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Reputation management refers to influencing and controlling an individual's or business's reputation. Originally a public relations term, the expansion of the internet and social media, along with reputation management companies, have made it primarily an issue of search results. Online reputation management, sometimes abbreviated as ORM, is primarily concerned with managing the results on websites that evaluate products and services and make recommendations and referrals. Ethical grey areas include mug shot removal sites, astroturfing review sites, censoring negative complaints or using search engine optimization tactics to influence results.
The concept was initially intended 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 electronic communities, such as review sites, social media and—most prominently—the top search results on a brand or individual.
In 2011, controversy around the Taco Bell chain of restaurants arose when public accusations were made that their "seasoned beef" product was only made up of 35% real beef. A class action lawsuit was filed by law firm Beasley Allen on January 21, 2011, based around these 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 The suit was voluntarily withdrawn, with no verdict reached, settlement made or money exchanged, and with Beasley Allen citing that "From the inception of this case, we stated that if Taco Bell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 Taco Bell responded to the case being withdrawn by launching a reputation management campaign titled "Would it kill you to say you're sorry?"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 was focused on drawing 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 were undertaking reputation management on eBay 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 online information about that entity.
Specifically, reputation management aims on monitoring the reputation of an individual or a brand on the internet, addressing content which is potentially 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. Under business circumstances, 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 are the feedback system on eBay, and Wikipedia. Google searching is a primary target of reputation management efforts. 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 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.
- Removal of online mug shots.
- Proactively responding to public criticism stemming from recent changes.
- Image reputation management where photos violating copyright, are embarrassing or might give the wrong impression to employers, for example, are removed or suppressed.
- Contact the editor to remove incorrect information about your business in the Wikipedia pages about your company. Nonetheless, editing your page blindly is not suggested.
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. Mug shot removal services have been connected to mug shot publishing websites, resulting in a combined business model that Forbes referred to as the "embarrassment extortion industry."
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.
As the industry has developed, general practices have become more standardized and the ethics of them have become more defined, although not always explicitly. The use of automation by some of the major review sites like Yelp has seen court cases dismissed, which may imply the use of algorithms to manage reviews is here to stay. In a different case, the automotive review site Edmunds.com sued a reputation management firm for posting fake reviews. Lawsuits like these may be an indicator that the review sites and other industry leaders are attempting to bring more transparency to online reviews while limiting manipulation by firms that are paid by businesses or consumers to artificially boost ratings or suppress negative reviews.
In 2015 online retailer Amazon.com sued 1,114 people who were paid to publish fake five star reviews for products. These reviews were placed using a website for microtasks called Fiverr.com. A number of 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."
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. Domain names can be critical to an organization or person's reputation 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.
According to a report from New York Times, negative internet review may not damage the reputation of business, but help it thrive because it gives the company a higher position in the rank of Google search results. The owner of a company which sell fake sunglass, who benefits a lot from the positive effect of negative reviews, refers to this phenomenon "NEGATIVE advertisement". In this case, negative reviews are just part of his sales strategy.
- Category:Reputation management companies
- Impression management
- Online identity management
- Peer-to-peer § Security and trust
- Reputation capital
- Smear campaign
- Spin (public relations)
- Streisand effect
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