Online Reputation Management

- Online Reputation Management -

Table of Contents

4 -   Introduction    

6 -   Online Reputation Management Definitions and Terms   

9 -   Basic Reputation          

11 - Countermeasures to a reputation collapse                        

13 - Corporate Reputation Defense                                           

14 - Case Studies                        

18 - Online Reputation Management Companies                   

20 - Conclusions                    

Online Reputation Management (ORM)

As the Internet continues to luxuriate, it is creating new types of business that without it would seem unnecessary. Online reputation management (ORM) is a new field with regards to reputation. In order to properly examine its functions, abilities and effects, older, more basic research on the fundamental idea of reputation must be investigated. Many of the ideas that go along with classic reputation transfer directly to researching online reputation management.
At the same time online image and impression management is a vital asset for the success of individuals and corporations. Knowing how to address online image concerns in the way of responding to an assault on a reputation entities good name is a priceless commodity in today’s business world. This study examines what ORM is, how it functions, survey results for the impact of negative and positive online reputations, case studies of successful companies who have dealt with reputation collapses, interviews with personal in the field, as well as proactive measures entities can utilize.
            Understanding how social media works and building an online presence before a reputation collapse occurs, as well as training the necessary personal to effectively use those tools, can determine survival. At the same time, on an individual level, understanding how these companies saved face can be mirrored in your own attempts to combat a negative online image and reputation. No one is bullet proof when it comes to bad things happening, so it is important to take heed and get to work now. The more preparation and planning that is placed into protecting yourself can only help you down the road when you may need to promote a more positive image of a reputation entity.

            Online reputation management is a vast, all-encompassing topic that stretches its reach to different facets of reputation. Personal and corporate reputations are the larger of these two branches, with countless subsets below each of them. Understanding reputation, online image and reputation, and reputation offense and defense are important concepts for anyone in today’s fast-paced, online society.
            For the purpose of this examination of content, the focus will remain on the corporate aspect of online reputation management. After researching responses by all reputation entities, it has been made evident that corporations have a more diverse set of personnel and tools for reacting to a reputation collapse. These responses can cross over to individual reputation management as well, and are good examples for all.
            Questions that justify and focus this topic that were used for the research of this paper are as follows.
  • RQ - When a reputation entity posts a blog, picture, status, or tweet, do they consider who could potentially see this content?
  • RQ - How necessary is online reputation management?
·      RQ - What methods other than the employing of ORM companies can be used to combat a negative online reputation?
·      RQ - What are examples of companies responding correctly to an attack of their online image?
·      RQ - What can be done to legitimize information online?
            In a survey of Web surfers, human resource workers, and employment recruiters across the U.S., U.K., Germany and France, researchers found that, although most people acknowledge that their personal online behavior may have ramifications in their professional lives, comparatively few actually consider that fact when publishing photos or posts online.  A full 70 percent of surveyed HR workers in the U.S. admitted to rejecting a job applicant because of his or her Internet behavior. Meanwhile, about 60 percent of surfers admitted to being concerned that their online behavior may affect their professional or personal lives. A mere 15 percent of them, though, actually take these potential repercussions into consideration when posting content.
            By the same token, digital reputation can also have an equally positive effect on an applicant's chances; 86 percent of U.S. HR workers said that a good online reputation can have a positive impact on a job candidate's chances, and about half said that a solid image can have a major impact. It's this positive spin that we should take away from this study, focusing on the fact that online reputation is not something to be scared of, but something to be proactively managed.
As the Internet continues to luxuriate, it is creating new types of business that without it would seem unnecessary. Online reputation management (ORM) is a new field with regards to reputation. In order to properly examine its functions, abilities and effects, older, more basic research on the fundamental idea of reputation must be investigated. Many of the ideas that go along with classic reputation transfer directly to researching online reputation management.
Even the concept title, online reputation management, must be broken down word for word. We, as educated human beings, understand it simply by reading it, as it quickly pinpoints the topic:
Online - of or denoting a business that transmits electronic information over telecommunications lines: an on-line bookstore.[1]
Reputation - n. what is generally said or believed about a person’s or thing’s character: has not justified his reputation; has a reputation for integrity; place has a bad reputation[2]
Management - the person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business, institution, etc.: The store is under new management.[3]
While anything can have a reputation, for the purposes of this study the focus will be contained to personal and corporate reputations, specifically reputations held within the confines of the World Wide Web, the Internet, otherwise known as online. The idea of a reputation is so incredibly vast that specific information must be explained to embrace the understanding of it before the focus can be tightened on a specific area, namely personal and corporate online reputations and their maintenance.
  • A Reputation Entity applies to anything that can have or hold a reputation, this list is infinite and encompasses all persons, goods, information, parts, devices, and so on.
  • A Reputation Collapse can happen to a person or a corporation at any time. Much of the proper responses that exist work for both the individual and the corporation.
-                    A personal reputation collapse can come from any number of incidents such as an accident, leak of personal information, arrest or a lawsuit.
-                    A corporate reputation collapse can come from any number of incidents as well, such as executive misconduct, release of damaging video, production recall, safety lapse.
It is important to note that reputations vary by communities and for different purposes. Where the reputation of a person is concerned, there are often several social groups; these can be wide spread in many different forms. What is generally said or believed about a reputation entity in one group may not, and often does not, coincide with what is said or believed in another social group. In other words, a reputation entity may have more than one reputation. It is important to realize that membership within these social groups or reputation communities may overlap, and both influence and information may transcend from one reputation community to another. It is also possible for opinions and/or beliefs to circulate among members within a group without members of another group being privy to them.
A characteristic of reputation not distinguished by its definition is the idea of what is said versus what is believed. A reputation entity may be affected by information concerning its reputation, even though said information is not believed. For instance, within politics in America, quite often information is portrayed to affect a reputation entity even though the person disseminating the information holds no belief in it, or even knows it to be false. This is a sought-after characteristic of the mass media, called non-biased or neutral journalism. In reality it is a tactic used to discredit a reputation.
It is important at this point to outline human nature concerning how information pertaining to reputation operates. This is not only used within the confines of reputations, but is highlighted herein as such for all information.
Image and reputation are two distinct objects, for our purposes both are social in nature. They are integral properties of a reputation entity and its standing within a reputation community. We are assuming the reputations entity’s presumed desire is of an attitude of socially desirable behavior. However, these two notions operate at different levels. Image is belief, namely, an evaluation. Reputation is a meta-belief, i.e., a belief about others evaluations of the reputation entity. To better understand these differences between image and reputation, the mental decisions based upon them must be analyzed at three levels.  These levels are not to be confused with the process of steps, one leading to the next. Each can stand alone, with another, or all together.
Epistemic – We must ascertain and comprehend the processes in which knowledge is gained. What is the knowledge, how was it acquired? To what extent is it possible for a given reputation entity to be known? Do we accept the beliefs that form either a given image or acknowledge a given reputation? In doing so, this implies a believed evaluation and gives rise to one’s direct evaluation.  Epistemic knowledge concerning a reputation continues an existing belief based solely on an existing reputation passed on from a source, questionable as it may be. This is the most basic and unfounded of the three methods for obtaining information surrounding a reputation entity and is the most popular in today’s culture within American society.
Pragmatic- strategic – This is the use of knowledge, deciding whether and how to interact with the reputation entity. Once one has their own opinion about a reputation entity (perhaps resulting from the acceptance of others’ evaluations), they will use it to make decisions about their future actions concerning the dissemination of said knowledge.  This therefore highlights the strategic nature of the use of knowledge. How a subject gains the insight is less relevant over how said subject acts because of this knowledge.
Memetic – A theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, originating from the popularization of Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene. It purports to be an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transmitter. This is to transmit “my” (or others) evaluative beliefs about a given reputation entity to others. Whether or not one acts in conformity with a propagating evaluation, they may decide to spread the information to others. That, however, is just the beginning of memetics. A meme can be best understood much like a gene, conceived as a unit of culture (an idea, belief, pattern of behavior, etc.) which is “hosted” in one or more individual’s minds, and can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one of individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen – when adopting the intentional stance – as an idea replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of the host. In summary, memetics is notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs. Instead, it is interested in only their success.
Within the concept of reputation, many agents are at play. Reputation, image, and impression management[4] immediately identify the who, the what, and the where of reputation. Reputation entity, and reputation community, both terms coined within its pages, signify how reputation affects an infinite list, encompassing all persons, goods, information, parts, devices, and so on while also showing how different groups and reputation communities can have a different understanding of an entity’s reputation. These lines of information can remain stagnant, can overlap, or may be contradictorily between different communities. These basic terms and their definitions, while not originally created with the Internet in mind, provide great assistance for segmenting information to define the concepts for understanding online reputation management.
Other terms that are defined, but are specifically designed to communicate on topics relating to ORM, help readers understand a wider array of topics. These topics are focused on offense and defense of a person or corporation’s reputation, within the publication entitled Reputation Warfare.[5] The terms reputation collapse, reputation simulations, and reputation sniper all pertain to an attack on one’s reputation. These help to identify how information on a person’s online reputation may be negatively affected, and ways to prepare for and combat such an event. Pertaining to a collapse and simulations, it delves into what possible negative events might occur, and how to prepare for them. These events include but are not limited to, a class action lawsuit, a case of executive misconduct, release of damaging video, a production recall, a safety lapse and a leaked document. Cases will be shown of companies that met with certain doom and saved face by being prepared in one or more pertinent ways. The preparations included knowing proper ways of reacting, ways not to react, and taking preventative measures before a reputation collapse.
1.                    Avoid any show of force that could be perceived as grossly disproportionate.
2.                    Respond at high speed with instincts honed by advanced training.
3.                    Empower frontline teams to meet message with counter message.
4.                    Go rogue in your own tactics.
5.                    Recruit and deploy “force multipliers” who will echo your message.
6.                    Go into battle with credentials in place.
            Each of these coincides with a company or individual who was forced to deal with an assault on their reputation by way of personal mistake or misfortune. It is a testament to the importance of online reputation management, before, during and after an event.
            Understanding what a reputation is at its fundamental level of basic information, how said information about a reputation entity is spread about from one reputation community to another, is the basis for understanding how to curb negative portrayals of individuals and corporations. The same way the negative information spreads should be the first and most obvious way to disseminate new, more positive information about a reputation entity. There are many categories that reputation entities must concern themselves with. These include, but are not wholly limited to, personality, the self, self-disclosure, social identity, group factors, social networks, impression management, ethical, legal, and politics. Another fundamental principle of reputation is that it is a simple matter of economics. The more the public (reputation community) is occupied with one person (reputation entity), the less it is occupied with another.
            A major platform for attacks and defense against and for reputations today is the blog. The use of blogs in today’s society is multi-faceted, and can be used in the realm of reputation defense from all sides. An individual can use a blog to report on their own personal life, their side of the story, and their interpretation of what is news. Quite a few blogs that originated as personal websites early on were quickly picked up and have become part of major news outlets. Bloggers are considered the eyes and ears of the world today. They are encroaching on what was once the role of journalists and watchdog organizations. They are citizen journalists, making sure what is important and newsworthy isn’t being determined only by large media organizations and corporations, but by people in their local communities as well. As time passes, blogs and bloggers are becoming more powerful. Through the practice of syndication, which is hyperlinking webpages together, readers are able to quickly access multiple different lines of information. This is both a positive and a negative. As information, especially pertaining to people and companies reputations, continues to be mass-produced, much of it is created with little to no fact-checking.  The hyperlink gives an air of legitimacy to otherwise discredited information. One must be vigilant to not become overly engrossed with the Internet information, going deep down the rabbit hole without finding some legitimate information to back it up with.
            A reputation entity responding to an attack can be a difficult exercise with disastrous results unless handled properly. It is often believed that there is no restoration of a corporation’s good name once it has been soiled by an event that is the company’s fault or not. It is important to realize that major corporations have responded properly and come out on top when their moral judgment has been put into question.
            With regards to corporate reputation entities, much is to be considered. To all communicators it should be understood that during a crisis, the demand for information will increase at the exact moment they are firefighting the problem itself. If reputation entities are not actively working their reputation online prior to a reputation collapse, they are playing catch-up right from the start of the event. It is recommended by companies that specialize in ORM to engage in lifelike reputation simulations, much like any other emergency response team would. One simulation widely used is referred to as a “Fireball”. Fireball replicates the experience of being attacked by a reputation sniper who is posting to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in real time. A reputation sniper is an individual who for any number of reasons is going after your good name; in these cases the battlefield is the Internet, and the casualties are your bottom line. A new media drill such as Fireball will put a reputation entity through its paces in a variety of mock crises.
            What are some of the processes that have been taken to ensure that a reputation collapse by a reputation entity does not end that corporation permenatly? The following is a case-by-case analysis of success stories within corporate reputation management:
            One of the most important aspects of responding to a negative reputation event is a proper understanding of time within the incident. Responding at high-speed properly can mean the difference between success and failure. If a company takes too much time to properly craft a response by reaching a consensus approved by all executives, it can cause that entity to miss the window of opportunity for their response to have the ideal impact.
            A prime example of a corporation responding with high speed coupled with successful use of social media and advanced planning and training, is a case involving the US Census Bureau. The Bureau came under fire surrounding the use of what was considered expensive advertisements aired during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. At the time, a 30-second spot during the game cost $2.5 million dollars, causing some to question the decision. Among the ranks of dissenters was Senator John McCain, who tweeted to his 1.7 million followers, “While the census is very important to [Arizona], we shouldn’t be wasting $2.5 million taxpayer dollars to compete with ads for Doritos!”
            Fortunately for the Bureau, it had a media monitoring system, complete with the census director’s blog, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page already in place. All of these tools, originally designed to encourage people to return their census forms, were quickly repurposed for reputation defense. The Bureau’s first response came just one day after McCain’s tweet. On, Steven Jost, the associate director of communications for the Census Bureau described how the ad would actually save taxpayer money. It stated that for each 1 percent increase in mailed-in returns, taxpayers would save a total of $80 to $90 million dollars. The following day, the director posted on his pre-existing blog, under-scoring Jost’s point by explaining that the ad would raise awareness and, in return, lessen the need to send census collectors to people’s homes. This same point was re-tweeted just after the Super Bowl and posted on Facebook, catching the desired media and public attention.
            This example of responding with high speed, coupled with the use of social media that was pre-existing, along with personnel that were trained to properly use it, is a success story of defending one’s online reputation. Companies need to be trained in the new media tools that are available so that they can use them quickly and effectively. It is even suggested that companies perform exercises to practice the proper ways to respond to a reputation attack in order to highlight areas that need improvement.
            In 2009 a video debuted on YouTube, causing an instant catastrophe for Domino’s Pizza. The video was recorded by an employee going only by the name ‘Kristie’ showed another employee performing unprofessional acts to food slated for delivery. The employee being recorded was putting cheese up his nose then blowing it onto a sandwich, as well as passing gas onto a piece of salami. He then stated, “In about five minutes [this food] will be going out for delivery, where someone will be eating [it], yes eating [it].” The video instantly went viral, causing drastically negative effects for the company. It was even measured to have actually cut into its nationwide profits.
            The event could have been much worse for Domino’s had it not been quick to respond effectively. Instead of going the normal route of issuing press releases, the chain restaurant used social media to turn the catastrophe on its heels. Noticing that much of the attention surrounding the video was due to its display on YouTube, Domino’s president Patrick Doyal chose to air his apology through a video released on YouTube. It was quickly understood that it would maximize viewership by the same people who had seen or would see the first video.        
            At the same time, responding through this unconventional method, Domino’s created a whole new story for the press to use. The unorthodox use of YouTube by a corporate executive became a story in its own right, and the incident’s focus shifted from what the employees had done wrong to what the company had done right.
            There is little available to anyone being attacked that is more effective in combating negative reputations than a legion of supporters who will stand up and defend a good name. In the military, any object that enhances a soldier’s ability to fight and win is called a force multiplier. In business, companies should call on these force multipliers in a time of need.
            In January 2010, a devastating earthquake ravaged the country of Haiti, killing many citizens and dismantling the infrastructure. However, just a few days after the quake, and just 60 miles from the worst of the disaster, Royal Caribbean International, a cruise ship company based out of Florida, dropped anchor. The vacationers had beach barbeques, rode jet skis, and lounged in the sun on vacation that, according to some, was too close to a country in turmoil. A London newspaper The Guardian quickly picked up the story and lampooned the cruise liner company for its poor choices and lack of sensitivity. The New York Post newspaper even ran a feature story entitled “The Ship of Ghouls.” It was as if everyone was blasting the company’s management and customers alike.
            The untold portion of these stories was the long-standing investments that Royal Caribbean had made in Haiti and its use of their cruise liners to deliver nearly $1 million in humanitarian aid to the country, overseen by Adam Goldstein, its CEO. For these reasons, among others, a number of independent advocates came to the company’s defense. Goldstein had a blog that was created months before the disaster, which was quickly picked up as a hub for defending the company, not only by his own blogging, but by his force multipliers as well. It quickly came to light that the continuing cruises had been requested by Haitian officials as they were helping to boost the local economy, and hasten the delivery of relief supplies. When the ships came to dock, each carried pallets of water, food, and medical supplies.
            The blog was also used to publish letters written to the company in support of their actions. Third-party support appeared in other forums as well. Senior representatives of Sustainable Travel International, the United Nations World Tourism Organization, and Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, to name a few, were quoted in the media about ways in which tourism could accelerate the reconstruction process. As a result of the company’s decision to continue running cruises to the region along with the third party support, the outside view of their actions became understood as less of a callous action, and more of a brave, well-considered attempt to help.
            When all else fails call the professionals. Online Reputation Management, ORM, is a booming online industry. These companies, for a fee, will restore your online image by a number of methods, some questionable., formally, was founded in 2006. The company was originally designed to help people clean up social media sites so it would not negatively effect their online image. The company quickly grew and found new demands from clients that they had not originally envisioned. This company, like many others providing ORM services, claim to preform the following:
            “In a nutshell, online reputation management, or ORM as it’s known, is the practice of making people and businesses look their best on the Internet. To accomplish that, people need to control their online search results because they frequently contain inaccurate, misleading or outdated material which can adversely influence how web searchers view them.”
            “But controlling search results isn’t the only goal of online reputation management. Since where someone lives, their income and their marital status all affect the perception of a person, it’s important to prevent private information from being made public, as well.”
            One should be aware of what exactly these companies are doing to defend your reputation, and what that means for information online in general. ORM companies will spend countless hours creating new web content, including websites, blogs and positive reviews, about their clients. Other tactics include publishing press releases to authoritative online websites to promote brand presence. Submitting legal take-down notices, getting third party mentions of the company or individual on sites that rank highly on search engines; and also creating fake blogs of someone with the same name, spam bots, denial-of-service attacks, astro-turfing review based sites, and offering free products to prominent reviewers.
            The practice of ORM raises several ethical questions and concerns. There are no agreements between most of the Online Reputation Management companies as where to draw the line. If a company can create positive content for one person or company, what is to stop them from creating negative content about a competitor? Actually nothing, while widely improvable, this practice is well understood and utilized.
            When asked in an interview about the ethical issues surrounding ORM Farukh Raza, Advanced Client Solutions Manager at had this to say.
            “ is a founding member of ORMA, the Online Reputation Management Association. We strictly adhere to the ORMA code of conduct. That means that we will not create false or misleading content, nor will we serve individuals or organizations who are trying to deceive or defraud the public.”
            Noticing a flourishing industry that was manipulating their creation, Google has stepped up and made tools available to its users to help combat bad publicity or improperly listed negative content. “Me on the Web” is a free application that enables users to monitor and maintain a positive online profile. The user creates their own profile which posts any other information in the search engines. One cannot overlook the basic idea of addressing any negative content themselves, such as contacting companies and asking for poor reviews to be removed, or simply doing well enough in business that negative reviews do not exist or are over-shadowed by positive ones.
            A reputation entity must always assume that a reputation sniper will at some point bring about a reputation collapse. Believing it will not happen and hoping for the best is ignorant and can be fatal, in a sense, to any person or corporation. Knowing how and when to respond is crucial to surviving through and after an event. Respond with high speed; the more preparation you have, the better prepared you will be to respond appropriately. In today’s high-speed, hyperlinked world that is all connected online, no entity is above the effects of a damaged reputation. From the office clerk to the CEO, all are vulnerable.
            Theoretically, if information can be altered to promote a positive reputation for a client of an ORM company, how then can any information on the Internet be trusted? As it seems, anything can have a reputation, as anything is a reputation entity. Therefore, anything could be a client of an ORM company, so in conclusion, any information is privy to being altered. Information from books works its way onto the Internet, and information on the Internet finds its way into books. The grey area continues to increase. Steps must be taken to legitimize information online. This is the intellectual future of the human race, and without legislation and ethical barriers that retain full-out fabrication of information; we are further extinguishing our own intelligence.
            Whether we like it or not, Online Reputation Companies are not going away anytime soon. Reported to have generated over $1.6 billion annually last year alone, this industry has a firm grasp on the Internet and subsequently, all of our lives. However the larger considerations should be this ”if content can be generated, optimized, suppressed or hidden completely, what is the truth about anything? Continuing down this road has led to a grey area, not only for businesses, and individuals, but also for governments and history itself.
            Understanding how social media works and building an online presence before a reputation collapse occurs, as well as training the necessary personal to effectively use those tools, can determine survival. At the same time, on an individual level, understanding how these companies saved face can be mirrored in your own attempts to combat a negative online image and reputation. No one is bullet proof when it comes to bad things happening, so it is important to take heed and get to work now. The more preparation and planning that is placed into protecting yourself can only help you down the road when you may need to promote a more positive image of a reputation entity.

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10.  Aaron Smith, Census Bureau counts on Super Bowl Ad,, 26 Jan 2010
11.  Ed O’Keefe, Census Super Bowl ad draws Red Flag from McCain, Washington Post, date n.a.
12.  Stephanie Clifford, Video Prank at Domino’s Taints Brand, New York Times, 15 April, 2009
13.  Sean Gregory, Domino’s YouTube Crisis; 5 Ways to Fight Back, Time, 18 April, 2009,8599,1892389,00.html
14.  Steve Inskeep, Royal Caribbean Provides Tourists, Relief to Haiti, NPR, 19 Jan 2010
15.  Robert Booth, Cruise Ships still find a Haitian Berth, The Guardian, 17 Jan 2010
16.  Chuck Bennett, Ship of Ghouls, NY Post, 20 Jan 2010

[2] H.W. Fowler, F.G. Fowler and J.B. Sykes, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Sixth Edition 1976
[4] D B B. Reputation, image, and impression management. [serial online]. n.d.;Available from: OCLC:, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 5, 2012. 1 Definition and usage.
[5] Gaines-Ross L. Reputation Warfare. Harvard Business Review [serial online]. December 2010;88(12):70-76. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA.