Posted February 2, 2009 8:39 am by with 49 comments

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In case you missed the news, Olympic superstar Michael Phelps was caught on camera smoking cannabis from a bong.

Say it with me: IDIOT!

While Phelps has admitted the photo is legitimate–and apologized to his fans–there can be no doubt that for an athlete of Phelps’ caliber, any scandal that involves drugs is going to have a hugely negative effect on his reputation.

To prove just how quickly a squeaky clean Google reputation can come crashing down, here’s a look at Michael Phelps’ Google reputation after just 24 hours!

If the swimmer’s sponsors decide that they no longer wish to be associated with a drug-taking athlete, Phelps could lose as much as $100 million in endorsements.

Some observations:

  1. It didn’t take very long for the negative news to hit Google’s search results.
  2. Despite many, many positive web pages about Phelps, this proves that a scandal can easily infiltrate the first ten links.
  3. Google is already suggesting “michael phelps smoking weed” as an alternative search suggestion. What’s interesting is that this is not showing up in Google Suggest for the search box, which indicates that the “searches related to” algorithm at the footer of search results may be based on very recent search queries–with Google Suggest using a larger timescale for its suggestions.

If anyone has the address for Phelps’ agent, please let me know so I can send them a copy of Radically Transparent. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I’m amazed that people of that caliber let things like that even make it to the internet. He will probably loose some sponsorships because of it.

  • Hi Andy!
    I like how you used a happening and hot story to promote Radically Transparent… very smart! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  • I’m amazed its still a big issue. He should know better than to do that infront of a camera, but seriously, he won 14 gold metals – I don’t think you or I can really say anything. Kinda puts a dent in the whole “weed is terrible” theory.

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  • @Lamees – thanks!

    @clos – I’m not about to cast any judgment on whether he should use cannabis or not, but he is a public role model and in his line of work, taking drugs is asking for a reputation meltdown.

  • Gilligan

    Folks this is all about the American dream. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history……therefore he is not a mortal human. How can we expect these American marketers to market a regular kid, who is going to buy into that dream?

    The vast majority of athletes party like this….have done it myself! Phelps just got caught by someone with a camera or digital camera handy.

  • He did have a DUI back in 2004 (when he was just 19) and got probation.

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  • Mark Anderson

    Google’s algo is designed to feed recent news stories to the top of the pile, so while the drugs story will dominate any Phelps related searches for a day or two, eventually they’ll fade as newer stories replace it. I don’t think his Google reputation is going to suffer permanently, in fact I doubt it’ll suffer for very long. The world is transient, so are the SERPS.

    As a side note – Phelps smokes weed. Shocker. Americans still think of it as the demon weed despite the _huge_ levels of usage in the States. At least he was partaking in something natural and benign. It could easily have been steroids – 14 golds sounds like steroids to me.

    As a side side note – Weed is your friend. Smoke a joint. Make love. Life is good.

  • fas

    I would like to ask only one question. Is google reputation all that important?

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  • Andy, should you be openly soliciting his business (if only in a joking fashion) while using a value-passing link to point to one of the negative articles?

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  • I am not so sure the Google results will go away. The news will but not the blogs and forums. In fact it may get worse. His online marketing team needs to read Andy’s book fast then call me ๐Ÿ™‚ I am still amazed that so many big names and brands do not have their Google PR as a major part of their PR and marketing campaigns. They can all learn a lesson from Obama. He smoked weed but you have to work very hard to find the information on Google. Not that I care he can smoke it out of his ears for all care as long as he is a good President.

  • LOL, this post in its self is contributing to his poor online reputation.

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  • It really is mad how 1 silly act can totally destroy your reputation, and even career

  • @Mark – the news items at the top will likely go away but as Fionn suggests there’ll be fall out in the main results.

    @Michael – what would you suggest, that I nofollow the link? Why? He got himself into this mess, I’m not going to change my linking practices for his sake.

    @Jaan – I doubt this post will ever “rank” in Google for “michael phelps” ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I know Andy, just giving you a hard time. I agree though linking to one of “weed” articles does promote it somewhat.

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  • Andy, our industry is criticized for a lot of practices. I don’t think linking to an unfavorable article and then implying you can solve the problem is really going to give people a good impression.

    There is too much backbiting in our industry already. Why give some hot-to-trot wannabe RepMan guru something to blog about?

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  • That’s just great, our golden boy just made us “real puffers” feel much better (less guilty).

  • @Michael – I appreciate your view, but I disagree. First, I don’t want Michael Phelps as a client. Second, the page I’ve linked to was already ranking before I wrote my post.

    That said, your comments alone are enough to give someone the idea that perhaps they could make a big deal out of this, so I’ll go ahead and nofollow the link. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  • That’s very open-minded of you, Andy. I’m sorry you felt a bit cornered there. I suppose it comes of trying to quickly drop a friendly comment in-between daily tasks.

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  • Given the Americanpblics appetite for bringing down the high and mighty, the boy is in for a rough ride. Ahhh, our shining heroes….

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  • Richard Weeden

    Mikey may as well get a job as a porn actor now. His life is over. What a moron. Maybe he can be Ron Jeremy’s “little boy” in the porn industry. I can see it now “Fish Boy Phelps” stars in “Schindler’s LUST” or “Shaving Ryan’s Privates”.

  • Funny your headline says “How Michael Phelps Screwed-up His Google Reputation in Just 24 Hours”… Sounds to me he did not only loose his Google Reputation… he pretty much lost his Real Reputation in 24 hours… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I am so upset about this terrible news. The Sports Illustrated article about Michael showed us his caring and generous side. I want to believe the best for him. He said he would never get caught with a DUI again and he hasn’t. I expect him to make good on this promise as well. It appears that sponsors are not dropping him initially… only time will tell.

    Samantha – Michael Phelps Fan Site’s last blog post..Michael Phelps Smoking Weed

  • Bloodymirova

    Oh, come on – let the kid have fun, he certainly earned it. It’s not like something really horrible happened. He didn’t kill anyone.

    I don’t think his reputation is ruined and I believe this will blow over soon. His sponsors are certainly not worried about it. It’s just journalistic vultures trying to feed off of this while they can – at Michael’s expense. I’m sure the Dutch are having a laugh about this ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • That sure wasn’t the wisest of moves on his behalf! Serious Online Reputation management is going to be needed to fix this one! Any suggestions, apart for hitting serious headlines by doing good things?

  • Yes, this is very sad but I gotta say it was pretty funny.

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  • It was pretty stupid on Phelp’s part to go to a party where he could possible get photographed using a bong. It doesn’t make sense. He is still young and will do some stupid things and I agree with others that the whole think is taken too serious. He is already regretting his decision after he will probably lose tons of money, no need for the media to jump on him too.

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  • Sherry Net

    Is anyone REALLY Surprised by this NEW Revelation?

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  • Dean

    This has got to be the biggest non-story of the year.

    Michael Phelps smoked pot????? Say it ain’t so???? Next you’ll tell me that Obama “did a little blow” when he was young….errrr….ummmm…oh wait he did….nevermind.

    If there is a story it is this…
    In today’s world you are one misjudgment and and a camera-phone away from being embarrassed or exposed. So don’t do anything stupid whether you are a mega-athlete or having too much fun and cousin Eddie’s wedding. The only variable is how much that embarrassment will cost you. Reputation management is a “proactive” activity not one you adopt after bong hit.

  • PS3

    Are you saying he is an idiot for smoking weed, or just for getting caught?

    We’ve just had a professional rugby player over here get caught out for a cocaine habit. Only 26 and career in tatters.

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  • That really sucks for Phelps, but really? why is this such a huge deal. Most people smoke weed at least once in their life. Give the guy a break.

  • there are a lot more productive issues the media could be covering than Michael Phelps smoking pot a year ago

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  • I’m a swimmer too

    I’m a 32 year old upper middle class white male with a family and I definately did not lose any respect for him.

    To accomplish what he accomplished took considerable work, dedication, and talent.

    For reference, I swam competitively in high school and still lap swim to stay in shape.

    I would be more disappointed in Phelps if it was revealed that he was a cigarette smoker. As it stands, Phelps is a fine roll model for my children.

    If my children ask me now if its OK to smoke pot, I’ll tell them:

    “It is not OK. It is illegal and you could go to jail for it.” I will also tell them it is not as unhealthy for you as cigarettes and alcohol.

    “Mike Phelps is human and like every single one of us can’t be expected to always make the best decisions. It is human to err. I can only hope you bust your ass in pursuit of your goals as hard as he did in pursuit of his world records.”

  • Dang, that hurts. I was wondering why he was on the news the other day apologizing to the world and athletic association. I wonder how much they paid for that pickture. lol. That’s alright Michael. You ARE still the man in my book.

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  • Fortunately for Michael Phelps, heโ€™s already banked so much public trust and support that this mistake probably wonโ€™t tarnish his image beyond repair. However, as I said on ESPN Radioโ€™s Mike & Mike show, with tens of millions of dollars in endorsements at stake, he would be wise to publically distance himself from the handlers that attempted the cover-up, highlight what he will do to help keep kids off drugs, and remind his fans of the hard work, talent, and determination that made him a superstar in the first place. In short, he should be talking again about how much his mom and family means to him and allowing photographers to chronicle his grueling training regimen. For those interested, I encourage you to read my blog post about the communications challenges facing Phelps on and share your thoughts:

  • It will blow over. Phelp’s will be remembered for his wins not the pot.

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  • BobtheBuilder

    Check out this sketch about the Michael Phelps marijuana scandal it’s pretty hilarious

  • PS3

    @Andy sorry to go slightly off on a tangent but I guess it does illustrate a point on reputation management – someone seems to have been using your name to spam Twitter and I see you have nipped it in the bud.

  • Jeff

    Honestly who cares that Micheal smokes pot, if people got off their high horses and looked at some of the things they do they would find out they are not prefect either. This is 2009 with everything going on in the USA and around the world there is more important things to concern ourselves with.

  • Whoever took the picture is a d*ck – who does that to someone’s career over a bong hit? It was dumb of Phelps to risk his career and sponsors but I’d say the person that took the picture has the problem that needs attention.

    Now he needs to do something else that gets some positive attention

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  • As stupid as it was–he has the resources and people he can pay to help restore his reputation. In another 6 months, I fee sure we’ll see more posts in the top ten featuring Michael Phelps as a modern “Mother Teresa” doing good works- penance for his sponsors.
    The folks I feel bad for are the wrongly accused. The Duke Lacross Team comes to mind. Those boys names will be trashed for 20 years unless they go on to cure cancer or something.