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How to Choose a Reputation Management Service

Online reputation management (ORM) help you fix PR disasters or completely prevent them in the first place. These services also work to establish and protect your brand once the crisis has been addressed. ORM can have a huge impact on your personal success and that of your business; reputation management goes well beyond simply improving your search results.

"It adds value to your brand, contributes longevity and visibility to your career or organization, and helps prevent your identity from being appropriated and misused by others," said Shannon Wilkinson, CEO of ORM company Reputation Communications.

Whether you're an individual or a business owner, reputation management services can help you protect your image. However, you must first make sure you know what ORM companies can and can't do and what makes a service trustworthy and effective.

Editor's Note: Looking for a reputation management service for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site provide you with information from vendors for free:

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Reputation management services are comprehensive, covering far more than just crisis control or negative online reviews. They are able to analyze, establish, protect and restore your brand's image online through a number of strategies. Here are some of the main features to consider when choosing an ORM service:

Search engine optimization and management. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process by which your online content will rank higher in popular search engines like Google. It encompasses strategies and techniques to increase visitors to your website. Reputation management firms will cover SEO so internet users searching for topics relating to your business will be more likely to find you. SEO can also be employed to emphasize the positive information and relegate the bad to the farther reaches of the internet. If there is negative information about you in your search results, your ORM provider can strategize ways to use truthful, positive content to detract from any negative content by pushing the bad stuff back in the list of search results. This way, people who search for you or your business won't be immediately greeted by negative results.

Content development and management. To rank well in search engines and build a good reputation, you need to have high-quality content. This involves ensuring your website and blog is well-organized, unique and that the content is well-written. Most reputation management services will help you improve your existing content and create new material so that users will not only find positive results about you or your business right away but will also see that the content you share is relevant and worth reading. This adds more credibility to your brand and your reputation.

Social media management. Social media has become commonplace, both for personal use and business. While such platforms as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can all help you grow your business or personal brand, it takes only one inappropriate picture or comment to cause a PR nightmare. Most ORM services can help you clean up your social networks to make sure they're business-appropriate, and ORM services can monitor how your social media profiles affect your reputation.

Third-party website monitoring. Of course, your websites and social media channels are things you can control, but there are also third parties that can damage your reputation without your consent. This includes former employees and displeased customers. Negative reviews on websites such as Yelp and Glassdoor can be particularly damaging. Also, it's not difficult for a dissatisfied person to create a new website or blog to disparage your company. For example, if one of your employees was to leave on bad terms, there's nothing stopping that person from writing malicious blog posts or spreading false information about you in reviews. Reputation management services will monitor the internet for this kind of content to see what people are saying about you.

Synthesizing each of these steps is crucial to a successful ORM campaign, so it's important to choose a company that is able to employ each strategy.

Overall, these services can help individuals and businesses accomplish several goals. Eric Schiffer, chairman of ORM company Reputation Management Consultants, said reputation management offers three main services:

Schiffer noted that it takes the words of just one customer to make or break your online reputation. ORM services can help you strategize to protect against any potential negative situations.

"One scathing review, consumer complaint or [negative] blog article can cause irreparable damage to an individual or business's bottom line within months, or even weeks," Schiffer said. "Reputation management firms can assist with establishing a zone of authentic, positive media that can help protect and mitigate the damage done by negative customer feedback."

Startups have a lot to focus on, and every moment is precious. For those small businesses that don't have time to establish and protect their brands online, ORM companies can handle it instead, Schiffer said.

While you would ideally use a reputation management company to prevent negative situations from ever happening in the first place, ORM services can help restore your good name when things go wrong. The right firm can use positive content to overhaul your reputation and drive down negative information, Schiffer said.

Running damage control during a reputation crisis might change the way you select a reputation management service. Building a brand is different from rescuing one from a PR nightmare, so you'll want to find an ORM service that will work with you to develop a defensive strategy.

"The reality is, if you look at a reputation or crisis management plan, you need to have it customized to meet your needs, and you need to understand the depth of your problems," Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of ORM provider WebiMax, said.

"A good way to 'test' an ORM service is to ask them for a unique analysis of your business's situation," he said. "If they offer a standardized model, it might be a hint that the company simply employs a one-size-fits-all approach that might not be suitable for your situation."

"Really dig into how they plan on addressing that problem," Wisnefski said. "If they've got a scripted approach, it's probably not going to be what you need."

He also noted that it's sometimes easier to handle a crisis situation if you've already been working with a reputation management service since it means you can monitor your online reputation and act fast when the situation arises.

Many ORM companies offer similar basic services, but it's important to find out what sets each company apart in order to benefit the most. You need to make the right selection for you and your business.

It's important to have a clear view of your specific goals before starting your search for an ORM service. Is your primary objective monitoring and improving your online presence? Do you want to clean up your social media channels? Are you more concerned about your SEO ranking? Businesses' goals vary, and so do ORM services, so clearly articulate your objectives before contacting a company.

"If you are a recent college graduate, you will be best served by a company experienced in removing inappropriate or outdated photographs and information on social media platforms," Wilkinson said. "Doctors, dentists and attorneys, as well as storefront businesses like restaurants, find online reviews to be their biggest challenge. They might obtain best results using a review management firm."

And "if you are a high-profile industry leader, VIP or have a rising presence in business, you face different issues and will want a firm that specializes in that sector," Wilkinson added.

Much like any other service you contract with, it's key to ensure an ORM company delivers top-notch customer service.

"While the process of building and maintaining a positive online presence is time-consuming, for the most part, it is not a complicated one," said Patrick Ambron, co-founder and CEO of ORM company BrandYourself. "Don't let a reputation company confuse you or mystify the process."

Your chosen ORM provider should be transparent about your campaign at all times. Moreover, the company should deliver honest feedback and keep you informed, thereby demonstrating that you are a valued client and that the provider cares about your concerns. If you feel like "just another number," then you're probably not receiving the individualized treatment you deserve.

"Every single reputation management campaign is unique and requires a customized approach to your brand strategy. So if you get the feeling that you're receiving canned responses or standardized strategies, you may not be getting the type of comprehensive and personalized platform that you need for your campaign to be effective," Schiffer said.

"You should feel as though your campaign receives the necessary attention to detail that your particular objectives require," he added.

Once you've established your goals and considered customer service, it's time to look for ORM companies that cater to your needs. But don't just check to see that they avoid what is known as "black hat practices." Do your own research to ensure the company has a good reputation. An ORM company that can't protect its own reputation probably won't be of much help to you.

So, how can you tell if a company is reputable?

"A credible vendor will have photographs and biographies of their founder and/or top executives on their websites, not just a phone number to call," Wilkinson said.

"Often, they are recognized experts, featured on mainstream media platforms. Or they are active in their communities, chairing internet-related organizations or helping educate the public about digital issues," she added.

Wilkinson also noted that you can find out a lot about a reputation management service by reading the content the company shares on its website.

"You can gain a lot of insight into a provider's process and point of view by reading their blogs and articles. That can help you evaluate the best service for your needs," she said.

And don't be afraid to meet with representatives from the ORM companies or talk to other clients who use the companies you're considering.

"Look at their track record. Talk to their clients. Meet with the team," Schiffer said. He also suggested asking yourself these questions about a potential ORM company:

  • Does it have unique technological methodologies that can prove a track record of success with the toughest cases?
  • Does it have empathy?
  • Does it have integrity?
  • Are individuals at the ORM experts at strategic media relations

"Look for someone with broad credentials," said Alexis Moore, author of "Cyber Self-Defense" (Lyons Press, October 2014). Having "diverse backgrounds in cybercrime, risk management, consulting and investigative [fields] is best."

A good reputation management service will tell you if it uses white hat or black hat tactics, said Wilkinson. You'll want to go with a provider that uses white hat tactics, as these are the acceptable techniques that adhere to Google's best practices. White hat tactics, like those listed above, are completely transparent and rely on having quality content and using proper SEO techniques. Other white hat practices include taking the time to respond proactively to any negative situations and getting reputable websites to write about or feature you or your business.

A reputation management campaign that uses white hat tactics will take a lot of time but will play it safe and provide you with long-term results.

Black hat techniques, on the other hand, may work quickly, but they are aggressive and risky. Search engines may even ban you if they catch on to your black hat tactics. If an ORM service you're considering uses any of the following techniques, take that company out of the running.

Astroturfing: In this practice, a company will create fake accounts on review websites and use them to write positive reviews, or it will pay users to do so in order to boost ratings and detract from other negative reviews.

Creating fake websites or content: This tactic involves launching fake websites and blogs to create more search results to cover up any negative results people may find when searching for you or your business.

Keyword stuffing: With this tactic, you pack as many keywords as possible into your website's metadata to increase your rankings in search.
Link spamming: This is another tactic that involves creating as many links as possible to positive content so that search engines rank that positive content highly.

Invisible text: This practice involves placing extra keywords on your website. In this case, they're written on the page itself but are hidden by making the text the same color as the page's background.

Using spam bots: Some reputation management companies use spam bots, denial-of-service attacks and hacking methods to target negative content and make it difficult or impossible for other users to access that content.

Quality, honesty and transparency are the keys to a good online reputation. Some reputation management campaigns employ questionable black hat practices, but they fall into an ethical gray area and can ultimately do more harm to your brand than good. Make sure that the ORM service you choose avoids these tactics and is clear about what it can and cannot do for you.

Editor's Note: Looking for a reputation management service for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site provide you with information from vendors for free:

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Additional reporting by Brittney Morgan and Andreas Rivera.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.