Google yourself. What do you see? Are you represented fairly?

Everyone has an online reputation. The only question is do you have a say in yours?

Online reputation management (ORM) means taking control of the online conversation. Its techniques and strategies ensure that people find the right materials when they look for you on the Internet.

The purpose of online reputation management is to create balance, counteract misleading trends, and allow you to put your best foot forward.

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Two cycles of online reputation

Vicious Cycle: Ignore your online reputation and you risk falling victim to a vicious cycle of misinformation and rumors.
Virtuous Cycle: Take care of your online reputation and you create a virtuous cycle of positive, quality materials that reflect well on you.
Vicious Virtuous
Vicious Cycle
1 2 3 4 5
  • 1 Poor-quality, outdated, misleading, or malicious content ranks highly online
  • 2 People naturally click on results that seem shocking or scandalous
  • 3 Search engines see that users like these links and continue to promote them
  • 4 Social media amplifies the reach and effect of reputation-harming items
  • 5 Follow-up content, commentary, and online gossip create more links and traffic that validate the negative materials
Virtuous Cycle
1 2 3 4 5
  • 1 Good-quality, current, accurate, and balanced content ranks highly online
  • 2 People naturally click on results that seem likely to provide the information they were looking for
  • 3 Search engines see that users like these informative links and continue to promote them
  • 4 Social media amplifies the reach and effect of engaging, high-quality items
  • 5 Follow-up content, media coverage, and positive new developments create more links and traffic that validate the positive materials

Why you should care about your online reputation

Online reputation is becoming so pervasive, it’s almost time to drop the word “online”

The Internet is our first stop for everything

Not only do people view the Internet as their first source of information, but they also trust what it tells them. More importantly, they make decisions based on what they find online.

  • Two out of three people see the Internet as the most reliable source of information about a person or a business (Edelman Insights)
  • 70% of hiring managers have rejected a candidate because of something they found online (Cross-Tab)
  • When looking for a local business, 97% of people read online reviews (BIA Kelsey)
  • Over 80% of reputation damage comes from a mismatch between the buzz and the reality (Digimind)

Looking at statistics like these, it’s clear that what happens online affects your entire life.

Online and offline are blending

With each passing day, the online world becomes more and more enmeshed with the rest of our activities. From smartphones to smart TVs, from the “Internet of things” to the self-driving cars of the future—you are living each day increasingly online, even if you never touch a computer.

That means there are more and more ways for you to leave an online mark, positive or negative.

Now, you might not think that people are searching for you, but chances are they are. Common reasons include:

  • Employers doing pre-interview research
  • Landlords looking into prospective renters
  • Children searching for details of their parents’ “real lives”
  • Curious significant others, past and present
  • Former colleagues looking to share professional opportunities
  • College admissions departments evaluating prospective students
  • Insurance companies doing risk assessments

No matter how “under the radar” or “low-tech” your lifestyle, there is a good quantity of information about you online—and people are seeing it.

Your online reputation is forever

If someone writes something negative about you online, it can put you at a serious disadvantage over the long term—especially if you’re not aware of it. You might never know why you didn’t get that apartment you wanted, or why a job offer never materialized after that phenomenal interview.

It’s important to keep tabs on what people are saying about you online and then take steps to correct any inaccuracies. (Here are some tips to help you get started.)

For the same reasons, you also need to monitor things that you post yourself. Thanks to social media, even posts from decades earlier can come back to harm you. Consider the following examples, all vastly different:

Case Study: United Airlines

One company that understands this better than most is United Airlines, which is still trying to find its footing after being deemed “evil” on social media. In 2017, video of United Airlines security personnel violently dragging a passenger off of an overbooked flight went viral, generating over 1 million mentions a day on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in the immediate aftermath. This social media storm ignited national outrage and caused United’s stock to quickly lose more than $1 billion in market value. While the stock has since recovered, the company’s reputation remains tarnished and continues to serve as fodder for late-night comedians.

Why do we need online reputation management?

Given how advanced information technologies have become, shouldn’t these issues go away on their own?

Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen. Online reputation mismatches are not technology problems, they’re human problems.

Google’s algorithms can only give us what we ask for. So if we ask for juicy gossip, conspiracy stories, and negative reviews, that’s what gets associated with our search terms.

Search algorithms prioritize popularity

No algorithm can tell whether information accurately reflects you or not, so popularity becomes the main measuring stick of what makes a good search result.

That’s why embarrassing party photos, frivolous lawsuits dismissed years ago, and other kinds of irrelevant but intriguing “clickbait” often dominate online reputations.

Online reputation management prioritizes balance

Online reputation management counteracts that human bias for gossip, ensuring that the materials that actually matter aren’t overwhelmed by the rumors.

Do you trust your reputation to be accurately represented by an algorithm that doesn’t know the difference between what’s tantalizing and what’s truthful? If not, then you need to develop an online reputation management strategy to protect your interests.

This need will always exist. In fact, it’s probably going to get more and more important to manage our online reputations as search engines and other online algorithms become a bigger part of everything we do.

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Is online reputation management the same as SEO?

There are similarities between online reputation management and search engine optimization (SEO) but there are also important differences.

SEO is about promoting a specific website or page to the top of the search results. Online reputation management is about controlling the collection of websites that appear in your search results. That means the tactics and measures of success are different.

Search Engine Optimization vs. Online Reputation Management

1 2 3 4
SEO Goal ORM Goal
  • Rank your website #1 in search
    Fill search page 1 with positive content
  • Move your website up in search
    Displace misleading websites in search
  • Go viral
    Avoid going viral
  • Rank for many related search terms
    Dominate a few specific search terms

Online reputation management first steps

Not sure how to get started in managing your online reputation? Check out our collection of guides and best practices.

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The definitive guide to online reputation management

Our in-depth guide to how online reputation management works, the major tactics involved, and how to build a strategy that works for you. The ultimate resource for anyone looking to roll up their sleeves and put together their own plan.

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How social media can ruin your online reputation

Using real-world examples, we show how social media missteps have harmed people's reputations. We then provide advice on how to avoid a similar fate, including simple steps you can take to protect yourself on social media.

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How to remove negative reviews from the Internet

Businesses often ask if there's a way to delete misleading, negative reviews. In this guide, we go over the situations where removal might be possible, and we provide advice on how to solve the problem in cases when it's not.

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How to protect your online reputation

Not sure where to start with online reputation management? In this guide, we provide a handful of easy-to-implement tips that will put your online reputation on a much surer footing. We also explain strategies that don't work and that are best avoided.

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Online review management: the complete guide

If you run a business and aren't sure how best to use customer reviews to build your online reputation, this guide is for you. We go over the do's and don'ts of online review management, how to get more positive reviews, and how to avoid getting negative ones.

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