Reputation management is the understanding or influencing of an individual's or business's reputation. It was originally coined as a public relations term, but advancement in computing, the internet and social media made it primarily an issue of search results. Some parts of reputation management are often associated with ethical grey areas, such as astroturfing review sites, censoring negative complaints or using SEO tactics to game the system and influence results. There are also ethical forms of reputation management, which are frequently used, such as responding to customer complaints, asking sites to take down incorrect information and using online feedback to influence product development.
The concept was initially intended to broaden public relations outside of media relations. As the Internet and social media became more popular, the meaning has shifted to focus on review sites, social media and—most prominently—the top search results on a brand or individual.
In 2007 a study by the University of California Berkeley found that some sellers were undertaking reputation management on eBay by selling products at a discount in exchange for positive feedback to game the system.
Reputation management is the practice of monitoring the reputation of an individual or brand, addressing contents which are damaging to it, and using customer feedback solutions to get feedback or early warning signals to reputation problems. Most of reputation management is focused on pushing down negative search results. Reputation management may attempt to bridge the gap between how a company perceives itself and how others view it.
Some examples of websites where a company may conduct reputation management is the feedback system on eBay, and Wikipedia. Google search results are the primary target of reputation management efforts. Some of the tactics used by reputation management firms include the following:
- 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 in third-party sites that rank highly in Google.
- Creating fake blogs pretending to be a different person that shares the same name in order to push down negative search results on the actual person or brand.
- Using spam bots and denial-of-service attacks to force sites with damaging content off 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.
- Proactively responding to public criticism stemming from recent changes.
The practice of reputation management raises many ethical considerations. There is no agreement within the industry on where to draw the line on issues of disclosure, astroturfing and censorship. 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. In some instances the act of unethical reputation management can itself be risky to the reputation of the firm, if their tactics to hide negative information are exposed.
Some firms practice ethical forms of reputation management. The Online Reputation Management Association tries to promote ethical best practices through a certification program. Google considers there to be nothing inherently wrong with reputation management as the industry was formed in 2007. Google even introduced a toolset in 2011 for users to monitor their online identity and request 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.
According to a 2010 study by Microsoft and Cross-Tab Market Research, 70 percent of companies have rejected candidates based on the candidate's online reputation, but only 7 percent of Americans believe it affects their job search. A survey by CareerBuilder.com found that 1 in 4 hiring managers used search engines to screen candidates. One in 10 also checked candidates' profiles on social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. According to a December 2007 survey by the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research organization, roughly half of U.S. hiring officials use the Internet in vetting job applications.
- 86% of online U.S. adults have used a search engine like Google to find more information about another person.
- 75% of online U.S. adults have searched their own name in a search engine. Of those that searched their own name, almost half (48%) said most of the search results about them are not positive; nearly a third (30%) said nothing shows up about them at all.
- Nearly a third (31%) of online U.S. adults that have searched another person online have looked up a politician. Of those that did, over half said the search influenced their voting decision.
- Among online U.S. adults that have searched someone else online, 42% have searched someone before doing business with them. Of those that did, 45% have found something that made them decide not to do business.
- Almost half (43%) of online U.S. adults that have searched someone else online have searched a potential date, significant other, or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, making romantic searches one of the most common search among U.S. adults. 
There are cases of reputable organizations or individuals—even those with newly created websites—that may find their brand or name listed in search engine's suggestions as scam. Such negative suggestions which are harmful to the reputation of the organization or individual are often caused by negative contents on personal blogs, complaint sites, scraper sites, forums and comment sections. In such cases where it is not possible to ask for the negative contents to be taken down, experts agree that reputation management is justifiable in this regard, and some experts advise that the proper thing to do is to push down the visibility of such negative search engine results through proactively publishing useful, positive information about the organizations or individuals.
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