I am old school. When I think of reputation management, I think of branding strategies, content management, social responsibility, transparency, customer service, and all those old-fashioned ideals that make an organization or person valued and revered in the public's eye. This kind of reputation management is organizational bedrock. It takes time to build, manage, and recover.
Today, when we talk about online reputation management, the name of the game is SEO trickeration-artificially manipulating search results to push down the bad and bring up the good. Those of us old enough to remember what life was like before the internet know that true reputation is built, not programmed. I do believe, in some instances, that manipulation of online data is needed when there is a clear matter of lying or slander. However, the proliferation of reputation management applications has produced three glaring myths that need to be exposed.
- Online reputation management is a magic "morning after pill" that can erase any bad deed I don't want the public to know about. Here are some glowing testimonials/promotional statements I found on some online reputation management sites:
"Your company removed or suppressed all the negative remarks about our company in weeks"
"We fix negative Google results"
"Our reputation services help you look your best when others are searching for you"
"Improve what people see when they Google you"
"(Our product) buries negative online blogs, reviews, forums, articles, and websites in search results"
What we do know is that online reputation management companies are not bound by ethics that prohibit them from hiding the truth. There's the man who cheated on his wife and she sued for divorce, loading internet social sites with tales of his exploits. He said he needed a reputation management company that could get rid of his indiscretions. There's the call I got from a lawyer who had a client that needed to suppress an ugly personal feud that had gone public. They had reached the end of their rope and wanted to know if I would manipulate search results for them. They said they had tried the online companies and their fees were too high.
Real reputation can't be won or lost changing a few search results. Reputation is earned or lost by actions over a period of time.
- Online reputation management companies are helping people so their methods must be honest. Some are, some aren't. I would hope the majority are, but then again, the business of fear is lucrative. Recently a company in California wanted to sell illegal hacker code to scrub negative results from the web. A quick glance at consumer complaint sites in the sector of online reputation management reveals that even though some companies claim to be able to fix your reputation, they have a problem with their own.
- Online reputation management is a helpful community service along the lines of consumer credit counseling services. Well, yes and no. They are a service. But make no mistake about it-these companies are for-profit businesses. Many charge exorbitant fees or require long-term subscription services with no money-back guarantee for lack of results. Like any other service you buy, do your homework. If you truly have need of an online reputation management company for ethical reasons, search consumer reviews. Talk to people that have used the services. Understand fully what your contractual obligations are and what theirs are before you sign up for a service out of desperation or fear.
Real reputation management is a long-term commitment. Despite what people say, you cannot buy a good reputation. As my grandmother used to say, "be sure your sins will find you out."