The History of Reputation Management

ORM is a relatively new concept. It’s based on enhancing trust and credibility.

Long before Google and social media brought everything online, businesses grew and expanded based on their reputation and how the market perceived a brand. Online reputation management (ORM) is a comparatively new concept, but it’s based on the same business principles: trust and credibility.

Before the internet age, businesses managed their brand image, built their reputation, and expanded their network using a range of different public relations (PR) activities.

Timeline of reputation management

The historical evolution of reputation management is a testament to the critical role it has played in shaping perception, driving trust, and influencing people’s behavior. In ancient civilizations, reputation was paramount to social and economic standing. Today, reputation is managed on a global scale by engineering search results, social media, Wikipedia, online reviews, and more.

Ancient Civilizations (circa 600 BC – 400 AD)

Reputation management can be traced back to the Greek and Roman times, when systems were developed to rate the trustworthiness of merchants. This basic form of reputation management served them well as reputation was generally carried by word-of-mouth. There is even evidence of its use with ancient peoples, starting with a clay tablet in ancient Iraq.

Middle Ages (5th – 15th Century)

The Middle Ages is the time when reputation was being weaponized as a means to achieve political and social goals. Leaders would even pay bards and poets to create narratives that exalted their achievements (and defamed or made fun of their rivals). This early form of reputation manipulation showed the power reputation had on public perception.

Industrial Age (1760 – 1940)

As society entered the Industrial Age, businesses started harnessing the power of reputation to attract customers in a commercial sense. With the advent of print media, reputation management took on a new form where companies could shape public opinion about their products and services using mass advertising, radio, and other means available at the time. This era also saw the rise of smear campaigns where companies would attempt to tarnish their competitors’ reputations.

Dawn of Public Relations (1900 – late 20th Century)

This period marked the emergence of PR pioneers like Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, who developed strategies to manage the reputation of businesses and individuals. Evolving television and radio further expanded the reach of these strategies to the mass market of the modern era. This is also when we began to see the institutionalization of reputation management practices.

The Internet Age (1990s – present)

The Internet brought about a paradigm shift in reputation management. Everything began to accelerate. With the evolving power of the internet allowed companies to wield, reputations could be made or destroyed with a few mouse clicks. Online reputation management (ORM) became a concern in the C-suite, making reputation management more complex as platforms proliferated.

Google Era (2000s – present)

Google opened a world of problems and opportunities for businesses around the globe. The internet introduced new marketing and branding avenues but, at the same time, made it difficult for businesses to manage a consistent brand image on the web. Why? Because where once journalists ruled, bloggers and review sites began to spring up overnight. In an age when the average Twitter (now “X”) user had 707 followers, everyone seemed to have a voice regardless of qualification.

original google logo

Search engines like Google made reputational problems more permanent and visible to a wider audience.

Conventional PR was never equipped to deal with the new challenge because of the highly technical nature of the new virtual world. The old-guard PR companies began to change, but at a glacial pace in comparison to new technologies. This gave rise to the modern breed of online reputation management companies that we see today. Companies that do one thing and one thing only — manage online reputation.

Negative information, true or false, can stay online for years and reach a global audience within seconds, highlighting the critical need for proactive ORM strategies. The introduction of AI into search, especially with ChatGPT, Perplexity, and Google’s Gemini, is forcing internet reputation companies to adapt at lightning speed to changing technologies.

Reputation management today and beyond

Done correctly, modern-day online reputation management results in the elevation of positive content in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP)s and builds a much more long-term and credible brand image on the web.

ORM is now considered a key part of corporate reputation marketing and branding. Studies show that:

  • 58% of Fortune 500 executives believe reputation management should be a core part of every organization’s marketing and branding strategy.
  • 84% of marketers believe building trust will be the primary focus of future marketing campaigns.
  • Overall, B2B spending on ORM will grow to 35% by 2019.

Organizations are starting to understand that online reputation management cannot be executed in isolation and needs to be a part of their overall brand strategy in addition to traditional PR and SEO.

This is why smart businesses are hiring online reputation management companies today to secure and protect their reputations, not just for the short term but for years to come.

About the author

Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning online reputation management agency. He has over 15 years of experience with SEO, Wikipedia editing, review management, and online reputation strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics.

Tags: Online Reputation Management, Online Reputation Management Services, Online Reputation Repair, Reputation Management.

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