When is reputation management unethical?
Should certain members of the public be able to influence the behavior of thousands of people towards brands even if their opinion has little or no merit? Google gives people an outsized voice based solely on their popularity. We think brands should have the right to offer a counterpoint to those voices so long as it is done ethically.
Ethics in ORM has been a tricky subject for many years. Those who consider it unethical, highlight their belief that reputation management companies deceive consumers by portraying a one-sided image of brands and directly influencing their buying decisions.
Advocates believe that reputation management is something that every business should have a right to in an age where people are free to express their views about brands on public platforms whether true and accurate or not.
Further, search engines order information in a certain way according to ever-changing algorithms. The way brand information is ordered has a lot to do with how people judge its importance. When search engines make decisions to place bad news on top of good news it's not always because it's more relevant. Often it's just because it gets more clicks - and let's remember that search engine revenue lives and dies by clicks.
How we decide if a project meets our ethics guidelines
Before we take a client our staff examines the project parameters. Each individual on the team makes an up or down decision as whether they believe they, as part of the team, can help the client. If a single prospective team member on the project doesn't approve the project we decline it.
Examples of projects we have declined include:
- People who have perpetrated violence against women or children
- People who are clearly a menace to society
- Persons with judgements for sexual assault
- Evil people and companies
Not only do we choose our projects based on ethical standards, we execute them that way too. We don't hack websites, or engage in spam.
Unethical reputation mgmt: What boundaries?
Here are a few examples of unethical reputation management we avoid:
- Presenting fake sales numbers
- Generating fake online reviews
- Creating negative propaganda, reviews, or content about competitors
- Using negative and black-hat SEO techniques to hurt competitors’ search engine rankings
Amazon cracked down on merchants who were using freelancers to generate fake reviews on their products.
Amazon took legal action against such merchants that were facilitating this activity.
As a result, freelancing platforms had to ban many freelancers who were offering fake online reviews.
Is search engine reputation management (SERM) ethical?
Brands use SERM to rank positive content in search and social and to eliminate or demote negative content.
It’s an effective way to manage your reputation in search results and there’s nothing wrong with it unless it involves black-hat and negative SEO techniques that intend to harm a competitor’s website and rankings.
Online reputation management done ethically gives people and companies an amount of control over how they are perceived online.
In short, reputation management is ethical itself as long as it doesn't cross certain boundaries by offering less-than-truthful content, fake reviews or other unsavory tactics.
In the end, online reputation management is a form of marketing just like Google search results are a form of marketing.
Let's keep in mind that Google is an advertising company. It makes its money selling ads and links to websites. Search is a way to draw people to click on the ads. There is no reason to assume a single company like Google should be the lone arbiter of the reputation of any brand or individual.