Your Reputation Online, Part 2: Repairing the Damage

Part 1 of this two-part series covers the potential problems Web users can experience when information about them is posted online.

So, you’ve got an online image control crisis. Now what?

In response to the growing threat of online image crises, businesses have sprung up that address exactly that problem. They work to repair your online image using a variety of tactics, including putting more positive information out there to show up high in search results, removing offending information, and building their clients’ personal or corporate brands.

“It’s really a new industry,” Tom Drugan, CEO of the reputation repair company Naymz, told TechNewsWorld. Launched by Drugan in 2006, Naymz offers both a social networking site and a reputation repair service.

“We started getting a lot of clients [of the social networking site] who had a negative piece of information that showed up in searches, and they asked for our help,” Drugan said. “We can work to put up some positive content and make sure it’s search engine optimized.”

If a client has gotten a DUI, for instance, or has been fired from a high-profile job, or has other such black marks in their past, Naymz works to push that information down in search engine results. It doesn’t remove information, but it creates positive information and links so that the negative information is further down. Statistics show that fewer than 5 percent of searchers get beyond the third page of search results, so Naymz focuses on getting positive content on those first few pages.

Based in Chicago, with five employees, Naymz has done reputation repair for about 40 to 50 people, with a 90 percent success rate, based on the satisfaction expressed by the clients. Unlike some services, Naymz doesn’t remove information; it just puts positive information out there and works to make sure it’s search engine optimized. Removing information, according to Drugan, isn’t always a good idea. You can send a cease-and-desist letter, for instance, but if someone’s really out to get you, that letter itself might be posted online, intensifying your problem.

“A lot of times that makes things worse,” Drugan said. “We’re not about censorship. We’re about helping individuals get some positive, accurate information out there.”

Building a Brand

It’s not just individuals who need to protect and build their online reputations; it’s also products and companies. Some online repair businesses, such as ReputationAdvisor, specialize in these kinds of repair jobs. In their work as brand builders, they intersect with the work traditionally done by PR and corporate communications professionals, doing everything from writing press releases to event and viral marketing.

“It’s a combination of tactics,” Daniel Dessinger, who founded ReputationAdvisor, told TechNewsWorld.

Clients typically approach Dessinger when they have a problem, thus launching the “repair” stage of his process.

“A client only looks for reputation management when there’s a crisis,” Dessinger said.

To repair reputations, Dessinger typically uses strategies similar to those employed by Naymz to put positive, search engine optimized content out there so that it pushes down negative information in search results.

The next stage Dessinger calls “monitoring,” and it involves combing the Web to find blog posts, forums and other Web sites that might mention a product or a company. Such monitoring is a way of maintaining a reputation once it’s been repaired.

“You need to know what people are saying and where they’re saying it,” Dessinger said. “You can nip some things in the bud if you respond within 24 to 48 hours.”

The third level of service that Dessinger provides is what he calls the “building” stage, in which he works to build a company or product’s brand, in order to avoid or alleviate potential crises down the road and create a loyal customer base.

“Not a lot of companies have a vision for being proactive in branding,” Dessinger said. “But it’s very important.”

Battling Cybersquatters

Another threat to people’s online reputations is the cybersquatter. Cybersquatters use a company’s, product’s or person’s name in a Web site domain name, e-mail address, or other online name without permission, often to misrepresent themselves as being related to the holder of that trademark.

“Cybersquatting is extremely common, and it can have a lot of bad consequences,” Richard Stockton, an attorney with Banner & Witcoff who specializes in intellectual property law, told TechNewsWorld. “Legitimate customers can think this phony site is you. People might also miss buying opportunities with you.”

If you or your company have been victimized by a cybersquatter, there are basically two types of action you can take: using domain name arbitration or filing a suit in federal court. Stockton recommends the former, if possible, because it is less expensive and involved.

If you decide to file a suit against a cybersquatter, you’ll want to seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. He or she will, most likely, first make sure that you have a case.

“You really need to have someone checking that you own the trademark to that name,” Stockton said.

Do-It-Yourself Reputation Repair

You don’t necessarily need a pro to repair your online reputation. Some of the things the pros do can be done with anyone who has the motivation and a little Internet savvy.

For people interested in getting positive information about themselves high in searches, Drugan recommends starting a good, professional blog, getting one’s resume out there, getting quoted in news stories, or writing pieces for online publication. He also recommends making sure that your sites are cross-linked, referring to each other and to other positive content about you, since Google and other search engines rely on the popularity of sites and the number of links pointing to them to determine their ranking.

“It’s good to strategically link between pages,” Drugan said.

Your Reputation Online, Part 1: How Damage Is Done

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