Have you come across the term online reputation management before? What exactly is your online reputation, who determines it and why would you need to manage your reputation anyway? The obvious answer to who who determines your reputation is Google as they rank your websites according to certain criteria which effectively determine what your online reputation is. The higher your site ranks, the more reputable it is in their eyes (and in the eyes of the people who are reading the pages of results).
So if your site is languishing low down in the listings, Google doesn’t thinks the site is particularly reputable. Obviously, you can improve things my increasing the number of backlinks to your site but, more importantly in these post-Penguin, post-Panda days, are the type of sites that link back to yours. Sites in what Google thinks are bad neighborhoods that link to you may well damage your reputation somewhat. Also, sites that are not in the same niche as yours may also damage your reputation. Why would a site about skin care link to a site about digital cameras unless the digital camera site was looking for some link juice from the skin care site, Google might think.
Sites in the same niche that link to one another are more likely to be honest about their linking policies Google may think. And other people seem to think the same which explains why there are a lot of requests from one webmaster/company/business to another asking them to remove links from their site.
Some of this an individual webmaster can handle alone. Others may outsource that task to someone else. Back in 2007, a new term entered the internet lexicon: online reputation management. This describes a service that monitors the internet reputation of a person, brand or business, which emphasizes positive coverage of that person, brand or business and downplays or minimizes anything negative about them.
Naturally, any person or business entity wants to project a positive image of their brand, product or service and online reputation management is definitely a task best suited for outsourcing to a company whose sole aim is that goal.
To quote Warren Buffet: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Search Engine Optimization is a classic example of online reputation management. Most webmasters do it because, if you don’t, you’ll be outranked by all those who do in your niche. A less obvious form of reputation management is dealing with social media and what might have been written about your or your wares on the various social sites. Perhaps you’ve been wrongly criticized or your product denigrated by someone who wouldn’t even take the time to read the manual and learn how to use it. Unless your constantly monitoring the now sizable number of social sites, how can you ever hope to keep your reputation in check?
So engaging the services of an online reputation management company may be appealing.
But What About The Ethics?
Where do you draw the line with regard to censorship (e.g. removing all negative reviews you may receive) or with regard to disclosure (that you’re paying people to write glowing reviews about you or your product or service)? And, if you’re overly manipulating how people will come to view your reputation, isn’t that disreputable in itself?
The best you can hope to do is to perform ethical reputation management. That might mean getting unwarranted or malicious reviews or feedback removed. Or providing rebuttals to criticisms raised by customers, so if they have an incorrect impression of you or your product, you set them straight. And, if there is actually a flaw in how you operate or a flaw in your product, you acknowledge it and agree to correct it.
Google don’t have a problem with anyone managing their reputation. Where they draw the line is when their search engine results are overly manipulated through grey and black-hat SEO techniques. Basically, when someone tries to game the Google system.
Some believe that all’s fair in love and war and that any tactic that raises your reputation should be put to use. Others disagree. So you don’t have a level playing field. People ethically managing their reputations can end up playing against people who use every tool at heir disposal whether ethical or not. So it all comes down to what your own conscience can live with.
But there is a danger in outsourcing to an online reputation management service. You have no control over what tactics they will employ to manipulate your reputation. They may be very ethical. They may not. And some companies have been caught out in the past, and penalized, because the service they outsourced to used questionable management techniques.
So if you are considering hiring the services of such a company, make sure to do your due diligence on them before you actually hire them. After all, you reputation is on the line!