Defining Reputation Management can be a bit of a wild-goose chase. Sometimes called “Online Reputation Management” or “ORM,” it combines elements of public relations, search engine optimization, and digital marketing. While these monikers aren’t wrong, for the most part, online reputation management in today’s world means simply managing your reputation whether it be for companies, individuals, or organizations.
Just as your reputation is a composition of several different factors, so are the elements which all come together to create online reputation management.
How’d We Get Here?
Although PR is considered a relatively new concept– dating back the last 100 years or so to modern founders like Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee– the same principles of effectively communicating a message to a specific audience dates back to antiquity and the basic principles of thousands of years ago are still applied today.
The ancient Egyptians, specifically pharaohs seeking to advance their image through large-scale construction, would build larger-than-life statues and pyramids to reinforce the public’s image of their status as all-powerful deities.
One particularly crafty Egyptian official and author named Ptahhotep around 2,500 BCE, began writing about how to find interests with specific audiences in order to better communicate with them.
In ancient Greece, way back in the 3rd century BC, Socrates taught that effective communication should be based on truth against the relativism of the Sophists, who would effectively argue either side of a point.
It is truly amazing to think that in the 21st century that ideas like brand transparency are pivotal in any effective PR strategy. Thanks Socrates.
Julius Caesar, in the middle of the 1st century BC ordered the posting of the Acta Diurna, keeping the citizens of Rome informed of his political and military victories in Gaul, effectively creating the first public newsletter.
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in 1517, he was immediately able to capture the sentiment of the masses through concise, public written communication. Sounds a lot like Twitter.
Public relation examples have dotted history all throughout human civilization if not by name, by action. While history shows us that the foundation of PR has been in existence since the beginning of civilization, the action really starts to pick up in the early 20th century, when more categorized and scientific approaches towards shaping audience opinion began to emerge.
Lee or Bernays?
Well, that escalated quickly.
Edward Bernays was the nephew, well, “double nephew” of Sigmund Freud. (His mother was Sigmund Freud’s sister as well and his father’s sister married the famous psychiatrist.)
Bernays’ main contribution to the field of public relations was taking a scientific approach, influenced by his uncle’s teachings, to apply concepts of mass psychology and the subconscious in influencing public perception.
In 1928, when there was still a major social stigma to be a female smoker (especially in public) George Washington Hill, President of the American Tobacco Company, turned to Bernays.
What arose from this became one of the most famous PR campaigns of all time.
With the advice of a psychoanalyst, Bernays compared women smoking cigarettes to a woman’s right to vote, which had recently been recognized by the Supreme Court. From there the “Torches of Freedom” campaign was born after Bernays convinced a former group of former suffragettes to march down 5th Avenue in New York City with Lucky Strike cigarettes lit proudly as a gesture to demonstrate their equality with men.
The campaign was a massive success and modern PR was changed forever.
Edward Bernays would go on to be the most influential public relations agents and advertisers of all time, contributing immensely to both fields with seminal works such as “The Engineering of Consent,” “Propaganda,” and “Crystallizing Public Opinion.”
Bernays would also use his uncle’s concepts to not just sell cigarettes but also to market bacon as a breakfast food, along with influencing children to take overcome their fears of baths in order to sell soap, and marketing Dixie cups as a more sanitary solution than regular cups.
His contributions to PR took a regrettable turn when Joseph Goebbels adopted the core theories of “Propaganda” and mass psychology to influence German citizens under the Third Reich.
While many point to Edward Bernays as the father of modern PR, others tip their hats to Ivy Lee, who is credited with creating the first press release and coining the term “public relations.” It’s an open question and still up for healthy debate who had more influence in the field of communications, but the easy answer is that they were of equal footing in shaping modern PR.
One of the basic and core principals of Ivy Lee’s approach to PR was to tell the truth because sooner or later the public is going to find out anyway.
When Lee was hired in 1906 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, a train wreck shortly thereafter near Gap, Pennsylvania occurred. Rather than attempting to suppress the facts of the accident, Lee encouraged journalists to attend the scene of the accident and report on what they saw, while on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad issuing the first press release, stating factually the events surrounding the accident in transparent fashion.
This focus and esteem of reporting the truth were against the grain at the time and completely changed the approach of how governments, corporations, and public figures address and inform the public.
This concept set Ivy Lee apart from Bernays and perhaps further modernized Public Relations apart from the psychological manipulation of propaganda.
Lee went on to establish the first public relations firm and was hired by John Rockefeller and Standard Oil in 1919.
He would encourage Rockefeller to hand out dimes to the disadvantaged to bolster a philanthropic image along with visiting the disparate conditions of his coal mines and meeting with families of employees and listening to their grievances.
The contributions of Lee and Ivy to modern PR are undeniable. Others in the field such as Harold Laswell would build upon the groundwork laid for modern public relations, building out models such as “Who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect.”
These theories are still taught in PR courses today and begin to mold the theories of modern-day public relations.
The first mass use of propaganda began in WWI with efforts from various governing bodies to inform and support their cause. The Germans founded The German Information Bureau, The British created a propaganda agency called “Wellington House” in response. France, Austria-Hungry followed suit.
After the US declared war on Germany, President Woodrow Wilson founded the US Propaganda Agency.
A common thread between these agencies was to discredit the claims of their enemies, suppressing information of wartime casualties or atrocities, while censoring any factual events which could have a negative effect on public sentiment.
The wartime efforts began a shift away from the truth-based models of Ivy Lee (who has also been critiqued for working solely within the interests of the companies that paid him) and ushered in an era of mass manipulation and public deception based heavily on the theories made famous by Edward Bernays.
However, it wasn’t until WWII that propaganda took on a negative connotation. When Nazi Germany created the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, seizing control of all occupied news organizations including film, broadcast, and press, that the terrifying power of mass psychology and state-run propaganda was fully realized.
Post WWII Damage and Innovation
By the 1940s Public Relations was a fully realized concept and even being taught in some schools and universities. However, damage from both world wars had attached a stigma to the practice, which in some ways is still felt today.
Many of the top PR professionals from the American wartime efforts entered the private sector, creating their own firms and disseminating the learnings of years of government work to advance causes for political and corporate objectives.
During this period some of the more powerhouse PR firms such as Burson-Marsteller and Edelman emerged and are still in business today.
After serving as a journalist and public information officer in WWII, Daniel Edelman had the vision of introducing storytelling through mass media (creating the first media tour) to help build corporate brands and sell products.
In the past, PR had been a collection of PR agents or publicists, Edelman had a grander vision of expanding the services offered to public affairs, technology, and crisis management, further marrying advertising, marketing, and PR.
Along with the global expansion of PR firms, interest groups and organizations were also beginning to emerge such as The International Association of Public Relations in 1955 along with The International Association of Business Communicators in 1970. This served to further band together industry professionals which in the past had been a loose confederation of press agents and journalists.
By the 1980s the theory and practice of public relations had come into its own as a vital form of communications for businesses, governments, and individuals, but the internet was about to change everything for good.
Five Ways The Internet Has Changed PR
While there were definite progressions and developments to public relations in the 21st century, the upheaval of the internet age changed forever the public relations landscape which in turn gave birth to search engine optimization and online reputation management.
The days of controlling a narrative through press releases, news broadcasts, and print, quickly gave rise to the information age, where a new set of tactics and practices would emerge.
Everyone Has A Voice
Pre-internet, there weren’t many options when it came to learning about a brand or receiving the news. A company’s reputation was primarily developed through word-of-mouth and whatever information made it into print or television.
These narrow outlets of information allowed businesses and individuals to control their image relatively easily through the few mediums where information was readily available. The internet changed all that for good.
A popular saying is that before the internet, PR was a monologue, now it’s a dialogue with your audience.
Everyone now has the ability to cross-reference endless news outlets, in addition to everyday people themselves becoming news sources, reviewers thought leaders and visible voices.
Brands are now forced to reckon the transparent avenues of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, and the massive influence of Google search results and reviews.
Online Reputation Management arose naturally through the evolution of 20th-century public relations into the digital age.
The News Never Stops
It’s incredible to think that news in the past primarily consisted of whatever was printed in the morning based on events from the previous day, and later when televisions were in most every American household (before CNN) with the evening news.
The publication and subsequent spread of news in the internet age is not only non-stop but dissemination is nearly instantaneous. While the argument can be made against the research quality of modern news, the speed in which news breaks is most likely not going to take a step back.
Even less than headline-grabbing news, which in the pre-internet era would seem insignificant, now has its turn in the spotlight in the 24-hour news cycle.
This means that public relations response must now keep up with the lightning fast speed in which information on the internet travels.
Responsiveness is essential in the digital age. There is no longer time while waiting for the printing presses of the next day to strategize a PR response.
Everything now happens in real time.
In 1940, the era many consider the heyday of print before competition from television and radio emerged, the total circulation of US newspapers was 41,132,000.
There are currently 330 million Twitter users and over 3 BILLION people worldwide on the internet.
Facebook alone has over 1 BILLION active users. The potential audiences for brands and advertisers is now astronomical.
As the internet has extended the bounds PR agencies reach, so have the number of news organizations grown. Roughly nine-in-ten adults now consume news from online sources, in addition to traditional media.
With the potential audience for PR messages nearly limitless, another important consideration of PR in the internet age is that while everyone has a voice, not all voices are created equal. Identifying key influencers on social media and blogs is a critical part of any contemporary PR strategy.
Reaching an influencer’s audience immediately gives your message credibility.
You can’t talk about the reputation and the internet without also talking about social media. Social media has become far more than connecting with your peers. It is often the first place where a conversation begins and allows for just as many opportunities as it does challenges.
Social media is a two-way street and has connected consumers and brands in ways never imagined with each social media channel presenting new ways of connecting with audiences.
Not only are brands connecting more with their audiences, but there are also now tools available to accurately measure sentiment surrounding conversations with measurable statistics of likes, shares, and comments.
Social media has also provided users with a platform to share their experiences with brands, individuals, and companies long after major news stories are over or even begin. The conversation surrounding brands is now around the clock.
The shift from behind the scenes communication from private messages to the open forums of social media demands immediate and complete transparency to effectively communicate to audiences.
The advantages of having billions of people to quickly communicate a message and countless news organizations to pitch a story does not come without its pitfalls.
In the information age, entire careers and organizations can be ruined in a matter of seconds with one compromising photo, text message, or email, whether they are legitimate or not.
Pre-internet, information was more easily controlled, press releases and official statements were often enough in crisis response and most of the news being printed and broadcasted was thoroughly researched before publication or airing. Social media and blogs have turned everyone into amateur journalists and reporters, for better or worse. While the advantages of decentralized news are clear, the compromise has been measured in the quality of content and inconsistent factual reporting.
PR in the digital age necessitates a marriage of marketing, SEO, and traditional public relations in order to be effective.
What is Online Reputation Management
Public Relations: the activity or job of providing information about a particular person or organization to the public so that people will regard that person or organization in a favorable way. : the relationship between an organization and the public.
Online Reputation Management: online reputation management (ORM) is the practice of crafting strategies that shape or influence the public perception of an organization, individual, or other entity on the internet.
The backbone of online reputation management is PR. The intended outcome between PR and reputation management is essentially the same– influencing public perception of a person or entity in a favorable light.
What the internet has done to PR is necessitate a package of marketing, SEO, and traditional public relations tactics in order to achieve the same results that pre-internet were achieved simply through tried and true PR Campaigns such as journalistic outreach and press releases.
So simply put, your online reputation is what others think about you, your brand, or organization from the information they find online. Where it gets complicated is how this online information is organized and the subsequent opinions formed that intersect with offline existence.
Ten Search Engine Stats to Blow Your Mind
Think about this.
*Over 90% of all internet sessions begin with a search engine.
*There are over 3.5 BILLION searches per day just on Google.
*Over 3 billion people now use the internet. Nearly half the world’s population.
*Currently, over 93% of searchers never venture past the first page of google.
*The top organic Google search result gets over 33% of clicks.
*91% of online adults use search engines to find information on the web.
*65% of people see online search as the most trusted source of information about people and companies. That’s a higher level of trust than any other online or offline source.
*Nearly 50% of US adults who Google themselves say the results aren’t positive.
*97% of consumers search online for local businesses.
*Wikipedia appears on the first page of Google for as many as half of all search queries.
It’s readily apparent that search engines are the most influential factor in shaping a business, person, or organization’s reputation. From a PR perspective, the transition to online techniques to communicate a desired message is not only natural, but necessary with the continued trend that information found online will be the dominating factor in shaping public opinion.
Reputation Management Guide
With so much information floating around online it’s important to take control over some of the easiest ways to influence your online reputation without having advanced computer knowledge.
Think of it this way: search engines like Google want to organize and rank information based on the relevancy and importance of the content surrounding any given topic.
This is an algorithmic task. Content that is created from the source is going to have extremely high relevancy ratings. It doesn’t get any more relevant than you.
When it comes to the topic of you or your business, you are in a great position to rank on the first page of any search result, with content and websites that belong to you.
Search Your Name or Business
It’s important to understand the landscape of your search results. Take a deep breath. Google your name or company. Take a good look around. Exhale. Don’t worry. If you are like 70% of other Americans you won’t like what you find.
If negative content appears on websites or blogs which is completely falsified and off-base it’s worth reaching out first to the webmaster to see if they would be willing to remove the information.
If that doesn’t work, check out here what Google will remove and what it won’t. If it meets the criteria listed you may be in luck. It’s a longshot but worth a try.
If you aren’t able to have negative information removed, either from the host of the content or from the search engine itself, this information, even if it is untrue, will hold a permanent position in the search rankings unless something else begins to outrank the negative content.
Is this fair? Probably not, but it’s the reality of how search engines organize information.
In any case, soak in the first few pages of your search result– pretend that you are a stranger seeing the results for the first time, and ask yourself if the result is positive, negative, or neutral, for each result.
If your answers include less than all positive results, you are probably in the same position as most other people when confronting their online reputation. Not to worry.
Once you have identified the sentiment on the first page of your search results, you are at a great starting point. This is the beginning of managing your online reputation.
Claim Social Media Sites and Domains
If you haven’t already, register your name or business on (at minimum) Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. This is the lowest of the low hanging fruit when it comes to protecting and eventually cultivating an online reputation. Even if you aren’t going to be posting immediately, you want to have control over these properties. If someone has already registered them but the accounts are inactive, you can reach out to the platform’s support and they may transfer ownership of the account over to you.
What you don’t want is someone posting from social media registered as your name without being you. This can be extremely damaging to your reputation and easily avoidable by registering the domains.
Something else to consider is names or businesses that have the same name as you.
Imagine if someone researching your keyword ended up landing on a person or business in some sort of criminal trouble or with terrible reviews. You want to do your best to extinguish the potential confusion of mistaken identity. Get yourself out there.
Ideally, you would also be posting relevant content from your social media accounts. If the accounts are public facing like Twitter or a Facebook page, be sure that your content is professional and what you would expect to see from a business or public facing page.
Content is King
What is the message that you want your audience to receive? This is crucial for any online reputation strategy since it’s all about shaping how people think about you or your business.
If you don’t already have a brand strategy it’s time to develop one. Think about the tone of your message. Is it conversational? Academic? How does your online voice sound when delivering your message. What would be the most impactful with your audience?
Visually, what does your message look like?
These are important questions that will develop as you build your online presence. If you already have a well-developed brand then be sure that you are consistent with your message and brand across all platforms. The platforms will be different but your brand and message should remain the same.
Tell Your Story
An important consideration to make when discussing online reputation is that just because you don’t have negative search results– that doesn’t make a positive online reputation. You want what shows up about you online to be favorable articles, reviews, and conversations surrounding your name or business.
You want people to be able to find you when they search you online and you want the results to be positive. Having neutral or no relevant search results does not work in your favor unless you are a double-secret agent
Some of the best and easiest content, to begin with, is to tell your story. If we’re talking about a business, what gave you the idea to start it, who were your inspirations, and what advice would you give to others in your sector.
As an individual what are your interests and who inspires you? Start a blog and stick to a regular posting schedule and be active on social media.
Most people consider relevancy more important than a brand name or business in search results when looking up a topic like “sushi restaurants near me.”
If you are a business you want to be discovered through relevancy and organic search; as an individual, you want to stand out in whatever your niche is.
Be Overly Cautious on Social Media
One of the easiest mistakes that brands and individuals make online are missteps on social media. We live in a time where likes, retweets, comments, and shares are digital forms of currency. These are the tangible measurements where we judge the sentiment surrounding a conversation, the effectiveness of a post, and how engaging your message is.
It’s absolutely crucial for companies and individuals who want to get their message out there to take advantage of massive audience potential and direct conversations with their consumers and audience that social media offers.
A public forum means there is minimal margin for error.
Five Tips on How to Avoid a Social Media Fail
Log out of personal social media accounts.
Rule #1. Always, always, always, be sure that when posting to a corporate or public facing account, that you are logged out of any private accounts and never juggle posting between them. This is a no-brainer. It’s not if it’s when you post to the wrong account if you are logged into your personal and corporate account at the same time. The consequences can be disastrous. It’s a simple precaution that can save not just an online reputation issue, but a full-blown PR crisis.
Not the best look for StubHub below.
This mistake was easily avoidable which led to massively embarrassing PR issues.
An easy way to begin a good posting routine to the right account is to set your browser to not remember the password for your social media pages so you need to physically log in to each account each time to access your account.
This way you know exactly which account you are logging into without question. You could use Google Chrome in incognito mode to achieve this or simply deny “remember password” settings.
Spelling and Grammar
“Nanny Ogg knew how to start spelling ‘banana’, but didn’t know how you stopped.”
― Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad
While social media is about the least grammatically correct place on the internet, if you are effectively trying to communicate a message, spelling, and grammar is still extremely important.
A study from disruptive communications in the UK found that 42.5% of people (out of 1K) found that bad spelling and grammar was most likely to damage their opinion of a brand on social media
If the argument is there that social media has its own language, which is true, when it comes to taking brands and individuals seriously, the old rules still apply.
Always use spell check.
Be Wary of Scheduled Posts and aware of current events
With the conversation never stopping on social media, it’s easy to understand why brands would want around-the-clock posting schedule to keep audiences engaged.
What is often taken for granted, however, is that scheduled posts can intersect with inopportune and unfortunate events. The same goes for simply not being aware of current events. If any large-scale tragedy occurs, posts like below will invariably come off looking insincere and tone-deaf.
Be conscious of this. While it is not a bad idea to schedule posts for times where you know you will be offline, make sure that if something that if a national tragedy or large-scale disaster occurs, that you go into your accounts and pause all scheduled posts.
Research your Hashtags.
Hashtags are amazing. They let us organize all conversations around a specific topic to one place. It brings together conversations like no other social media feature. There’s no easier way of finding a relevant audience than through a hashtag search and it makes it easy for your audience to find you as well.
You want to be 100% sure that you understand the significance of whatever hashtag you are using. A common trap is to simply look at whatever hashtags are trending and to piggyback of those conversations. This will eventually and inevitably land you in hot water unless you have full a full understanding of the hashtag you are using.
Take, for example, DiGiorno chiming in on a domestic violence hashtag.
If there is any question of what a hashtag means or if it is irrelevant to your brand or message than stay away from it.
This brings up another great point when communicating online. If you make a mistake, own up to it, sincerely apologize, and make it clear to your audience that you are sorry. While DiGiorno made a huge mistake, they took the time to reach out to others who were offended by the tweet and repaired much of the damage by showing a contrite authenticity in owning the mistake.
Stay In Your Lane
While the appeal of social media is reaching larger and new audiences, you always want your message to be consistent across platforms and segment out who you are trying to reach.
Define the goals of your social media efforts.
A tailored audience is a more engaged audience and just because you can (almost) reach everyone, doesn’t mean you should try to engage audiences that have no relevance to your message. This especially goes for memorials and tributes to celebrities. RIP posts can go south very quickly for a number of reasons for brands.
Generally RIP posts from brands can be viewed as promotional and insensitive to the personal tragedy of someone’s death. Social media posts can easily turn an actual tragedy into an ephemeral and trivialized event, no matter the intention of sincerity. Memorialized posts from brands typically come across as insincere and promotional and should be avoided. Unless there is relevance to your industry, the potential for backlash is stronger than any of the positives.
In addition, if you are a plastic shoe and want to connect with new audiences, it wouldn’t make sense to join conversations and hashtags relating to iconic musicians.
Staying in your lane will bring you closer to your audience and increase engagement metrics.
Test your links and don’t Auto-respond
This is another easy one that can have detrimental effects when it goes wrong. When including a link to a post, always check the link in a different tab before posting to your social media account.
It’s not enough to rely on copying and pasting links. Invariably, if you do not check links each time you post, you will end up posting the wrong link. At the minimum this can be confusing to your audience and at worse can cause a full-blown PR crisis.
This tweet below from an ESPN anchor is fine and all…well, you know, except for the part where he linked to a porn site. Facepalm.
A fool-proof way to avoid this is simply having one tab open on your browser that is used for testing links if you are posting on social media.
Auto-responses are a no-no for a few reasons. While automated responses seem like a great way to engage with each mention of you or your brand, or each new follow, there are a few great reasons to not do this.
Social media, when used correctly, can bring you closer to your target audience and further your message through engaged dialogue. Auto-responses will never further this cause and can only detract from it. In addition to watering down your connection with your audiences, you always run the risk with auto-responses to reply out of context to a comment. Not worth it.
Reputation Management Guide Continued…
Become a Thought Leader
It’s not enough to be active on social media if you really want to steer the narrative surrounding your message. Becoming an active participant in forums relating to your field is a great way to establish yourself as an expert and gain recognition and respect from the audience you are trying to reach.
In addition to public forum’s appearing as a guest blogger or contributor to relevant websites is also a great idea.
Sites like Medium.com offer a great platform to establish yourself as a thought-leader in your field.
If you are a local construction business, for example, you could publish recurring articles or a series of how-to videos with simple home DIY projects.
This also goes for podcasts and guest lectures or appearances. Remember, the idea is to reach your relevant audience and populate search results with positive content. In-person lectures and participation in panels and events in your field can earn you valuable press coverage.
Don’t Argue Online.
There have been so many examples of bad decisions from businesses responding in inappropriate ways to people online that you could fill an entire book and it would be a wonderfully cringe-worthy read. The internet arms everyone with a degree of bravado that you would rarely see in real-world interactions. So many things are said online that you just wouldn’t hear otherwise. Trolls? Ignore them. They only exist because of the attention that is paid to them. Don’t get baited into a no-win situation. They are waiting for you to slip-up. Do not engage. Simple.
Critical feedback is a different story. Don’t take anything personally. There are a few things to consider when others are critical of you or your brand. Most importantly, a critique is something that you should absolutely look at objectively and take the information as an opportunity to improve yourself or business. If you see something online that is untrue or exaggerated, take the time to respond in a professional and polite way with your side of the story. Always be professional. If you are heated, take a walk outside. Get some fresh air. Don’t respond to anything online when you are angry. This never ends well. Keep in mind that you are operating in a public forum, if you respond well to criticisms, it will be an opportunity for others to see you as caring and receptive, which you should be.
In addition, winning over someone who is unsatisfied with your business turns the formerly disgruntled into fierce supporters. Most people are receptive to working towards a solution with their issue and the time and attention required to satisfy a negative experience with a customer is infinitely worth it.
Speak with an ORM Specialist
So you’ve nailed down the basics of online reputation management– have a firm grasp of the do’s and don’ts of the internet and you’re ready to take control of your online narrative. Excellent. Many of the first steps in online reputation management, if taken seriously and put into regimented practice will put you way ahead of the field when it comes to your online narrative. Speaking with an ORM specialist can help you make the transition from passively interested in controlling your reputation, to someone who is actively taking steps to learn and improve your online presence.
As is often case with technology, we are still catching up to realize the repercussions of our inventions, whether for good or otherwise. The internet can be viewed as a general upheaval of how the world worked until we plugged in, and the restructuring and adaptation of new technology is no different from PR and reputation management.
While the old narrative of positively influencing an audience remains the same, online reputation has taken this process into the digital realm. With information available on every subject, company, and other people– with the push of a button– what others find out about you or your business online is a very real first impression that can have affect most aspects of your professional and personal life.