant’s seat.

For four years, I watched my attackers as they created and grew a story filled with false allegations of fraud and criminal activity — sharing it with my entire database.

They went on a rampage of destruction throwing these false claims across PPC, link sharing, blog content and vlogs. They also spoke directly to my customers through emails and phone calls persuading them to buy into claims and potential legal refunds.

Even happy clients caved in and fell for the trap after being bombarded enough.

That’s how they made their money.

And it took years of going through the legal channels to make it stop.

Through this time, the advice from my legal team was: “Don’t say anything because we need to deal with this properly through the courts.” I like to think that was wise advice in the long term.

But by the time I’d cleared my name, the damage was done.

Despite my name being cleared years ago, the internet trolls being identified and justice being served, what happened is still on the first page of Google and I still get a lump in my throat whenever I see a fast growing number of Twitter notifications.

It’s put me off sharing anything on the internet for years.

There was a time when it felt like anything I wrote online would be met with hatred. It was such a difficult and demoralising anxiety to deal with that I found it easier to simply stay silent.

However, inspired by the support of my loved ones and colleagues, a few months ago I decided to rise from my own ashes and unbolt the door to the online world.

And, still, those same people continue to try and cause disruption.

The sad reality here is that there are people who would rather try and damage a competitor than raise their own game.

They would rather dedicate their entire marketing budget towards destroying your name, with the main objective to sneak in and prey on a perception of wrongdoing.

They would rather invest in keyword advertising spend on your own name, putting in time, effort and serious revenue to ensure that your name or company name creates negative searches, than build a brand of their own.

We’re not talking about genuine, unhappy customers here. We’re talking about manufactured negative images — designed to hurt and destroy.

But how can you fight back?

What do you do if you are a hotel or restaurant and one of your competitors is instigating negative reviews that are slamming your product to make their own business look better? This happens in hospitality, for sure.

The thing is, when you stay silent, it can embolden the bullies.

It’s like being bullied by aggressive kids in your school playground. They pick on the smaller, vulnerable kids who view you as too weak to fight back. But when the victim does find the strength to stand up for themselves, the bully sees it’s not just a one-way street and usually backs off.

The same can be said for every bully in every walk of life. The stronger you grow, the weaker they go.

I want to empower the victims to stand up to their business bullies.

I want to help you to expose the keyboard warriors hiding behind a false business, who don’t invest in real products or build sustainable futures for people with real jobs. And the cowards operating get rich quick schemes, who are often false advocates of consumer protection, seeking to harm the consumer by spreading false fear.

If you’re facing a battle with cyber bullies, my advice is this; stand tall, fight back, rebuild and rise higher than they ever could.

Mark Cushway is the CEO of the Inspired Group of companies and is passionate about employee welfare, engagement and motivation. Connect with Mark on Twitter and LinkedIn. This blog post is also available as a podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud.

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