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Does 'Breaking Bad' need online rep management?

What would you do if you were them?
What would you do if you were them?

If you’re like most of us, you probably waited anxiously on your couch for the series finale of AMC’s monster hit Breaking Bad this past fall. By this point, the show has become a true pop culture sensation.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul continued to impress as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman all the way to the last moments of the final episode. And with record-smashing viewership for the finale, the show has set a huge precedent in terms of cable broadcasting.

Looking into the universe of Breaking Bad, some interesting points come up related to the world of online reputation management. How could Walter White – aka Heisenberg – help protect his family’s reputation in the wake of his drug empire crashing down around him? Does Jesse Pinkman have a chance at leading a normal life now that the two years of drug-fueled chaos are over?

This type of brand management won’t come just by giving Saul Goodman a call, either. Walt and Jesse have their work cut out for them in terms of an ORM campaign.

Let’s have a look at what a successful strategy would look like, character-by-character. And just in case you haven’t watched the show through to its finale, let this serve as your warning that there are spoilers ahead.

Walter White

The show’s prime character has worked hard to develop quite a reputation for himself. The Meth Kingpin of the Southwest, responsible for countless deaths (include deaths of DEA agents), has finally been taken down. News on Walter White’s drug revelations had made its way to international outlets. Within the show’s mythos, the entire world found out what Heisenberg was up to.

Obviously any search engine queries for Walter White would immediately yield all the negative news press about his status as a wanted criminal. Those results would dominate every major search engine and the stories would be across all the international news circuits. That means that you’ll have all of page 1 covered in negatives.

How exactly could a person like Walter White respond to this high degree of negativity? The first answer would be to attempt to respond to what’s happened. Although Walt himself won’t have to worry about his reputation thanks to how the show finished, his legacy will continue to live on. If it remains fully negative, his family will inevitably suffer the most. That’s why it’s important in an ORM campaign like this to work hard to remediate as much of this negativity as possible.

Managing assets like websites and social media would help a bit, but they simply wouldn’t ever fully eliminate the negative press. For a man like Walter White, it’s important to focus on the legacy of his life prior to his criminal activities. This includes discussing his brilliance as a chemist, his passion as a teacher and his perseverance during the arduous battle against cancer.

While Walt won’t ever have a squeaky clean online rep, time will help to mitigate the shocking news about him leading a drug empire.

Jesse Pinkman

While Walter White took most of the heat during the inevitable fall of the drug empire, his partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman, was one of the very few to escape with his life. For the most part, his name wasn’t as high up in the headlines and the news stories related to Heisenberg. But he has definitely felt the negative effects of a damaged online reputation thanks to his criminal past, drug addictions and DEA investigations.

A typical clearing plan could help benefit Pinkman’s online reputation immensely. A few assets, including social media sites and personal websites, would help to shift search results for his name towards the content he’d want to see.

Of course, a few news stories discussing his relationship with Walt would continue to pop up. That’s why Jesse would need an ongoing campaign to monitor search results for his name and respond to the negative posts that would inevitably appear.

Skyler and Walter White Jr.

Walt’s estranged wife, Skyler, and his son, Walt Jr. (aka Flynn), are probably the biggest losers when it comes to tarnished reputations. Walt Sr. is gone for good, so the only reason his online reputation needs to be managed is to help support the rest of his family. But the news of Walt’s criminal activities, and the subsequent press explosion when Walter was fleeing the police, only made it worse for Skyler and the rest of the Walt family. Could the family’s reputation ever recover from such a terrible ordeal?

It’s obvious that Skyler’s name would be connected to a ton of negative press surrounding her husband. Many news outlets and law enforcement bodies– including the DEA – believed that Skyler was working more directly with Walt. The truth is that Skyler helped Walt launder the millions of dollars through their car wash, but the DEA doesn’t know about that. That’s why Skyler’s best ORM strategy revolves around linking more positive news to her name.

Press releases, blogs and related online assets can link news and other varieties of high-ranking content to Skyler’s name. She can use the huge amount of press to her advantage by connecting stories that exonerate her of any criminal activity related to her husband. Rather than attempting to dodge or downplay all this content, she can help to link her name to content that’s more supportive and positive. She could also continue to maintain several other websites and social media accounts to keep page 1 search results returning positive information.

Like Walter, the rest of the White family will never be able to eliminate the press related to what happened. But with the right strategy of content linking and asset building, the family’s negative reputation will surely improve over time.

Turning Breaking Bad into Positive ORM

There’s no doubt that any character from Breaking Bad would face an immense challenge when it comes to managing and improving his or her online reputation. But the truth is that even in the face of tremendous obstacles – like a whole first page of negative press – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel made possible by ORM.

Online reputation management takes time and effort, but a sound strategy managed by industry professionals can help even a man like Walter White look better in a Google search.

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