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The difference between reputation intelligence and online reputation management

Bad reviews, negative content and damaging online commentary can all dent an organisation’s reputation. The temptation to smother such stories, so that search engines don’t throw up negative reporting in connection to your business, is undeniable, understandable – and arguably underhand.

When it comes to protecting your reputation, online reputation management (ORM) is very much the black sheep on the marketplace – which isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of digital marketing companies out there willing to lend you a helping hand in trying to supress negative reviews from peppering a Google search of your services.

The process, focused around search engine optimisation, aims to overlay positive content on bad reviews. By spamming new stories and positive commentary, it displaces any negative reporting, pushing undesirable content to the bottom of the list – and ideally many web pages away from the headlines. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way, all too often, ORM is simply a means of papering over the cracks rather than undertaking the alternative process of honestly facing up to negative press, stripping back to the root causes, and rebuilding your reputation on solid foundations.

At its worst, ORM is pure spin: it is the backroom, shady, nefarious side of reputation and communications. Its deployment alone doesn’t address any of the issues behind the negative search results – ultimately it’s a defensive position to enable companies to keep doing the undesirable things that resulted in a stakeholder backlash, while hiding any misconduct from potential customers.

And there is always the risk of being caught out, especially when ORM activity borders on the criminal. A CBS News investigation found that online reputation management companies had faked court orders from judges in order to force Google to permanently remove negative news links from its search results. The investigation resulted in a county court investigation, and referrals to the FBI.

At its best, ORM can offer organisations a chance to cover up a one-off mistake that continues to unfairly dog them long after they have made reparation. But even in these cases, reputation intelligence is a better, stronger, more effective – and more intelligent – approach.

The roots of reputation intelligence lie in a strategic approach to restoring and maintaining reputation based on listening to stakeholders, behaving with authenticity and enacting genuine change where it’s required. These tactics are very much in opposition to the closed off, defensive efforts of ORM – which is the modern day equivalent of trying to bury the story.

Rather than attempting to sweep negative search results under the carpet, reputation intelligence takes a pre-emptive tack to divert damage before it occurs. Part of this process is confronting any ugly truths and understanding what is turning stakeholders away from the company.

It may not be enjoyable, but the start of an effective reputation intelligence journey is being clear on what kind of an organisation you want to be having and then having those tough conversations on whether you’re living up to those aspirations in your performance, behaviours and communications. As a result, rather than a thin, easily cracked veneer of respectability, you will have an authentic, solid reputation that you, and your present and future clients, investors and staff, can rely on.

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