Reputation management refers to the influencing and controlling of an individual’s or group’s reputation.
Reputation management refers to the influencing and controlling of an individual’s or group’s reputation. Originally a public relations term, the growth of the internet and social media, along with reputation management companies, have made search results a core part of an individual’s or group’s reputation. Online reputation management, sometimes abbreviated as ORM, focuses on the management of product and service search website results. Ethical grey areas include mug shot removal sites, astroturfing review sites, censoring negative complaints, and using search engine optimization tactics to influence results.
The concept was initially created to broaden public relations outside of media relations. Academic studies have identified it as a driving force behind Fortune 500 corporate public relations since the beginning of the 21st century.As the Internet and social media became more popular, the meaning has shifted to focus on search results and electronic communities; such as review sites and social media.
In 2011, the controversy around the Taco Bell restaurant chain arose when public accusations were made that their “seasoned beef” product was only made up of only 35% real beef. A class action lawsuit was filed by the law firm Beasley Allen against Taco Bell on January 21, 2011 due to the allegations. The suit was voluntarily withdrawn, with no verdict reached, settlement made, or money exchanged, and with Beasley Allen citing that “From the inception of this case, we stated that if Taco Bell would make certain changes regarding disclosure and marketing of its ‘seasoned beef’ product, the case could be dismissed.” Taco Bell responded to the case being withdrawn by launching a reputation management campaign titled “Would it kill you to say you’re sorry?” that ran advertisements in various news outlets in print and online, which attempted to draw attention to the voluntary withdrawal of the case.
Some businesses have adopted unethical means to falsely improve their reputations. In 2007, a study by the University of California Berkeley found that some sellers on eBay were undertaking reputation management by selling products at a discount in exchange for positive feedback to game the system.
Reputation management (sometimes referred to as rep management, online reputation management or ORM) is the practice of attempting to shape public perception of a person or organization by influencing information about that entity, primarily online.
Specifically, reputation management involves the monitoring of the reputation of an individual or a brand on the internet, addressing content which is potentially damaging to it, and using customer feedback to try to solve problems before they damage the individual’s or brand’s reputation. A major part of reputation management involves suppressing negative search results while highlighting positive ones. For businesses, reputation management usually involves an attempt to bridge the gap between how a company perceives itself and how others view it.
Companies often attempt to manage their reputations on websites that many people visit, such as eBay, Wikipedia, and Google. Some of the tactics used by reputation management firms include:
- Improving the tagging and search engine optimization of company-published materials, such as white papers and positive customer testimonials in order to push down negative content.
- Publishing original, positive websites and social media profiles, with the aim of outperforming negative results in a search.
- Submitting online press releases to authoritative websites in order to promote brand presence and suppress negative content.
- Submitting legal take-down requests if someone believes they have been libeled.
- Getting mentions of the business or individual on third-party sites that rank highly on Google.
- Creating fake, positive reviews of the individual or business to counteract negative ones.
- Using spam bots and denial-of-service attacks to force sites with damaging content of the web entirely.
- Astroturfing third-party websites by creating anonymous accounts that create positive reviews or lash out against negative ones.
- Proactively offering free products to prominent reviewers.
- Removing online mug shots.
- Proactively responding to public criticism stemming from recent changes.
- Removing or suppressing images that are embarrassing or violate copyright.
- Contacting Wikipedia editors to remove allegedly incorrect information from the Wikipedia pages of businesses they represent.
The practice of reputation management raises many ethical questions. It is widely disagreed upon where the line for disclosure, astroturfing, and censorship should be drawn. Firms have been known to hire staff to pose as bloggers on third party sites without disclosing they were paid, and some have been criticized for asking websites to remove negative posts. The exposure of unethical reputation management can itself be risky to the reputation of a firm that attempts it.
Some firms practice ethical forms of reputation management. Google considers there to be nothing inherently wrong with reputation management, and even introduced a toolset in 2011 for users to monitor their online identity and request the removal of unwanted content. Many firms are selective about clients they accept. For example, they may avoid individuals that committed violent crimes that are looking to push information about their crimes lower on search results.
In 2015, the online retailer Amazon.com sued 1,114 people who were paid to publish fake five star reviews for products. These reviews were created using a website for microtasks, Fiverr.com. Several other companies offer fake Yelp and Facebook reviews, and one journalist amassed five star reviews for a business that doesn’t exist, from social media accounts that have also given overwhelmingly positive reviews to “a chiropractor in Arizona, a hair salon in London, a limo company in North Carolina, a realtor in Texas, and a locksmith in Florida, among other far-flung businesses”.