“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 2018 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 about taking a proactive stance in how yourself or your business is presented online to the average person. 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 (business and individuals alike) more owned web assets that can be controlled and curated. They also tend to rank really well in search results, and owning your share-of-voice on page 1 is what it’s all about. Social media is another way to put yourself out there, and if done so tactfully, can lead to increased discovery of you and/or your business/products, services etc. Instagram currently is really where it’s at for any product or even service businesses. Instagram’s owned by Facebook, and the marketing capabilities that each platform has cultivated is truly incredible and affects everyone’s lives much more than we probably realize.

What is the biggest misconception about online reputation management?

Some may think reputation management is confined to fixing your online image after a public facing crisis has already hit (i.e., suppressing unfavorable results), but it’s really so much more. It’s also about appearing in search results where you want to, not necessarily just what your name or company looks like on page 1 of Google. It’s not limited to CEO’s and public companies; the average executive, and even John Doe looking for a Tinder-date turned bride can benefit from it. (Online reputation management is also extremely possible when you hire a specialized agency. There are definitely old-school SEO experts out there that don’t believe it’s a thing.)

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. While every situation is unique and depends on the severity of damage done, most online reputations can improve over a 6-12 month timeline.

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 results. 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, but truth (such as an arrest, an investigation, etc.) So 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 stem in that most information 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.

Here’s a couple articles you can read in Law360 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 – speaking from a professional viewpoint, of course). I recommend responding publicly, 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. “Thank dog for Phyllis’ detailed review on activated charcoal teeth whitening powder! I love this stuff!” Lol, but for real.

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

Tough question. I think it’d be very difficult and time consuming for someone who’s unfamiliar with SEO to do a good job at managing their online reputation. 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.

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 machine learning algorithm becomes more and more sophisticated. 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 basic and important that people understand that most things 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, I’d say – if you’re considering looking to professionals, do your research. There’s a lot of reputation management agencies out there that have honestly colored this industry with a shade of unflattering gray, and made the average person (including those old-timey SEO specialists) skeptical of our work.

Be on the look-out for firms with cookie cutter solutions, SEO or PR firms that claim they can also do ‘reputation management’, and those that offer to de-index i.e., completely remove your results. Get a few quotes, ask a lot of questions, and compare what each package actually incorporates. It should be completely custom and even informative. You want a comprehensive solution, not a pack of web profiles… that you could actually do yourself without too much time invested. (Check out our 72 Reputation Management Stats for 2018 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. An ORM 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 charcoal-activated tooth whitener to come up as the top result in Google, or even Amazon 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 yourself, protect yourself, or rebrand yourself, an online reputation management specialist can help.

Status Labs is the premier digital reputation management firm, with offices in Austin, New York, Los Angeles, London and São Paulo. For more information visit StatusLabs.com or sign up for a Free Consultation.