Reputation Management FAQ: Interview with ORM Expert Alexa Martin

“Your reputation precedes you.” These words, in the past probably overheard in tongue-in-cheek cocktail party introductions, now serve as a stone-faced signal of the digital age. From an employer passing on a potential candidate because of a single misguided social media post, to your average consumer weighing the merits of a business or product based upon online reviews, a person and/or company’s online reputation has become a crucial element in everyday decision making.

In ever-increasing aspects of life where a decision is to be made, more people are turning towards online reviews and the first page of Google to influence their choices over personal suggestions and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Online reputation management helps control what people see when it comes time for other people to make a decision about your merits- business or otherwise. But it’s also so much more. What is reputation management really? Does everyone need it? Where do I even begin?

With 2019 and beyond in mind, we sat down with Reputation Management expert Alexa Martin from our very own Status Labs to discuss the most frequently asked questions and what’s on the horizon for reputation management.

How would you define online reputation management?

Online reputation management, (ORM to industry junkies) is the action of taking a proactive stance in how you or your business is presented online to your peers, prospective clients, stakeholders, etc. 94% of people don’t look past page 1 of search results, so reputation management really starts with the front page of Google.

In what way has social media changed the landscape for businesses and individuals?

Social media, when talking about reputation management, provides everyone (businesses and individuals alike) more owned web assets that can be controlled and curated which is a major goal when aiming to take control of your online presence. LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles also act as a channel to feed your preferred on-brand content to an interested audience. These properties typically rank really well in search results, and owning your share-of-voice (SOV) on page 1 is what it’s all about.

Social media, simply put, is another way to build your online brand. If done so tactfully, this can lead to increased discovery of you and your business, product and service offerings, etc.

Instagram is really where it’s at for any B2C product or even service businesses, especially if you have a share in the millennial market. Instagram’s owned by Facebook, and the marketing capabilities that each platform has cultivated (yes, from collecting all our data) is truly incredible and affects everyone’s lives much more than we probably realize.

What is the biggest misconception about online reputation management?

Some people think the digital reputation management industry is unsavory, but I whole heartedly disagree. People think “they’re scrubbing search results”, when in reality we are promoting good truthful information about our clients. It’s a form of PR, with the knack of an SEO firm. Information is not being removed from Google search results, it’s being reorganized to put your best foot forward. If you search a specific enough (long-tail) keyword, the information you are looking for will always surface.

How long does it take to fix a damaged reputation?

Ah, yes. In a society that feeds off fast-food, fast-fashion and quick ROI, the idea of repairing a reputation overnight is appealing, but not possible. There is a threshold of the amount of SEO work that can be performed before it looks inorganic to Google. While every situation is unique and depends on the severity of damage done, most online reputations can be fully repaired over a 6-12 month timeline. Visible progress will be evident at the end of the first month, if you’re working with the right agency.

What about companies that claim to remove completely negative press or reviews?

This is known as ‘de-indexing’ i.e., removing a result completely from existing in search engines. Companies do this by attaining a court order that says the information (search result) you want removed is libel (libel by definition is “a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation”.) In most instances, the information people want removed from the internet is not libel (such as an arrest, an allegation backed by court proceedings, a negative review, etc.). Having an ‘attorney’ (turned de-indexing specialist) tell a judge that an article about your arrest is libel, and then a judge granting that court order for the information to be de-indexed, usually means there’s an inappropriate relationship between the judge and said ‘de-indexing specialist.’

The ‘specialist’ then brings the court order to Google who, by court-order, is made to de-index the result. The issues with this service are a) that most information targeted for de-indexing is not properly classified as libel, the relationships between judges and ‘lawyers’ is typically unlawful, and doing such is a legal offense. When you’re trying to clean up your reputation, same as if you were on probation, I wouldn’t exactly recommend bribing a judge to attain your desired results.

You can also read more about it here: Law360, TechDirt, Forbes, SearchEngineLand and Washington Post, if I’ve peaked your interest.

How should businesses respond to negative reviews?

Cordially, respectfully, and in-full. Responding is the best thing a business owner can take the time to do (or hire someone to manage) on a regular basis. Unsatisfied patrons for the most part just want to have their voice heard (though I personally think some Yelpers out there are just freeloaders with leverage.) I recommend allowing a few days at minimum to pass before responding publicly (this allows the disgruntled patron to cool off), and then taking it to a direct message to work out the details.

If you can offer them a free round or a discount in exchange for an adjusted rating, even better. Bright Local put out a 2017 Local Consumer Reviews Survey which contains some riveting statistics about the impact of online reviews for local businesses. My favorite: 85% of consumers trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation.

What’s the biggest mistake that people make when trying to manage their own online reputations?

I think it would be very difficult and time consuming for someone who’s unfamiliar with SEO to do a good job at managing their online reputation in full. I can’t quite see how the time it would eat on a daily basis (writing contributor articles, learning which platforms you have access to, etc.), wouldn’t just warrant hiring professionals to help. There are also basic SEO best practices that one should be aware of, so if you’re considering managing your online presence yourself, check out these resources: SearchEngineLand, Moz, SEMrush, SEO Blog by Ahrefs.

Where do you see the reputation management industry headed into the future?

Reputation management is trending alongside SEO; they’re nearly one in the same. So that points toward meaningful, long-form content as Google’s RankBrain algorithm becomes more and more sophisticated. Trends will come and go, but search intent will continue to be weighted heavily. Honestly, Status Labs’ COO Jesse Boskoff was interviewed and contributed to a great article on IBM’s ThinkLeader’s blog. I’d give this one a read if you can spare a few more minutes.

What is the first piece of advice that you would give someone when beginning to consider their online reputation?

Before jumping to advise someone, it’s important to understand that most ‘asks’ when it comes to your digital presence, are possible. Whether it’s an article that’s been plaguing your personal front page of search results, or lack of representation for your business in organic search, just know, firms (like ours) specialize in helping you curate your online image.

Advice: If you’re considering looking to professionals, do your research. There’s a lot of ‘online reputation management’ agencies out there (some very well known with massive marketing budgets)  that are not sophisticated or customized in their approach to help you. Take the time to identify a partner that has the experience and grit that it takes, day-in and day-out, to produce results.

Be on the look-out for firms with cookie cutter solutions, SEO or PR firms that claim they also offer ‘reputation management’, and those that offer to de-index i.e., completely remove your results. Get a few quotes, ask smart questions and compare what each agency’s packages actually incorporate. You want a comprehensive solution, not a pack of web profiles. Check out our 72 Reputation Management Stats for 2019 for a little more information.

How can a business or individual benefit from working with an ORM specialist?

Given the heightened scrutiny of absolutely everything these days (thanks, internet!) and the immense amount of information available at our fingertips, a business – or individual – should be concerned with how they’re presented online. A reputation management specialist will be able to learn your goals and put you on a path to achieve them.

Do you want to become a thought leader in the financial sector? There’s a way to do it. Do you want your product or service ranking on page 1 in Google or even Amazon or YouTube search? There’s a way to do it. Do you want people to stop asking you about that forced public resignation from 2013 that solidified itself as a top result for your name? There’s a way to do it – and in most cases, you should! Whether you’re looking to promote, protect or re-brand yourself or your company, an online reputation management specialist can help.

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