What Is Reputation Management?

Reputation management is the effort to influence what and how stakeholders think of a brand or person.

To a large extent, reputation management seeks to influence an essential metric called "sentiment" by changing what people see during search, social, and other online interactions. Reputation management can also affect the offline world as well. 

Reputation management is a practice. The actions that are taken during a reputation management program often include work in customer experience, online marketing, social media, search engine results, ratings and reviews, and customer satisfaction.

Sections

Terms describing reputation management

Whatever you call it, the goal is to shape public perception of a person or business. This article will answer some of the most common questions regarding reputation management.


Summary

This article will delve into the how's and why's of online reputation management and what you can do to maintain or improve your reputation. 

  • We’ll first provide a more detailed explanation of reputation management, demonstrating just how important a good reputation is.
  • Second, we’ll demonstrate the amount of control you have over your reputation.
  • Finally, we’ll offer some simple guidelines to how you can manage your reputation. 

Everyone can benefit from learning more about the topic, whether you are just starting to build a personal brand or are in charge of public relations for a major corporation. If your company’s reputation is at risk, grasping the basics of reputation management is critical for your business’s ongoing survival.

If you want to shape your own personal reputation, then knowing what’s at stake, who’s in control and how to influence people’s perceptions starts with the same foundational question: What is reputation management?

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Definition of reputation management

Reputation management is the effort to influence how people think of a brand or person.

In our definition, we pay special attention to three words:

  1. Influence

    As a broad term, “influence” could mean many things. By “influencing” someone’s reputation, we usually mean to improve someone’s reputation, although there are organizations that do the opposite. We can measure how much we’ve influenced a brand or person’s reputation by tracking an essential metric: sentiment. The success of any reputation management campaign can be summarized as having improved sentiment, reduced sentiment, or not affected sentiment at all. We measure sentiment by tracking, aggregating, and categorizing keywords on Google to create a general picture of how people feel about a brand or person.

  2. People

    “People” usually refers to the specific audience that is most important to a brand or person’s success or happiness. For a brand, a reputation management campaign might work with the client to identify a key target audience with which to improve sentiment. Oftentimes, improving sentiment with one audience can create a cascading effect that improves a client’s reputation with other audiences as well. 
    Online Reputation Management firms can select audiences with which to improve sentiment by improving search results for specific search keyphrases on Google. By focusing efforts on the search results pages for a few keyphrases, reputation management firms can most effectively create a lasting positive impression with a client’s audience. 

  3. Brand

In reputation management terms, we often think of everything as a brand. If you’re a human being reading this article, you have a personal brand. It also has an associated brand if you’re working for an organization. If there’s a tree in the woods that’s been observed by anyone, it has a brand.

In practice, improving someone’s brand usually involves reducing negative exposure (removing harmful content and reviews from sites) and increasing positive exposure (adding content and reviews to sites). The combination of negative content about a brand, positive content about a brand, and the level of exposure to that content, usually determines the public sentiment of that brand.

The above definition covers what reputation management is at its core. But of course, there is much more to it. In this section, we’ll build out this nascent definition of reputation management by explaining six critical aspects:

  • Reputation management happens mostly online
  • Reputation affects sales and marketing
  • Reputation is important both for personalities and businesses
  • About 87% reverse a purchase decision if there are reputation issues
  • Can reputation management be abused?
  • Is reputation management a legitimate practice?

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1. Reputation management happens mostly online

You cannot control what a person thinks. But you can control what they see, which in turn shapes the way they think. Today, the most accessible medium for communication is the internet.

A vast amount of communication happens online. We meet friends, solve disagreements, discover new businesses, and read the news. We even spend our leisure time online. It’s inevitable; therefore, that reputation management happens mostly in the online space; in fact, reputation management and online reputation management are now virtually synonymous.

So reputation management happens online because that's where most of our communication happens. But there's another reason as well, in the online world, one doesn't focus on changing minds individually. Instead, judges of reputation like Google, Yelp, online publications, and YouTube are often targeted. 

These massive media platforms are sometimes the "gatekeepers" of online communication. They have the power to moderate content, or not to (this is one of the reasons why moguls have recently pushed to create alternative social platforms - Elon Musk with Twitter and Donald Trump with Truth Social). 

2. Reputation affects sales and marketing

Reputation management as a practice resides within the wide world of sales and marketing. Why? Because what people think of a brand influences everything about that brand. It's nearly impossible to market or sell a product to a clientele that doesn't trust or believe in your brand. 

With a good reputation management plan, you can clear the way for positive messages to have the maximum effect. The better your reputation, the better your leads, conversion rate, and quality of interaction with your clients.

3. Reputation is essential both for personalities and businesses

Businesses and large organizations tend to be most equipped to hire firms to manage their reputations, but reputation management is important for individuals too. It's essential for the ex-convict trying to get a job in 2022. It’s an area of interest for the billionaire hedge fund manager attempting to cover up an extramarital dalliance gone public. It was critical for the singer who accidentally made a big real estate photography mistake even bigger - in fact, it coined a new term, the Streisand Effect

Since personalities often are businesses, it makes sense that they would benefit from reputation management. Most people in the modern world cannot live their lives in anonymity. If people know your name, they'll Google your name. It’s just what people do.

They're not just Googling your name. They also read your business’ reviews and discuss your brand on social media. With all of these different channels at play and the many ways to quickly damage your reputation, it’s essential to take an active stance to show your best side online. 

Those of us without an outsize personality or billions to our name can sometimes afford to manage our reputations ourselves - it's called DIY reputation management. We're good to go after posting a flattering photo on Facebook, an Instagram highlights reel or a resume on LinkedIn that only slightly exaggerates our finer points. People do it every day, especially influencers

Individuals with more at stake — like a money-making personality or billions to their name — may need to bring in the big guns.

4. 87% of consumers reverse a purchase decision if there are reputation issues

As we’ve pointed out, if your reputation is down the tubes, so is your business. 60% of customers say that negative reviews made them not want to use a business. 

Unsurprisingly, businesses shell out tens of thousands of dollars a month to preserve or improve their reputations. If you knew you could prevent a potentially devastating crisis, wouldn’t you pay the comparatively small price for a good reputation?

As search engines have replaced word-of-mouth referrals, online reputation management has become an industry that purports to exercise massive sway over public opinion. A company’s reputation is its Yelp rating, New York Times takedown, or viral Colbert burn. What appears at the top of the search results is what people see, believe, and respond to.

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5. Can reputation management be abused?

Like nearly everything in life, reputation management has an ethical dark side. You can’t simply decide that reputation management is inherently evil or good. It’s used for both (Reputation X is one of the good guys, by the way).

And, yes, reputation management does have its abusers. Every once in a while, a company will intentionally mar the reputation of a competitor for its gain. In the age of information warfare, flooding the internet with fake news about organizations or people has been proven to work.  

Thankfully, the bulk of reputation management is not bad. 

Reputation X never harms the reputation or wellbeing of businesses or individuals, and most of our direct competitors don't either. 

6. Is reputation management a legitimate practice?

Yes. Reputation management exists partly because people are more likely to believe, share and spread negative news than they are positive news. We, as humans, have evolved to react to threats, which has developed a "negativity bias." Essentially, bad news gets more clicks, more attention, and, ultimately more revenue for the media outlets. That's why a single misstep can snowball to have lasting effects on your reputation.

Like a garden, reputations need tending. Yet many businesses lack the time, expertise, or knowledge to touch up their Wikipedia article, polish up the About Us page, or solicit a few more positive reviews on review sites like Glassdoor, Yelp, or Google Reviews. Most organizations aren't utilizing techniques like search engine optimization (SEO) to their fullest extent. 

A local mom-and-pop coffee shop may need professional insight into improving its Yelp ratings. An online retailer may want help sprucing up their Amazon product descriptions, ratings, etc. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reputation management. There are, however, a number of legitimate, ethical, and effective tools to navigate the process.

Who's in control of your reputation?

Perhaps the most salient reputation management question to answer is: who’s in control of your reputation? This is the most significant sticking point in understanding reputation management, and it’s a huge reason reputation mismanagement is rampant. Misunderstanding this crucial first point leads to many sins, false steps, confusion, and outright blunders.

A brand or individual has no control over what people think. But they have a degree of control over what people see and can therefore manage what they think.

Reputation management deals in sentiment and visibility, where cognitive biases, individual perceptions, search results, and past experiences wield enormous power.

How to do online reputation management

There are plenty of options for managing your online reputation. You can invest in reputation management software, contact a reputation management company, or take a DIY approach. Whatever method you choose to manage your reputation, a few basics are helpful for developing your reputation strategy. 

Reputation management is a process of collecting insights, developing effective strategies, and executing tactics to improve your online presence and grow your business.

The first step in developing a reputation strategy is to understand where your reputation lives. In today's digital world, your reputation is unfolding in many places. These various platforms can be difficult to manage. 

The internet is a vast place, but there are a few critical platforms that matter most:

These platforms are the building blocks that form your digital reputation. People visit these websites to find information, connect with like-minded people, and make purchases. You must take steps to manage your brand’s reputation on these platforms. If negative news about your business appears on one or more of these websites, it can cripple your business.

What do you control about your reputation?

In reputation management, control comes down to the domains you're working with - the websites, social media platforms, forums, and publications that are relevant to you. Regarding your reputation, we recommend you categorize the domains in your industry by the degree of control you have over them. We use three categories, domains where you have:

  • Full control - domains where you have free right of speech. This category could include your website, blog, social media accounts, and any secondary websites that you own
  • Moderated control - domains where you can communicate as a contributor but where a third party vets your content. This category includes sites like Wikipedia, Medium and Business Insider
  • No control - domains where you have no control. Most sites fall under this category - major publications, social media pages that don't belong to you, and other websites

With domains in mind, here are some active steps you can take to attempt to control what people see about you online. 

To maintain a positive online reputation, you can: 

  • Assess your current situation: Start by simply Googling yourself or your company. Take note of what comes up and whether your search results are mostly positive or negative. There are reputation monitoring tools to help as well. 
  • Monitor your search results: Keep a careful watch on what is being said about you online. On social media platforms, respond to comments (whether they are positive or negative). If they are negative, work to improve your process to avoid repeating it in the future.
  • Create positive content: Focus on the domains you can control (your website, blog, social media pages) to create positive content. Reviews can often be improved fairly quickly using review management tools
  • Focus on your brand: Your overall brand is key here. Be transparent, and work from the inside out to make sure that your brand is what you say it is online.

What don’t you control about your reputation?

Journalists

Journalists and the articles they write cannot be removed from the internet. But with time, they can become forgotten.

Content on privately owned sites

In most cases, content on privately owned sites cannot be taken down. Unless the content qualifies as libel or violates Google's terms of use, you cannot take it down by force. You can, however, create positive content that ranks above it. 

Social media trends (i.e. Twitter)

If people are badmouthing your organization or personal brand on social media, there's not much to do but wait for the storm to subside. If you're equipped to do so, you can hire a reputation management or PR firm to actively combat the opinion. If you're not and there's nothing else to do , you can address public opinion directly through statements or customer service. 

Active fomenters

Maintaining a positive reputation when another individual or organization is actively publishing content against you is difficult. If this happens to you, the best you can do is create a bulwark of your own, positive content. 

Communications can have unintended consequences

The development of reputation happens in much the same way as the process of communication:

  1. You, as the sender, communicate your reputation through your employees, branding, messaging, web presence and all the other elements of a brand.
  2. The receiver, which is any individual in the general public, decodes this message according to the specific channel of communication.
  3. Once in the receiver’s mind, the message is layered with all the life experiences, interpretations, biases and other complex issues that affect how a person understands information.

You can see how reputation communication could easily go off the rails at any point in the process. But people forget, and that's when a reputation manager can do her work by decreasing the online visibility of harmful content. 

 

Can reputation be managed?

Can reputation be managed? We've demonstrated that you can change what people see online, changing their thoughts.

So, we offer a qualified yes. Reputation can be managed.

Here are some reputation problems that reputation management often solves:

  • Negative news articles – News articles are often the first thing that people see when they Google your business’s name or peruse their news feeds. Even though people know that fake news exists, we still tend to believe what we read in the news.
  • Negative online images – Celebrities and ordinary citizens alike have been the subject of leaked photos or other negative online imagery. Thankfully, legal guidelines stipulate when such images may be removed from search indexes.
  • Wikipedia – Wikipedia is the cultural default for information on virtually every subject. Unfortunately, Wikipedia can be biased and unreliable. Reputation management must pay close attention to this site that consistently ranks high in the search engines.
  • Blog posts – Anyone can write anything they want about anyone they want unless they are clearly defaming an entity. The result is a riot of misinformation and confusion. This is another arena where reputation management can and does exert substantial impact.
  • Ripoff reports and scam sites – Like malicious blogs, some review sites are nothing more than conduits of complaint for disaffected consumers (or worse, malicious reputation destroyers). If these reports go mainstream, they can destroy brands.
  • Review sites – Review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Reviews, and others exist to help the consumer make guided choices based on what other customers have experienced. But what if a single malcontented consumer ruins an otherwise great company with a negative review? In an ideal world, the number of good reviews would counteract the outlier, but sometimes a single negative review can really hurt a small business.
  • Social media – Thankfully, social media has a shorter shelf life than anything else in this list, but it still matters. Social media is the method of choice for people recommending brands, spreading gossip, airing complaints and criticizing public figures. There is a growing science to manipulating social media to improve reputations. 

Using techniques from the field of search engine optimization, cognitive psychology, user behavior, and human-computer interaction (HCI), reputation management companies can restore equilibrium back to search results, review sites, information portals and other sources of publicly accessible information.

Reputation can be managed. By controlling what people see online to a large extent, reputation management often goes a long way toward preserving a positive reputation and keeping a business alive.

What is a reputation manager?

Reputation managers give your business a voice and an opportunity to be heard online. They address complaints, remove harmful comments, track potential issues, and provide strategic guidance on how to manage your business online. Your reputation manager may also engage your audience by participating in discussions about your brand online.

Reputation management FAQS

How can I monitor my reputation online?

Reputation management is the effort to influence what and how people think of a brand or person when viewed online. There are many different reputation management strategies that will allow you to maintain or improve your online reputation.

You may choose to manage your reputation on your own or with the help of a reputation management company. Either way, you will work to monitor and improve your reputation over time, often starting with improving your search engine results.

Setting up Google Alerts is a great first place to start monitoring your reputation online. You will see when negative news articles, blogs, reviews or images are posted, and what people are saying about you on social media. 

What if what I find is bad? How can I improve my online reputation?

Luckily, reputation can be improved over time. But it takes a lot of hard work and consistency to achieve results. If you are facing a full-blown crisis or a bout of negative publicity, there are steps you can take to turn your search results around and rebuild your online reputation.

The road to reputation recovery can be simplified into three steps:

  • Analyze the damage: Take a moment to assess the extent of the damage. Before you take any actions to respond to the damage, track existing and new press, research what is being said about you, and touch base with any investors or stakeholders.
  • Regain control: This is the time to turn the situation around. Regaining control often starts with an apology. Issue a statement apologizing for any wrongs that may have been committed, and continue to update the situation as it progresses.
  • Create a recovery roadmap: Oftentimes simply issuing an apology is not enough to recover from a bad online reputation. Once you’ve done all you can do to immediately try to improve the situation, start thinking about long-term strategies, such as creating and promoting positive content.

How do I choose a reputation management company?

A reputation management company can help improve your reputation faster and more efficiently than if you were to go it alone. An experienced reputation agency will likely have dealt with a similar situation to yours before, and will know exactly what works and what doesn’t to solve the problem.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a reputation management company:

  • How many years of experience does the company have?
  • Do they specialize in the specific area of reputation management you need help with?
  • Do they deliver exceptional customer service? Will they be available to answer any questions you may have or to deal with crises as they unfold?
  • Have you researched the company and reviewed their references/testimonials?
  • Is the reputation company any good? A lot of reputation companies aren't. 

So, what about your reputation?

In the last decade, reputation management has grown more necessary every year. With the proliferation of review sites, news media and social media, information can spread in a matter of seconds and can linger for years.

Fortunately, the tools for managing the reputations of businesses and individuals have also increased in scale and effectiveness. By understanding the power of controlled domains, sentiment analysis, and a comprehensive reputation management strategy, you can mitigate reputation crises and foster consistent business growth.


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