The Morality of Reputation Management

Increasingly, a majority of consumers are going online to search for products, services, and research companies they might want to do business with. In the old days (you know, circa 2000), most people patronized businesses that were recommended to them by their personal friends and acquaintances. Today, people still look for recommendations, but they can get those recommendations from complete strangers on the Internet much faster. And the Internet is a level playing field, which can be good or bad.

Just as anyone can post a great review of your company online for free and have it viewed by millions, any person with a personal vendetta or mental illness can post a negative review and also have it viewed by millions, regardless of truth or any basis in reality. That’s why many companies turn to reputation management to help them push positive reviews and comments to the top of a Google search rather than let negative content run wild. But despite companies’ and reputation management firms’ best intentions, there is still a feeling that online reputation management is a form of beating the system. The truth is, reputation management is simply a way for companies to present their best qualities to anyone who is searching for them, just as any of us in our personal lives would do.

Reputation Management is a Corporate Resume

Think about it, when you are looking for a job, what is your resume strategy? Do you present your experience and past employment in the best light possible? Or do you just throw something together regardless of how it might make you appear to potential employers? Chances are, you’re much more likely to portray yourself in a positive light and provide references whom you are certain will give you glowing recommendations. Likewise, online reputation management for companies is like an online resume.

When consumers search for a company online, that company wants to present itself the best way it can. And if a Google search results page is the new corporate resume, companies will do their best to give consumers the references that will offer glowing reviews of their services.

One Camp

Jon Tozzi, in a post for BusinessWeek had this to say about reputation management: “It’s still hard to say how companies are using reputation management services, but industry players say clients fall into two camps. Some want to understand and respond to customer complaints; others often just want negative posts to go away.” While it is true that there are a number of lazy companies out there, Tozzi has it slightly wrong. Most companies don’t fall into one of two categories. Most companies fall into both categories—they want to listen to clients and fix problems while at the same time working to present themselves in the best light possible by promoting positive content and downplaying negative comments. In fact, fixing customer problems and complaints is one of the best ways to create a positive corporate image.

Better Business = Better Reputation

Working toward customer satisfaction while using principles of SEO at the same time is what reputation management is all about. If your company’s business practices are fraudulent, no amount of reputation management is going to change that—most customers will be able to smell a rat when they see one. In the end, consumers will decide if a company has a good reputation or not. Reputation management services simply help those companies that already offer good services and products present their best side to the public first.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

In the end, the questions about whether or not reputation management is moral are moot; principles of reputation management can be used in positive and negative ways. But the Internet is the great equalizer, and sooner or later those companies that use negative tactics to promote questionable products will fail and be revealed for who they really are. And good companies will always rise to the top.