Posted May 1, 2008 10:42 am by with 13 comments

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Online reputation management (ORM) is officially an “industry.” While there’s been a lot of discussion about the importance of reputation management, BusinessWeek is among the first to look at the industry behind it.

While I define online reputation management as this…

…realizing that the perceived value of your brand is defined by information found on the internet; therefore requiring your constant monitoring and participation in these web conversations.

BusinessWeek’s John Tozzi focuses in on the Google reputation management niche, and with good reason. I spoke with him for the piece and even I had to admit:

“The majority of inquiries that I get are from people who are looking to do a cover-up,” says Andy Beal, a marketing consultant and co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online. “They’re not necessarily interested in trying to fix the problem. They just want to make sure that other people can’t find it.”

Despite offering consulting on ALL aspects of online reputation management, I still see 90%+ of all inquiries asking how they can get rid of something negative on Google.

The article looks at the typical costs involved with ORM, provides examples of companies battling negative results, and also explains the seedier side offered by “Hired Guns.”

…there’s little agreement on where the line is drawn. For example, one company, Internet Reputation Management, founded last year by three partners in the New York area, recruits bloggers to write about clients on third-party sites, without necessarily disclosing that they’re paid, according to partner Carl Sgro.

In conclusion, BusinessWeek talks to Google officials about the legitimacy of managing Google results (emphasis added)…

Google, for its part, says there is nothing inherently wrong with reputation services, but “if you use spammy and manipulative techniques to get this positive content to rank highly, we may take action on it,” a spokeswoman writes in an e-mail. (With two-thirds of U.S. search volume in April, according to Hitwise, Google is clearly reputation companies’ biggest target.) The company refers to its Webmaster Guidelines, for violations that can get sites banished, such as using hidden links or creating “cookie-cutter” affiliate pages just to boost page rank.

Abiding by Google’s guidelines is something I encourage–we cover it in depth in Radically Transparent.

I get the last word–you know how I like to get the last word–and try to explain that reputation management is about just that; management. You have to build a strong, positive reputation by being transparent and engaging your stakeholders. If you screw-up, don’t expect a reputation management expert to wave a magic wand and make it all go away.

“You have to take partial ownership in fixing your online reputation,” he says. “It’s not something that you can simply just provide a credit card number to a company and they can take care of it.” While outside firms can help businesses influence results on Google, only the company itself can repair real damage to its reputation.

For more insight, BusinessWeek asks search expert John Battelle to share his thoughts on the industry.

I don’t think there’s any harm in working with a third-party agency to build your search equity. On the other hand, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing it in a transparent way with high integrity.

“Transparent.” You’re spot on John! 🙂

  • One disgruntled customer can make a nightmare for your organization with sites like ripoffreport whose posts usually rank very high for an organizations name. I believe that reputation management if done right and also honestly should be ok. As long as reputation managers keep things white hat this industry will thrive.

  • Andy, do you see the ORM industry becoming victimized by “blackhat” or “greyhat” tacticians similary in scope to what’s happened over the years in SEO?

    Paul Chaney’s last blog post..Taking a few days off to celebrate with family

  • @Paul – the blackhats are already here. If you have a bad character/reputation, then some don’t care what tactics are used to correct it.

    I think blackhat is very, very risky with reputation management. After all, you’re already facing questions about your reputation, the last thing you need is more questions about those fake customer reviews you created. 😉

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  • We are based in South Africa and have a complaints site with great ranking. If people complain you will be on the first page of Google even if those that complain are not telling the truth. I mean what’s to prevent anyone from actively damaging another companies reputation. Bad mouth could only reach a few, the internet can reach a whole bunch more.

    There are most probably other tools but use Google alert to find out if anyone mentions our company name so that we can act immediately. Thanks for the great post.

  • One of the good things about the Internet is that the “little guy” has a voice. Companies have to take responsibility for their actions and make things right with their customers or suffer the repercussions.

    Granted, there are people that just want to make trouble for others, but so far I think they’re in the minority. My experience with clients needing ORM is that they’ve messed up and want to hide it instead of fixing the problem. Of course some problems can’t be fixed – consequences of your actions and all that…

    SEO Diva’s last blog post..You Scratch Mine, I’ll Scratch Yours

  • It would be interesting to know as to quite what Google thinks its reputation is!

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  • Online Reputation Management is definitely a buzzword that is indicative of a whole new offshoot internet business opportunity. Love the way the ever evolving world of the web continues to present new opportunities all the time!

  • There should be a sort of Hitch like consultant that manages your reputation online. 😉

    Seologia’s last blog post..Cómo ganar tráfico con social bookmarking sites y contenido exclusivo

  • I have got to agree,web marketing man, this is the best thing about this business, it changes all the time. It all ties together so it makes the process for those in the industry easier to grasp.

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