Reputation management

Reputation management refers to the influencing and controlling of an individual's or group's reputation. Originally a public relations term, the growth of the internet and social media, along with reputation management companies, have made search results a core part of an individual's or group's reputation.[1] Online reputation management, sometimes abbreviated as ORM, focuses on the management of product and service search website results.[2] Ethical grey areas include mug shot removal sites, astroturfing customer review sites, censoring negative complaints, and using search engine optimization tactics to influence results.

With extensive developments in this field of public relations, in-sync with the growth of the internet and social media, along with the advent of reputation management companies, the overall outlook of search results has become an integral part of what defines "reputation" and subsequent to all these developments, reputation management now exists under two spheres: online and offline reputation management.

Online reputation management focuses on the management of product and service search results within the digital space.[1] A variety of electronic markets and online communities like e-Bay, Amazon and Alibaba have ORM systems built in, and using effective control nodes these can minimize the threat and protect systems from possible misuses and abuses by malicious nodes in decentralized overlay networks.[3]

Whereas, offline reputation management refers to the process of managing public perception of a said entity outside the digital sphere using select clearly defined controls and measures towards a desired result ideally representing what stakeholders think and feel about that entity.[4] Wherein, the most popular controls for off-line reputation management include social responsibility, media visibility, press releases in print media and sponsorship amongst related tools.[5]


Reputation is a social construct based on the opinion other people hold about a person or thing. Before the internet was developed, consumers wanting to learn about a company had few options. They had access to resources such as the Yellow Pages, but mostly relied on word-of-mouth. A company's reputation depended on personal experience. A company grew and expanded based on the market's perception of the brand. Public relations was developed to manage the image and build the reputation of a company or individual. The concept was initially created to broaden public relations outside of media relations.[6] Academic studies have identified it as a driving force behind Fortune 500 corporate public relations since the beginning of the 21st century.[7]

Originally, public relations included printed media, events and networking campaigns. In 1998, Google was founded. The popularity of the internet introduced new marketing and branding opportunities. Where once journalists were the main source of media content, blogs, review sites and social media gave a voice to consumers regardless of qualification. Public relations became part of online reputation management (ORM). ORM includes traditional reputation strategies of public relations but also focus n building a long-term reputation strategy that is consistent across all web-based channels and platforms. ORM includes search engine reputation management which is designed to counter negative search results and elevate positive content.[8][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 on eBay were undertaking reputation management by selling products at a discount in exchange for positive feedback to game the system.[10]

Online reputation management

Reputation management (sometimes referred to as rep management or ORM) is the practice of attempting to shape public perception of a person or organization by influencing information about that entity, primarily online.[11] What necessitates this shaping of perceptions being the role of consumers in any organisation and the cognisance of how much if ignored these perceptions may harm a company's performance at any time of the year, a risk no entrepreneur or company executive can afford.[12]

Specifically, reputation management involves the monitoring of the reputation of an individual or a brand on the internet, addressing content which is potentially damaging to it, and using customer feedback to try to solve problems before they damage the individual's or brand's reputation.[13] A major part of reputation management involves suppressing negative search results, while highlighting positive ones.[14] For businesses, reputation management usually involves an attempt to bridge the gap between how a company perceives itself and how others view it.[15]


A fast-growing discipline and corporate necessity, reputation management is widely acknowledged as a valuable intangible asset which can be one of the most important sources of competitive edge in a fiercely competitive market,[16] and with firms constantly under increased scrutiny from the business community, regulators, and corporate governance watchdogs good reputation management practices continue to help firms cope with this scrutiny.[17]

Other benefits of sound reputation management practices is how much they reinforce and aid a corporation's branding objectives which on their own along the way play a paramount role in helping a company meet its marketing and business communication objectives, a key driver towards how much any company can go towards increasing profits and its market share. Good reputation management practices are also important in helping any entity manage staff confidence as a control tool on public perceptions which if undermined and ignored can be costly, which in the long run may cripple employee confidence, a risk no employer would dare explore as staff morale is one of the most important drivers of company performance.[18]

In 2011, controversy around the Taco Bell restaurant chain arose when public accusations were made that their "seasoned beef" product was only made up of only 35% real beef. A class action lawsuit was filed by the law firm Beasley Allen against Taco Bell. The suit was voluntarily withdrawn 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."[19][20] 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 attempted to draw attention to the voluntary withdrawal of the case.[21]


Companies often attempt to manage their reputations on websites that many people visit, such as eBay,[22] Wikipedia, and Google. Some of the tactics used by reputation management firms include:[23]

  • Improving the tagging and search engine optimization of company-published materials, such as white papers and positive customer testimonials in order to push down negative content.[24]
  • Publishing original, positive websites and social media profiles, with the aim of outperforming negative results in a search.[25]
  • Submitting online press releases to authoritative websites in order to promote brand presence and suppress negative content.
  • Submitting legal take-down requests if someone believes they have been libeled.[26]
  • Getting mentions of the business or individual on third-party sites that rank highly on Google.[26]
  • Creating fake, positive reviews of the individual or business to counteract negative ones.[26]
  • Using spambots and denial-of-service attacks to force sites with damaging content off the web entirely.
  • Astroturfing third-party websites by creating anonymous accounts that create positive reviews or lash out against negative ones.[26]
  • Proactively offering free products to prominent reviewers.[27]
  • Removing online mug shots.[28]
  • Proactively responding to public criticism stemming from recent changes.[27]
  • Removing or suppressing images that are embarrassing or violate copyright.[29]
  • Contacting Wikipedia editors to remove allegedly incorrect information from the Wikipedia pages of businesses they represent.[30]


The practice of reputation management raises many ethical questions.[26][31] It is widely disagreed upon where the line for disclosure, astroturfing, and censorship should be drawn. 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.[8][24] The exposure of unethical reputation management can itself be risky to the reputation of a firm that attempts it.[32]

Some firms practice ethical forms of reputation management. Google considers there to be nothing inherently wrong with reputation management,[25] and even introduced a toolset in 2011 for users to monitor their online identity and request the removal of unwanted content.[33] Many firms are selective about clients they accept. For example, they may avoid individuals who committed violent crimes who are looking to push information about their crimes lower on search results.[26]

In 2010 a study showed that Naymz, one of the first Web 2.0 services to provide utilities for Online Reputation Management (ORM), had developed a method to assess the online reputation of its members (RepScore) that was rather easy to deceive. The study found that the highest level of online reputation was easily achieved by engaging a small social group of nine persons who connect with each other and provide reciprocal positive feedbacks and endorsements.[34] As of December 2017, Naymz was shut down.

In 2015, the online retailer sued 1,114 people who were paid to publish fake five-star reviews for products. These reviews were created using a website for microtasks,[35][36][37] Several 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".[38]

In 2016, the Washington Post detailed 25 court cases, at least 15 of which had false addresses for the defendant. The court cases had similar language and the defendant agreed to the injunction by the plaintiff, which allowed the reputation management company to issue takedown notices to Google, Yelp, Leagle, Ripoff Report, various news sites, and other websites.[39]

See also


  1. "9 Online Reputation Management Services Entrepreneurs can Achieve by Themselves". Forbes. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  2. Yu, Bin; P. Singh, Munindar (2000). "A social mechanism of reputation management in electronic communities" (PDF). Cooperative Information Agents IV-The Future of Information Agents in Cyberspace. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. 1860. Springer. pp. 154–165. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/978-3-540-45012-2_15. ISBN 978-3-540-67703-1.
  3. Mudhakar Srivatsa; Li Xiong; Ling Liu (2005). TrustGuard: Countering Vulnerabilities in Reputation Management for Decentralized Overlay Networks (PDF). WWW '05 Proceedings of the 14th international conference on World Wide Web. doi:10.1145/1060745.1060808.
  4. Hall, R. 1992. The Strategic Analysis of Intangible Resources. Strateg. Manage. J. 13(2) 135
  5. (What's in a Name? Reputation Building and Corporate Strategy, Fombrun, Charles; Shanley, Mark, Academy of Management Journal; Jun 1990; 33, 2; ABI/INFORM Global, pp239 – 240.)
  6. S. Jai, Shankar (June 1, 1999). "Reputation is everything". New Straits Times (Malaysia).
  7. Hutton, James G.; Goodman, Michael B.; Alexander, Jill B.; Genest, Christina M. (2001). "Reputation management: the new face of corporate public relations?". Public Relations Review. 27 (3): 247–261. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(01)00085-6.
  8. John Tozzi (April 30, 2008). "Do Reputation Management Services Work?". Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  9. Bilton, Nick (April 4, 2011). "The Growing Business of Online Reputation Management". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
  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. Sepandar D. Kamvar; Mario T. Schlosser; Hector Garcia-Molina. The EigenTrust Algorithm for Reputation Management in P2P Networks (PDF). WWW '03 Proceedings of the 12th international conference on World Wide Web. doi:10.1145/775152.775242.
  13. Milo, Moryt (2013-05-17). "Great Businesses Lean Forward, Respond Fast". Silicon Valley Business Journal. Retrieved 2013-09-05.
  14. Lieb, Rebecca (July 10, 2012). "How Your Content Strategy Is Critical For Reputation Management". MarketingLand. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
  15. "MT Masterclass - Reputation management". Management Today. May 1, 2007.
  16. Weigelt, K., and C. Camerer (1988). "Reputation and corporate strategy: A review of recent theory and applications." Strategic Management Journal 9: 443-454.
  17. (Hymowitz, C. (2003). 'How to be a good director?', Wall Street Journal, 241, pp. R1–R4).
  18. Cravens, Karen S.; Oliver, Elizabeth Goad (1 July 2006). "Employees: The key link to corporate reputation management". Business Horizons. 49 (4): 293–302. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2005.10.006.
  19. "Alabama's Beasley Allen law firm drops suit against Taco Bell over 'seasoned beef' claims". Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  20. "With Lawsuit Over, Taco Bell's Mystery Meat Is A Mystery No Longer". Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  21. Macedo, Diane (2011-04-26). "Taco Bell Still Has Beef With Firm That Dropped Lawsuit | Fox News". Fox News. Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  22. 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 Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. Spencer, Stephan (September 12, 2007). "DIY reputation management". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  24. Thomas Hoffman (February 12, 2008). "Online reputation management is hot -- but is it ethical?". Computerworld. John Amato. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  25. Kinzie, Susan; Ellen Nakashima (July 2, 2007). "Calling In Pros to Refine Your Google Image". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  26. Krazit, Tom (January 11, 2011). "A primer on online reputation management". CNET. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  27. Thompson, Nicholas (June 23, 2003). "More Companies Pay Heed to Their 'Word of Mouse' Reputation". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  28. "Published mug shots: A constant reminder of one man's past". CNN.COM. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  29. Giovinco, Steven W. "Image Reputation Management: What It Is, And Why You Should Care". Medium. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  30. Holiday, Ryan (August 28, 2012). "How to solve your Wikipedia problem". Fortune. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  31. Farmer, Yanick (2018-01-02). "Ethical Decision Making and Reputation Management in Public Relations" (PDF). Journal of Media Ethics. 33 (1): 2–13. doi:10.1080/23736992.2017.1401931. ISSN 2373-6992.
  32. "Reputation management: Glitzkrieg". The Economist. Economist Group. March 10, 2011. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  33. Kessler, Sarah (June 16, 2011). "Google Launches Tool for Online Reputation Management". Mashable. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  34. Lazzari, Marco (2010). An experiment on the weakness of reputation algorithms used in professional social networks: the case of Naymz. IADIS International Conference e-Society 2010. Porto. pp. 519–522. ISBN 978-972-8939-07-6.
  35. "Don't Be Fooled by Fake Online Reviews Part II — Krebs on Security".
  36. Tuttle, Brad. "Amazon Files Lawsuit Against Writers of Fake Online Reviews".
  37. Gani, Aisha. "Amazon sues 1,000 'fake reviewers'". the Guardian.
  38. "I created a fake business and bought it an amazing online reputation". Fusion.
  39. Volokh, Eugene; Paul Alan Levy (10 October 2016). "Dozens of suspicious court cases, with missing defendants, aim at getting web pages taken down or deindexed". The Washington Post.
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