Reputation management

Reputation management refers to influencing and controlling an individual's or business's reputation. Originally a public relations term, the expansion of the internet and social media, along with reputation management companies, have made it primarily an issue of search results.[1] Online reputation management, sometimes abbreviated as ORM, is primarily concerned with managing the results on websites that evaluate products and services and make recommendations and referrals.[2] Ethical grey areas include mug shot removal sites, astroturfing review sites, censoring negative complaints or using search engine optimization tactics to influence results.


The concept was initially intended to broaden public relations outside of media relations.[3] Academic studies have identified it as a driving force behind Fortune 500 corporate public relations since the beginning of the 21st century.[4] As the Internet and social media became more popular, the meaning has shifted to focus on electronic communities, such as review sites, social media and—most prominently—the top search results on a brand or individual.[5][6]

In 2011, controversy around the Taco Bell chain of restaurants arose when public accusations were made that their "seasoned beef" product was only made up of 35% real beef. A class action lawsuit was filed by law firm Beasley Allen on January 21, 2011, based around these allegations. The suit was voluntarily withdrawn, with no verdict reached, settlement made or money exchanged, and with Beasley Allen citing that "From the inception of this case, we stated that if Taco Bell would make certain changes regarding disclosure and marketing of its 'seasoned beef' product, the case could be dismissed."[7][8] Taco Bell responded to the case being withdrawn by launching a reputation management campaign titled "Would it kill you to say you're sorry?" that ran advertisements in various news outlets in print and online, which was focused on drawing attention to the voluntary withdrawal of the case.[9]

Some businesses have adopted unethical means to falsely improve their reputations. In 2007, a study by the University of California Berkeley found that some sellers were undertaking reputation management on eBay by selling products at a discount in exchange for positive feedback to game the system.[10]


Reputation management (sometimes referred to as rep management, online reputation management or ORM) is the practice of attempting to shape public perception of a person or organization by influencing online information about that entity.[11]

Specifically, reputation management aims on monitoring the reputation of an individual or a brand on the internet, addressing content which is potentially damaging to it, and using customer feedback solutions to get feedback or early warning signals to reputation problems.[12] Most of reputation management is focused on pushing down negative search results.[13] Under business circumstances, reputation management may attempt to bridge the gap between how a company perceives itself and how others view it.[14]


Some examples of websites where a company may conduct reputation management are the feedback system on eBay,[15] and Wikipedia. Google searching is a primary target of reputation management efforts. Some of the tactics used by reputation management firms include:[16]


The practice of reputation management raises many ethical considerations.[19] There is no agreement within the industry on where to draw the line on issues of disclosure, astroturfing, and censorship. Firms have been known to hire staff to pose as bloggers on third party sites without disclosing they were paid, and some have been criticized for asking websites to remove negative posts.[5][17] In some instances, the act of unethical reputation management can itself be risky to the reputation of the firm, if their tactics to hide negative information are exposed.[24] Mug shot removal services have been connected to mug shot publishing websites, resulting in a combined business model that Forbes referred to as the "embarrassment extortion industry."[25]

Some firms practice ethical forms of reputation management. The Online Reputation Management Association tries to promote ethical best practices through a certification program.[5] Google considers there to be nothing inherently wrong with reputation management as the industry was formed in 2007.[18] Google even introduced a toolset in 2011 for users to monitor their online identity and request removal of unwanted content.[26] Many firms are selective about clients they accept. For example, they may avoid individuals that committed violent crimes that are looking to push information about their crimes lower on search results.[19]

As the industry has developed, general practices have become more standardized and the ethics of them have become more defined, although not always explicitly. The use of automation by some of the major review sites like Yelp has seen court cases dismissed,[27] which may imply the use of algorithms to manage reviews is here to stay. In a different case, the automotive review site sued a reputation management firm for posting fake reviews.[28] Lawsuits like these may be an indicator that the review sites and other industry leaders are attempting to bring more transparency to online reviews while limiting manipulation by firms that are paid by businesses or consumers to artificially boost ratings or suppress negative reviews.

In 2015 online retailer sued 1,114 people who were paid to publish fake five star reviews for products. These reviews were placed using a website for microtasks called[29][30][31] A number of other companies offer fake Yelp and Facebook reviews, and one journalist amassed five star reviews for a business that doesn't exist, from social media accounts that have also given overwhelmingly positive reviews to "a chiropractor in Arizona, a hair salon in London, a limo company in North Carolina, a realtor in Texas, and a locksmith in Florida, among other far-flung businesses."[32]


According to a 2010 study by Microsoft and Cross-Tab Market Research, 70 percent of companies have rejected candidates based on the candidate's online reputation, but only 7 percent of Americans believe it affects their job search.[33] A survey by found that 1 in 4 hiring managers used search engines to screen candidates. One in 10 also checked candidates' profiles on social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook.[34] According to a December 2007 survey by the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research organization, roughly half of U.S. hiring officials use the Internet in vetting job applications.[35]

A joint study by online reputation management company BrandYourself and Harris Interactive found that:

There are cases of reputable organizations or individuals—even those with newly created websites—that may find their brand or name listed in search engine's suggestions as scam. Domain names can be critical to an organization or person's reputation[40] Such negative suggestions which are harmful to the reputation of the organization or individual are often caused by negative contents on personal blogs, complaint sites, scraper sites, forums and comment sections. In such cases where it is not possible to ask for the negative contents to be taken down, experts agree that reputation management is justifiable in this regard, and some experts advise that the proper thing to do is to push down the visibility of such negative search engine results through proactively publishing useful, positive information about the organizations or individuals.[41]

According to a report from New York Times, negative internet review may not damage the reputation of business, but help it thrive because it gives the company a higher position in the rank of Google search results. The owner of a company which sell fake sunglass, who benefits a lot from the positive effect of negative reviews, refers to this phenomenon "NEGATIVE advertisement". In this case, negative reviews are just part of his sales strategy.[42]

See also


  1. "10 Things You Need To Know About Online Reputation Management". Forbes. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  2. Yu, Bin; P. Singh, Munindar (2000). "A social mechanism of reputation management in electronic communities". Cooperative Information Agents IV-The Future of Information Agents in Cyberspace (PDF). Springer. pp. 154–165. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-45012-2_15.
  3. S. Jai, Shankar (June 1, 1999). "Reputation is everything". New Straits Times (Malaysia).
  4. "Reputation management: the new face of corporate public relations?". James G. Huttona, Michael B. Goodmana, Jill B. Alexandera, Christina M. Genesta. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 John Tozzi (April 30, 2008). "Do Reputation Management Services Work?". Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  6. Bilton, Nick (April 4, 2011). "The Growing Business of Online Reputation Management". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
  7. "Alabama's Beasley Allen law firm drops suit against Taco Bell over 'seasoned beef' claims". Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  8. "With Lawsuit Over, Taco Bell's Mystery Meat Is A Mystery No Longer". Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  9. Macedo, Diane (2011-04-26). "Taco Bell Still Has Beef With Firm That Dropped Lawsuit | Fox News". Fox News. Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  10. Mills, Elinor (January 11, 2007). "Study: eBay sellers gaming the reputation system?". CNET. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  11. "What is reputation management? - Definition from". Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  12. Milo, Moryt (2013-05-17). "Great Businesses Lean Forward, Respond Fast". Silicon Valley Business Journal. Retrieved 2013-09-05.
  13. Lieb, Rebecca (July 10, 2012). "How Your Content Strategy Is Critical For Reputation Management". MarketingLand. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
  14. "MT Masterclass - Reputation management". Management Today. May 1, 2007.
  15. Resnick, Paul; Zeckhause, Richard (May 2, 2001). "Trust among strangers in internet transactions: Empirical analysis of eBay's reputation system". Emerald Group Publishing Limited. CiteSeerX accessible.
  16. Stephan Spencer (September 12, 2007). "DIY reputation management". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  17. 1 2 Thomas Hoffman (February 12, 2008). "Online reputation management is hot -- but is it ethical?". Computerworld. John Amato. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  18. 1 2 Kinzie, Susan; Ellen Nakashima (July 2, 2007). "Calling In Pros to Refine Your Google Image". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Krazit, Tom (January 11, 2011). "A primer on online reputation management". CNET. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  20. 1 2 Thompson, Nicholas (June 23, 2003). "More Companies Pay Heed to Their 'Word of Mouse' Reputation". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  21. "Published mug shots: A constant reminder of one man's past". CNN.COM. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  22. Giovinco, Steven W. "Image Reputation Management: What It Is, And Why You Should Care". Medium. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  23. Holiday, Ryan (August 28, 2012). "How to solve your Wikipedia problem.". Fortune. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  24. "Reputation management: Glitzkrieg". The Economist. Economist Group. March 10, 2011. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  25. Hill, Kashmir (October 7, 2013). "Payment Providers And Google Will Kill The Mug-Shot Extortion Industry Faster Than Lawmakers Can". Forbes. Retrieved October 18, 2015.
  26. Kessler, Sarah (June 16, 2011). "Google Launches Tool for Online Reputation Management". Mashable. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  27. "Lawsuit Accusing Yelp of Extorting Businesses is Dismissed". PC World. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  28. " sues "reputation management" firm". Consumer Affairs. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  30. Brad Tuttle. "Amazon Files Lawsuit Against Writers of Fake Online Reviews".
  31. Aisha Gani. "Amazon sues 1,000 'fake reviewers'". the Guardian.
  32. "I created a fake business and bought it an amazing online reputation". Fusion.
  33. Purewal, Sarah (January 11, 2011). "How to clean up your online reputation". PCWorld. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  34. Cristian Lupsa (November 29, 2006). "Do you need a Web publicist?". The Christian Science Monitor.
  35. Ellen Nakashima (March 7, 2007). "Harsh Words Die Hard on the Web". Washington Post.
  36. BrandYourself (October 15, 2012). "Online Reputation Management: Does it Matter? (2012)" (PDF). BrandYourself & Harris Interactive.
  37. Sree Sreenivasan (October 14, 2012). "How Googling others affects voting, hiring and dating". CNET.
  38. Andy Vuong (October 12, 2012). "Three out of four U.S. adults Google themselves, and half don't like the results". The Denver Post.
  39. Michael Hess (Nov 7, 2012). "Your own name might be a business liability". CBS.
  40. Ha, Anthony (21 June 2013). "Thanks To A Six-Figure Purchase By Reputation Changer, Is A Thing Now". TechCrunch. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  41. Susan Moskwa (October 15, 2009). "Managing your reputation through search results". Google Official Blog. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  42. David Segal (November 26, 2010). "A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web". New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
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