Reputation management has always been a concern for prominent brands and individuals, but interest in ORM is much broader. As just predicted in The New Digital Age, most everyone with a significant online presence will find themselves at some point using one of its professionals.
Industry insiders anticipate that one of the first ORM firms, will soon go public. Other ORM firms have attracted $15 million in venture capital: investors are pouring into the field. There are increasing articles about ORM.
Companies ranging from PR agencies, reputation management companies and social media consultancies to law firms are acquiring or partnering with startups in this fast-growing sector. Others are rushing their own ORM services to market. What does this mean for consumers?
A Profitable Industry, Attracting Explosive Growth
All this excitement has encouraged a distorted view of what ORM really is. It is not simply deleting negative information and flooding the Internet with positive information. Unlike reputation management, ORM is less about controlling image perception than about managing something that is far harder to control: all the publicly accessible online information about an organization or individual. That encompasses blogs and message boards as well as the most established media platforms. And unlike public relations it is not about controlling the flow of information—a goal the Internet has made unattainable. Good ORM is about authenticity and facts.
ORM and Efforts to Hide Negative Online Content
ORM began with attempts to hide, suppress, erase, and otherwise miraculously remove negative information from the Internet. Whether with letters to webmasters or through the creation of multitudes of dummy sites, great effort led to sometimes questionable, “black hat” results. With the refinement of search engine algorithms and the tremendous growth in Internet usage, those simple strategies have become even less effective. Online information can’t be controlled. It needs to be managed.
The open nature of the Internet makes that management more essential as well as more difficult. Companies need to watch for leaks from well-placed employees in addition to negative consumer comments. Since anonymous and unregulated they may as easily come from a competitor as a frustrated consumer. The way information endures on the Internet presents special problems for individuals—it has been argued that every time an old piece of information appears in search results it has been republished. So individuals need to be aware of job and company descriptions from early in their career and excerpts from speeches that could be taken out of context. Outdated information is actually a bigger problem for people that don’t maintain an online presence.
ORM Will Become Niche-Based
Some ORM firms still provide the older strategies. But most have developed an approach that integrates public relations, SEO, and multimedia publishing. Different customers have different needs. As the marketplace becomes more familiar with ORM we predict that we’ll see the industry online become niche-based, with providers specializing in specific areas of expertise corresponding to a type of customer. Separate suites of services are already being offered to companies and individuals. But the needs of a recent college grad entering the workforce (or even a teenager entering college), with his or her Facebook-and Twitter-saturated online profile, differ considerably from those of doctors and dentists, who may be most concerned with patient comments on consumer review sites such as Yelp. A dentist in private practice, for instance, might be best served by an ORM practitioner who is familiar with the medical industry and is able to engage reviewers in online dialogues.
CEO’s, VIPS Need Specialized Services
The same is true for managing the online identity of CEO’s, VIPS and well-established professionals and industry leaders, which is what we specialize in. Not only is there an enormous amount of information about them online, they already have the LinkedIn, Wikipedia and other profiles that are essential aspects of the ORM toolkit. Managing that type of online image requires a different approach. High net worth individuals require different skills: they too are usually the subject of considerable online content, which must be managed while maintaining the maximum amount of privacy for security reasons.
These are just some examples of the many different types of consumers who are already using professional online reputation management services. Clearly, the future for the ORM industry is bright. To ensure it remains that way, we must establish a benchmark of ethics, build trustworthy resources to educate and assist consumers and be proactive in shaping a best-practices culture to ensure they are well-served.