In bygone centuries, an individual’s reputation could control social standing, inheritance or whether he or she could secure a suitable spouse. Often, however, it was possible to escape an unsavory or unfairly earned reputation by simply moving to a new location.
Businesses in that era found it easier to manage their reputations. News was not widely disseminated, so although an unhappy customer might tell a few friends about a company’s mistreatment, criticisms were rarely heard. With the advent of radio and television, however, businesses began to realize that it was essential to control their public image. Marketing firms blended advertising and public relations to help companies control their brand’s reputation and build goodwill among consumers.
Simple solutions for both individuals and companies fell by the wayside with the growth of the Internet. Suddenly, anyone with an ax to grind could potentially have his or her voice heard by millions of people around the world. Whether the issues were factual, a fanciful work of fiction or just a one-sided account, the post could still become a permanent fixture, appearing in search engine results whenever anyone searched a company’s or individual’s name.
As is common with any technological advance, there soon appeared unscrupulous companies who sought to exploit the freedom to say virtually anything about anyone. Within a few years, sites appeared that would manufacture negative “news” online and then charge their victims to remove it. Companies discovered groups that would make up reviews and post them online for a fee, whether the hiring company wanted bogus positive reviews about itself or bogus negative reviews about the competition. Those who suffered disparaging posts had little recourse; lawsuits were sometimes successfully settled on behalf of the offended party, but the victory was often hollow as the content typically never went away completely.
The explosion of the social media sites only complicated matters. Users began to rely heavily on what their friends and connections had to say about a brand, movie, style or product when making a decision. Where word-of-mouth once reached 20 or 30 people at most, it could now reach 200, 2,000 or more within mere seconds. The principle of free speech provided users with the ability to make any comment they chose about any topic they chose without having their comments censored, redacted or corrected.
In the early days, companies often ignored the social sites, considering them useless “fluff” sites that were beneath their corporate dignity. They did not develop a social media strategy until it became obvious that they needed to embrace social marketing. Even then, little or no thought was given to managing their social reputation.
It is often said that the total can be greater than the sum of its parts. This statement is especially applicable to online reputations. Taken individually, a disparaging comment on a social media site, a negative review in an online forum or a biting criticism authored by a competitor might cause little damage. Taken together, the damage can be significant. Suppose, for example, that all three of these posts show up on the first page when someone searches for a name. What impression will the user have of the company’s integrity or a product’s quality?
Now suppose that the person conducting the search is a potential employer who is vetting an applicant or a current employer considering which employee to promote. If the searcher discovers candid snapshots of the candidate in an inebriated condition or posts from an ex alleging theft, might the candidate’s chances be impacted negatively?
Online reputation management is no longer optional. Any company that wants to be profitable and any individual who wants a successful career must consider what is being said online. This is why 2016 is expected to be the year in which online reputation management becomes more than a vague public-relations catchphrase. Reputation management is going to explode.
Because cleaning up a sullied online reputation requires time, technical knowledge and an understanding of how the Internet truly works, companies offering to provide online reputation management will increase in number. Some will be “white-hatters,” employing legal and ethical methods to serve their clients. Some will be “black-hatters,” resorting to unethical tricks and in some cases, illegal methods that could result in fines or penalties to their clients as well themselves. White-hatters will discover simpler methods of reputation management that are responsive to the ever-changing landscape of the online world without crossing any ethical lines. Most black-hatters will adapt to changes merely by altering their sales pitches.
Perhaps the best news on the horizon is that the unscrupulous sites that are devoted to anonymous negative posts will fall. Consumers are becoming more Internet-savvy and less willing to accept anonymous posts at face value. They are conducting more research than ever and weighing the sources before drawing conclusions.
Solutions for online reputation management will become more plentiful during 2016, but you should make sure that the solution you choose is the best one for your situation. At BrightPast, we have been helping clients manage their online reputations since the 1990s. We have developed proprietary technology and methods that have been successful for hundreds of our clients. Whether you are a corporation, a politician, a celebrity or a professional, we can help. We provide results before you provide payment, unlike some companies that charge you an upfront fee and then never deliver on their promises. Contact us today to discuss your specific situation and learn how we can help you clean up your online reputation.