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5 real-world examples of online reputation affecting people’s lives

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

A man with his back to the camera facing two computer screens with a fist puching out of one and the a hand bestowing a crown from the other.

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That may be true, but what happens online certainly doesn’t stay online—especially when people are googling you.

What people find in the search results—good or bad, accurate or inaccurate, current or outdated—reflects directly on you and can significantly affect your life, creating a positive experience or bad experience within relationships,  job opportunities, and more.

But don’t take our word for it.

We have real-world examples—five from people’s lives being transformed by their online reputations and two bonus examples from businesses you have most likely heard of.

But before we get to that, we want to explain what online reputation is and why it’s so important.

We don’t want to assume anything here, so we’ll start from the beginning briefly.

What is online reputation?

Online reputation refers to the overall perception of a person or a business based on information found online.

It encompasses everything from reviews and ratings to social media posts and online mentions about you or your business.

Think of your online reputation as gossip, only instead of spreading the good, the bad, and the ugly about you across your hometown, it now travels across the entire world via the internet—and often lingers there, at the top of the search results for your name, for years.

Why is online reputation important?

Online reputation is vital for several reasons. It’s not just about your individual reputation or personal brand.

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It also influences various aspects of a company’s success, including sales results, brand recognition, search engine rankings, customer trust, differentiation from competitors, and social media presence.

A tarnished reputation can last years if you don’t manage it right.

But we’ll talk more about that later, after the examples we want to show you.

Let’s dive in.

1. Student loses NASA internship

Because employers and potential employers are googling you, maintaining a positive online reputation can help you get (or keep) that new job or promotion. In contrast, controversial social media posts can get you fired. In fact, nearly 1 in 10 young people have been passed over for a job due to their poor online choices.

A good example of what not to do is Twitter user Naomi H, who sent out the following tweet after being accepted for an internship with NASA:

Source: Joe Rogan on Twitter

Because she used the #NASA hashtag, NASA officials saw her tweet and withdrew the internship offer. Naomi H later apologized to Mr. Hickam, but it’s unclear whether she ever regained the internship.

If your online reputation isn’t helping you land a job, then it’s time to do a thorough audit of your search results and delete any content you’ve shared that could limit your employability. For help removing negative items posted by others, see How to remove an article from the Internet.

2. Bullied student gets into his favorite school

According to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, nearly 40% of university admissions officers are looking at applicants’ social media profiles. This means that managing your online reputation can increase your chances of getting into the school of your choice.

Alan Katzman, the CEO of Social Assurity, recently shared with us a story about one of his clients—a high school junior just starting the college application process—who was able to clean up his online reputation after his “friends” set up a fake neo-Nazi Twitter account using his real name and image. These friends then spent roughly six months growing the account’s number of followers by spewing hate speech and engaging with other neo-Nazis on Twitter. Funny, right?

When the student learned of the prank, he was devastated. He also worried that his poor online reputation would keep him from getting into the college of his dreams.

However, Katzman got the fake account deleted. He then used reputation management techniques to build up a new social media presence that accurately reflected his client’s accomplishments, aspirations, and personal attributes.

In the end, the student was accepted to his first-choice school via early action. This story is proof that you too can restore your good name—even after a reputation crisis—by employing the right reputation management techniques.

3. Social media posts lead to denied insurance claim

To evaluate risk and investigate claims, some insurance companies are googling you and tracking your online activities via third-party tracking cookies.

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For example, before submitting payment for a claim, life insurance firms now investigate the insured person’s online reputation to verify that he or she followed the terms of the policy.

If a company discovers social media comments and pictures that reveal a lifestyle different from the one the person described when applying for coverage, then it could refuse to pay out on the policy.

This exact scenario happened when a grieving family member submitted a life insurance claim. Apparently, the deceased denied having any dangerous hobbies when he applied for a multimillion-dollar life insurance policy. However, after his death a few months later, the insurer rescinded his policy upon finding evidence online of his long-standing heli-skiing hobby.

The takeaway from stories like this is that you can save yourself a lot of money by monitoring what appears about you online and taking steps to ensure that your posts—as well as things other people post about you—reflect the best version of yourself.

4. Spur-of-the-moment tweet affects loved ones

If critical articles, scathing reviews, or unflattering social media posts about you appear in your search results, then people might link family members who share your name with your negative content. Not only would this embarrass them, but it could also cause them to experience the same financial, educational, and career challenges that you might be facing, albeit to a lesser degree.

One example of how your online reputation can affect those close to you is the story (shared with us by J. J. Cannon, author of @Sophie Takes a #Selfie) of a college student, whose boastful tweets about getting arrested for public intoxication went viral, destroying her online reputation. As a result, her family and friends had to endure intense media scrutiny. Years later, links to the episode still appear on the first page of the young woman’s search results.

Luckily, you can protect your family members from unwanted negative publicity, whether critical articles, scathing reviews, or unflattering social media posts about you, by proactively building and maintaining a positive online reputation.

5. Company’s exclusionary attitude disgusts customers

Most people decide to do business with a company based on its reputation for customer service. So, what happens when a company earns a name for poor customer service?

In February 2016, the teen apparel company Abercrombie & Fitch scored lower than any other retailer had ever scored on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), earning it the title “Most Hated Brand in America.” Much of this poor reputation was due to its former CEO, who famously claimed “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people. A lot of people don’t belong and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

The brand’s customers were appalled. In an article in The Guardian, a 17-year-old shopper describes her decision to stop shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch after reading the CEO’s comments. “They even hang up to a size three out and put the larger sizes on the shelves,” she said. Although Molly is slim and would fit in those sizes, she says, “That doesn’t mean I want to shop at a place that treats other people badly.”

The CEO’s statement, coupled with the firm’s discriminatory policies, significantly damaged the company’s brand, leading to protests, boycotts, lawsuits, and most importantly, a staggering 77% drop in sales that year. According to a retail analyst at the time, “One factor [for the decline in sales] has to be the negative press [the company] received from the comments [the CEO] made.”

The CEO, who led Abercrombie & Fitch for more than 20 years, apologized for his comments, but never overcame this reputation disaster. After consecutive 11 quarters of negative store sales, he left the company in 2014.

Years later, Abercrombie & Fitch is still recovering from this experience. This is why it’s so important for companies to realize that the actions of their executives can have lasting reputational impacts.

This incident highlights how dramatically a business can be affected by the actions of a single individual. Let’s dive more into the business side of things in the next few sections.

The role of online reputation in business

As we learned from the Abercrombie & Fitch example, businesses must proactively manage their online reputations as much as individuals do to thrive in today’s competitive landscape.

This involves monitoring and responding to online reviews, leveraging social media platforms to boost engagement, optimizing search engine rankings, and consistently delivering exceptional customer experiences.

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By doing these things, you can establish a positive online reputation that differentiates your business from competitors and builds customer trust and loyalty.

For example, positive reviews play a significant role in driving sales and customer engagement. and negative feedback or a bad review lowers it. No shocker there.

But here’s something you may not know.

A 2023 PowerReviews study found that 91% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision. More precisely, “99.75% of online shoppers read reviews at least sometimes; 91% do so always or regularly.”

Positive reviews not only attract potential customers, but they also build trust and confidence in existing ones, thereby increasing your chances of creating a loyal client base.

On the other hand, negative comments can harm your brand’s reputation, deterring potential customers and decreasing your customer retention numbers.

Customer service

Customer service is another essential factor in managing your company’s online reputation.

Promptly addressing customer queries and resolving complaints can turn a negative experience into a positive one, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Active social media marketing further complements reputation management efforts by enabling your business to interact with customers in real time, creating a positive brand image.

That’s why social listening is so important. It lets you get a jump on customer complaints, allowing you to stifle negative comments before they grow into an inferno you have trouble putting out.

In light of this, we want to give you some feedback management strategies that can help you bulletproof your brand.

Customer complaints and feedback management strategies

Customer complaints and other negative feedback can suck the life right out of a thriving business.

As such, effective management of these complaints and feedback is crucial for maintaining a positive brand image and attracting potential customers.

One strategy is to promptly address negative feedback.

By acknowledging and addressing customer concerns in a timely and professional manner, you can demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction immediately.

This can help prevent negative comments from spreading and potentially damaging your business reputation.

Another strategy is to actively listen to customer feedback, and then use this information to make your product or services better.

By understanding customer concerns and taking steps to address them, you can quickly enhance the customer experience and build positive relationships with your audience.

Several businesses have successfully implemented these strategies.

Two short business examples

Zappos, an online retail giant, is known for its exceptional customer service and prompt resolution of complaints. It prioritizes customer satisfaction and has a dedicated team who handles customer queries and resolves issues.

Another example is Airbnb, which has a robust feedback management system.

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These two businesses encourage customers to share their experiences and provide detailed feedback, which helps the companies improve their services and address any issues promptly.

If you want to check them out, just Google “Airbnb review system.” You’ll find loads of content about how the system works, including dedicated Help pages about it.

In the end, addressing negative feedback promptly and professionally, actively listening to customers, and using their feedback to make improvements are crucial steps in maintaining a positive brand image.

Businesses like Zappos and Airbnb serve as excellent examples of companies that prioritize customer feedback and satisfaction.

Ranking and reviews

An excellent online reputation also impacts search engine rankings. This is because Google takes the quality of your reviews into account when determining where your content should appear in local search results.

In addition to reviews, Google also considers customer feedback and social media engagement when determining the credibility and relevance of a business.

Higher rankings increase visibility and attract more online traffic, potentially leading to increased sales.


As you can see, there are many ways a positive online reputation can improve your life. Whether it’s helping you get that job you applied for, increasing your chances of getting into your favorite college, saving you money, protecting your loved ones, or keeping your customers’ respect.

This is because your online reputation directly affects the public’s perception of you—and ultimately the level of success you (or your business) can achieve.

To learn more about the best ways to repair or strengthen your online reputation, feel free to give us a call. But before you do, grab your free reputation report card. It will give you valuable information about how others view you online right now. The results are instant.

As always, we are always happy to provide a complimentary consultation, whatever your concerns may be.