Seattle City Light SEO-boosting contract ridiculed

Seattle City Light has two significant PR issues going, and this is a case of one plus one equals ugly.

First is the action being considered by Seattle City Council to raise the pay of the CEO of the city-owned utility, Jorge Carrasco, to a max of $364,000. He is already the highest paid city official in Seattle but Council is considering giving him a raise of $60,000 per year.

Second, Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat, is having a problem with a $47,000 contract signed by Carrasco with Brand.com to burnish its online reputation. Westneat says the goal of the contract was to “buff up” the eco-credentials of Carrasco and to counter some negative online content about the agency thereby creating better search results.

Westneat has several problems with this: Brand.com apparently offered “doctorate level content” but some of the articles showing up looked to be written by an algorithm rather than a person–although I can see a beginning writer churning out such jargon-laden meaninglessness. The other, of course, is the idea that Carrasco would spend utility-rate-payer-city taxpayer dollars on anything related to burnishing his image.

All of this represents a conundrum to me. Reading Westneat’s column, the entire thing looks ill-conceived, ham-handed and downright foolish. And of course, that is what Westneat wants it to look like. But is it really?

Online reputations are a big issue as we as a society in general turn to the internet and what’s on there to become informed. Nasty reviews or negative articles can take a position in searches not warranted by the organization involved or any action. It’s just that outrage tends to attract attention and the internet seems to be a great place to express outrage. Seattle City Light, like any responsible public or private entity, wants to have an online presence that represents reality and not have searches dominated by a few with gripes. So what do you do? The strategy employed by them of countering the negative with more positive is a common strategy. Others, like those in Europe, have turned to the courts and have successfully forced Google to remove content from its searches that they don’t like. The folks asking for removal are demonstrating why this may not be such a good idea.

Having worked with a major city utility for a number of years (not Seattle City Light) I am well aware of how local reporters and news agencies love to demonize such organizations any chance they get. Reasons are obvious: people need power and if provided by the city they get no choice and it gets tied to every other issue or gripe that people have. That means it is rich fodder for columnists and reporters like Westneat. So let’s recognize that they have a hound in this hunt too, and anything that smells like combating the rather one-handed game they play is something they will attack with vigor.

That being said, it seems if City Light wanted to burnish their online image they should not have considered a contract, and apparently particularly with brand.com. Don’t they have some talented young PR staffers who could do some of this? Aren’t there other ways to improve search results? Or maybe they should do like the guy in Europe who tried to kill his family, and ask Google to take any bad stuff about City Light off the search results.

A dilemma indeed.

 

 

 

One thought on “Seattle City Light SEO-boosting contract ridiculed”

  1. Great term in Westneat’s column: image plumbers… “Got a reputation leak? Call in the image plumbers, and send your troubles down the drain!” (to catchy music).

    As you put it, Gerald; ‘Trust depends on two things: doing the right things and communicating them well.’

    In today’s net-world, it is easy to become so focused on bits and bytes that we lose track of the bigger picture; sometimes we get our reputation the old fashioned way – we earn it.

    How about instead of contracting with ‘brand sweepers’ or utilizing talented young PR staffers, we instead invest in actions that actually reflect our commitment to good governance/leadership/community investment? Instead of creating counterfeit content, invest in activities that actual reflect (in this case) an environmental commitment – seminars, lecture series, contributions, scholarships. There are so many ways even the same amount of money could have been used, let alone an organizational commitment to become better stewards of the environment.

    When we see the whole world as our critic, its easy to adopt mega-strategies like those offered by Brand.com. We’d be better served by deciding who our most important stakeholders are, and investing in actions and relationships that keep them interested and appreciative. Our online image can reflect our community image if we focus on the community instead of the computer.

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