Can reputation be managed? It’s clear that you cannot control what people think about you or your business. What you can adjust is what people see, which then affects how they perceive you and the reputation they form of you.
So, we offer a qualified yes. Reputation can be managed. To a degree.
The word “managed” conveys a greater degree of control than most reputation management practices can truly affect. Much of what reputation management attempts to do is to adjust a very small scope of reputational issues. Most of these issues are online.
Here are some of the sources of reputation problems that reputation management does attempt to deal with:
- 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 are aware 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. Thankfully, there are legal guidelines that stipulate when such images may be removed from search indexes.
- Wikipedia – Wikipedia is the cultural default for information on virtually every conceivable subject. Unfortunately, Wikipedia can be biased and unedited. 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. The result is a riot of misinformation and confusion. This is another arena in which reputation management can and does exercise 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 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 shutter a business for good.
- Social media – 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.
Search results can linger for years. A single reputation blowup will fester in the search index and in people’s minds for such a long time that the false news ossifies into gospel truth. It lingers, that is, until something changes it. And that’s where the science of reputation management comes into play.
Using techniques from the field of search engine optimization, cognitive psychology, user behavior, and human-computer interaction (HCI), reputation management professionals can restore equilibrium back to search results, review sites, information portals and other sources of publicly accessible information.
Reputation can be managed. The scope of management is limited since we can’t control what people think. But we can control what people see online to some extent, and that can go a long way toward preserving a positive reputation and keeping a business alive.