Reputation management is often described as a single service, but there isn’t a consistent definition for what it is or what it includes. In fact, there is significant overlap in reputation management and many other areas of content marketing. Of course, that makes sense, given that marketing is little more than an attempt to design your own reputation as a business and share that with potential clients. So when you look for a marketing firm offering reputation management, how will you know what you’re getting?

As a marketing professional, I thought it would be useful to know more about reputation management, especially since I personally work with firms that offer these services to their clients. But the funny thing is, even after a few hours of digging, I found it difficult to nail down the processes that achieve the results often promised with reputation management. What’s going on here? Is it a total scam, or can it be done right? I was hoping to blow the lid wide open with a scandal in the content marketing industry, exploring the shady underbelly of reputation management. What I did isn’t quite so exciting, but it did yield some helpful insights on reputation management that may be helpful for businesses looking to feel more in control when it comes to what’s being said about them online.

“Reputation Management” is a blanket term.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell what reputation management is, even when looking at the websites of companies that offer it. The promises made by these companies may include burying negative reviews, filtering and monitoring reviews, increasing the number of positive reviews your business receives, and emphasizing positive reviews by reposting them on your own site. But is it really possible to bury a bad review? Can you guide your customers’ hands into giving you positive reviews? How much control can you really have over your reputation at all? The answers to these questions will be addressed in this article, but you’ll find that the answers can vary depending on your own moral compass—and the ethical practices of the marketing firm you choose to work with.

How much should you care about your reputation?

Of course it’s important what your customers think about your business, but where do you draw the line in terms of how much you care about a few bad reviews? In general, you shouldn’t dwell on a couple of pieces of negative feedback if your overall rating is high and you have a loyal base of satisfied returning customers. Still, you want to know what people think and say about your company online, so you should be willing to act when necessary. It’s a good practice to invest time and energy into reputation management, but you don’t want to dwell on one bad review out of hundreds or take negative comments personally.

To put it in perspective, let’s look at some numbers:

  • 49% of customers need to see at least a 4-star rating before choosing to patronize a local business.
  • 30% of people say it’s important that businesses respond to negative reviews.
  • 73% of customers say positive reviews build their trust in a business.
  • 77% of customers think that reviews are not relevant if they’re older than 3 months.

This data reveals a few key takeaways:

  1. The bigger picture is more valuable than any individual review.
  2. Consumers respond positively when they see companies engaging with reviews.
  3. Older reviews will lose their impact over time.
Reputation management wears many hats.

In the past, there was a big divide between SEO services described as white hat (good) and black hat (bad). That’s because it used to be much easier to get away with shady tricks to fool search engines into ranking websites favorably without any real markers of quality. You might say that reputation management wears many hats, because there are some practices that simply make sense and offer valuable insight for consumers, there are some that are downright dishonest, and there are a few in that middle area where it may not be immediately clear what you’re signing up for. Below you can see some examples of different practices and which category they fall into.

Illustrated table showing the differences between white hat, gray hat, and black hat repuation management tactics.

Black and grey hat reputation management tactics can go downhill fast. One of the most famous examples is an Arizona bakerythat was so infamously terrible that it ended up on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Even before that appearance, however, the bakery was known for personally insulting customers and negative Yelpers in public forums, threatening lawsuits to reviewers, and preventing customers from taking pictures of the bakery in person. Still, the results are often much less extreme, but customers do take notice when business owners get nasty.

You might wonder why, with so many advanced search algorithms designed to sort search results based on legitimacy, it’s still possible to get away with some of the less aggressive black and gray hat practices above. It’s a good question, and, as with most good questions, the answer is complex.

First, let’s consider why companies would even offer services that could risk getting flagged by search engines and independent review sites. If you’ve ever gotten one bad review of your business online, you may have let it drive you crazy, especially if you don’t agree with the complaints being raised. It’s easy to take negative feedback personally, and it can be tempting to want a bad review stricken from the record, just like you’d want to delete an unfortunate picture of yourself from a friend’s social media account. There are some predatory marketing companies that will take full advantage of your desperation in seeking a more positive reputation, which is why you’ll want to step back and understand what types of promises these companies can’t really fulfill with their services–even though they may try to convince you otherwise. Here’s a look at some of the loopholes that let them get away with it:

Google needs to improve their review filtering process.

Sites like Yelp have strict monitoring to identify fake reviews and ban the accounts that they come from. This goes for reviews that are obviously not human-generated, reviews that have likely been paid for, or inflammatory reviews that were created by competitors. You might assume that Google has similar standards (I did), but that’s not entirely true. There is not an effective system of flagging irregular review patterns, and Google My Business does not offer adequate support for removing reviews that you know are illegitimate.

Legal action can be painfully slow.

In some cases, derogatory statements about you or your business online may warrant legal action, but the outcome of a lawsuit may not necessarily undo the damage that’s taken place. Plus, you may have to wait months or even years for a legal case to be resolved.

Bad practices may not be obviously bad.

As we touched on with some of the gray hat practices above, it’s not always clear what’s good and what’s bad in managing a business reputation. For example, it can seem like a reasonable solution to ask your clients to respond to negative reviews in your defense, but this takes all control of the response out of your hands. You might also think it’s a good idea to ask your clients to post their own positive reviews of your company, and this is a fine practice as long as you are not inappropriately soliciting feedback through unwanted emails or questionable incentives.

As you can see, reputation management is a big topic, and it’s definitely one worth discussing. Because it’s easy to go down the wrong path with shady reputation management practices, it’s also worth enlisting some help to know the right course of action. Building a more solid online presence through SEO can help keep your reputation on a stable foundation, and focusing on positive customer experiences will help keep the positive responses rolling in, allowing you to avoid the temptation of less savory black hat practices.

About the Author

Marissa - Digital Marketing Manager, Account Services
Marissa Storrs

Digital Marketing Manager, Client Engagement

Marissa - Digital Marketing Manager, Account Services
Adrienne Lobl

Digital Marketing Specialist, Graphic Design Onboarding Services