Ethics in reputation management
“Is online reputation management ethical?”
That’s a question many people ask when they’re introduced to the concept of online reputation management.
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.
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 helping the prospective client would violate their personal ethics, whatever they are. If a single team member doesn't want to take 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 standars, we execute them that way too. We don't hack websites, engage in spam, or use other extremely aggressive methods.
Fundamentals of ethical reputation management
Here are some of the fundamental components of an ethical reputation management strategy:
- Completing a reputation audit of a brand to understand its current standing and the required measures to improve its reputation.
- Building an ethical online reputation management strategy that focuses on building online brand assets and engaging the target audience in a positive and truthful manner.
- Creating high-quality, well-researched content that builds thought leadership and helps a business grow its community.
- Highlighting the strengths of a brand using case studies, success stories and social proof.
- Countering negative propaganda by establishing a baseline of factual information.
Unethical Reputation Management: What Boundaries?
When reputation management turns into manipulation of facts and deception, it not only breaches ethical boundaries but also, in some cases, becomes a criminal offense.
Here are a few examples of unethical reputation management we avoid:
- Presenting fake sales numbers and making false claims.
- Generating fake online reviews.
- Hiring people to generate fake recommendations.
- Creating negative propaganda, reviews, or content about competitors.
- Using negative and black-hat SEO techniques to hurt competitors’ search engine rankings.
Recently, Amazon cracked down on merchants who were using freelancers to generate fake reviews on their products.
Amazon took legal action against such merchants and the platforms that were facilitating this activity.
As a result, freelancing platforms had to ban many freelancers who were offering fake online reviews.
Our team members decide if they are comfortable taking a project. Sometimes the majority of our team is fine with a project, but one or more key members decline. As frustrating as this might be, it's important to staff a project fully in order for it to be successful. Only if the team is unanimous can we accept a project.
Is search engine reputation management (SERM) ethical?
Brands use SERM to rank positive content on Google’s first page and to completely eliminate or demote negative content in search results.
It’s a very 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 percieved 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. 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.