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Reputation management is the ongoing monitoring of public discussions about a business, brand, or individual with the goal of controlling presentation to the public. A number of firms offer reputation management services, sometimes at very high prices for full packages. People and companies can also handle their own reputation management if they are computer savvy and have the time required to do the legwork.
Businesses and individuals have always been concerned with protecting their reputations, but the issue has become especially acute with the advent of the Internet. The permanent storage of material and vast volume of information means that people can find old and sometimes suspect information that could damage a reputation. Companies and people that engage in reputation management use a variety of tactics to keep their public presentation positive.
At its most basic, reputation management involves monitoring the Internet for any new mentions of a person, business, brand, product, or service. Any time a mention comes up, it is checked to determine whether it is positive, neutral, or negative. Negative discussions are addressed in a variety of ways, ranging from trying to get negative content removed to promoting positive content so that the negative content drops in search rankings. The goal is to ensure that positive content comes to light before negative content and to make positive content appear to have more credibility.
Some removal tools are simple. An angry blogger displeased with customer service might be appeased with a personal letter of apology. Clearly false content may be removed by an Internet service provider in response to a legal demand letter or court order. Some reputation managers use other techniques, such as offering payments to sites that will agree to take negative content down or countering a poor reputation on a social networking site with an outreach campaign to drown out a few negative comments and posts with positive feedback.
This is part of online identity management, the process of controlling identity and presentation online. Reputation management is an extremely useful and very powerful tool for people who want to promote themselves and their companies online. Failure to keep up with Internet gossip can result in being slow to realize a customer relations problem. Being proactive allows companies to identify consumers, network with them, and reach swift resolutions to problems as they emerge. Companies that take the time to personally reach out to dissatisfied customers can actually enjoy a boost in reputation, as consumers write about the satisfactory resolution of their problem.
Sometimes, reputation management is as simple as making sure the wrong people don't speak for the company. Having said that, a company also does not want to stonewall people, because that makes it look like they have something to hide, and that can kill a good reputation faster than a company making a major blunder and being open and admitting it.
It's always better to own up to a mistake than to circle the wagons and play shut-mouth. That always, always backfires.
Companies live or die on their reputation for doing what they do well. For instance, I work for a newspaper, and a newspaper stands or falls on its reputation for credibility. If you don't believe it, look at the hit the New York Times took a while back when that reporter admitted to making up stories. Bad move.
Sometimes, credibility comes down to something as simple as minor errors. Constant, minor errors in copy will gradually erode a newspaper's credibility because readers will start wondering, if they can't count on a newspaper to get the little things right, can they be trusted for the big things? Typos really can hurt a newspaper, or any media outlet. I don't think some outlets realize how much people really are watching what they do.
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