Online reputation and how ethical it is repair (2022)

Your online reputation is crucial when it comes to the success of your business and as such, it is something that brands everywhere pay close attention to.

How to Manage Your Online Reputation in an Effective and Ethical way?

Online Reputation

When it comes to running a business these days, having an online presence is non-negotiable. Without a website, social media accounts, and a valid email address, you are potentially missing out on a huge amount of business.

Of course, it’s not enough to merely have a presence online, your online footprint must be one where your brand’s reputation is painted in a positive light. Your online reputation is crucial when it comes to the success of your business and as such, it is something that brands everywhere pay close attention to.

What is Online Reputation in Today’s Age?

We live in a world that is surrounded by change and constant development. This means that the way we market ourselves as a business has been altered massively compared to a couple of decades ago. Nowadays, online reputation management and having a strong online reputation management strategy are essential.

Your brand perception is massively influenced by the online world and what different people are saying about you. In fact, customer feedback, positive and negative reviews in search engines, and commentary on social media are some of the biggest influences on your business. Your online reputation is essentially going to make or break how successful you are as a company.

What is GDPR?

Given the internet has become such a crucial component in all our lives, not only in how we go about our lives but also in how businesses can market to customers, privacy laws had to be updated to better reflect the modern world. Google’s ads and influencer marketing can be targeted towards those who would likely benefit from it most but said targeting must be done in line with GDPR.

GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation, and they are a new set of laws that were established by the European Union to regulate different variations of online consent and protect privacy online. The GDPR went into effect back in May 2018 and since then has become a fundamental law that all businesses need to abide by.

The goal of the GDPR was to ensure that citizens within the EU have more control over what information is gathered about them on the internet. This means information that could have a direct impact on them such as shared media and posts on social media. Websites and businesses have different online responsibilities to adhere to the rules that are set out in the GDPR.

These different rules and regulations mean that the way businesses previously acted had to be altered. This affected organisations in near enough every industry and it also had an impact on online reputation strategies.

GDPR’s Impact on Online Reputation

As the regulations came into effect, some of the different practices used by online reputation management companies became illegal. Some of the different factors that needed to be considered include:

Privacy Policies

A lot of organisations collect and moderate information about their customers. This is so they can improve the customer experience and better market on social channels and google ads to people who will be interested in the products. A lot of reputation management companies obtain such information as they encourage customers to leave positive reviews and input information as they do so. This information is then used for marketing.

In line with GDPR, every company that processes data needs to make their existing and new customers aware of this. This means updating privacy policies to properly explain how they protect, use, and share a customer’s information.

Employee Reviews

Effective online reputation management doesn’t just mean keeping an eye on what customers say about you but your employees as well. Organisations know this as having a good employee reputation means that top talent will be attracted to your business and customers are keener to work with you knowing you treat your employees right.

One of the ways to improve your employee reputation is by encouraging them to leave online reviews about your business which will improve your brand’s online reputation. You can also ask employees for information about the business and how things operate to have a better understanding of how to make things better for them.

It is important that if your reputation management strategies revolve around better understanding how your employees feel if the information, they provide is confidential, it stays that way. Even if what they have to say is good, you are unable to share the comments of your employees to improve your brand reputation if those comments have been given in confidence. Doing otherwise will be in breach of GDPR.

Data Protection on Reputation Management Software

A lot of online reputation management companies work using their own software. When you do this, you need to do so with data protection in mind. Article 23 of GDPR, states that data protection of consumers has to be designed into the reputation management software itself. As such, you should be sure your software is in keeping with the current GDPR guidelines.

Is Reputation Management Ethical?

Given so many changes had to be implemented in reputation management following the publication of the GDPR, it begs the question of whether reputation management is even ethical. The fact is that there are right and wrong behaviours when it comes to managing your online reputation.

If a business online behaves in a way that could be considered unethical, they are acting counter-intuitively as this could simply go on to hurt their brand’s reputation even more. It is important to consider online research and investigate hiring a professional reputation management company to ensure that your practices are ethical.

Unethical Reputation Management Practices

Some of the different practices used to improve your digital reputation that would be considered unethical include:

Creating Fake Positive Reviews

Negative search results can massively damage your company’s reputation and as such, you want to ensure your positive content stands out more than any negative feedback you’ve received. Do your google search results bring up a lot of different reviews? Well, why not just log in to different sites such as Glassdoor, and write your own?

You can counteract a negative review easily by simply writing your own fake positive one, but is doing so ethical? A lot of different online reputation management companies claim they will improve your business’s reviews but what they’re doing is writing their own. Is this good practice? No.

If review sites such as Yelp, Glassdoor, and TripAdvisor are found to have many fake reviews then their brand image and credibility will be damaged. One of the main reasons creating fake reviews is so unethical is because you are steering people who would generally rely on such reviews towards brands based on false information spread with an agenda attached.

Are Fake Reviews Legal?

Fake reviews are illegal. It is considered a form of deceptive marketing that doesn’t reflect the truth of a brand. As such, if your business writes fake online content about customer experiences then this could damage your reputation even further. Consumers are never very keen on working with a business that is known to have broken the law.

Of course, this legality works both ways, meaning people are not able to fill a search engine with negative mentions of your business with no justification. If some of your brand mentions have been created with the intention of spreading false information about your business then these negative comments can be removed from Google.

Alternate Facts

Alternate facts are just a better way of telling lies. There are many businesses that will completely lie to their customers so that when people search for their business on the internet, they will come across in a positive light. Examples of lies that improve public perception include details surrounding awards that have never been won and charities to that they have never donated to. These kinds of alternate facts will be put forward in order to flush negative results to the bottom of search results. Engaging in this practice is incredibly unethical.

Lying to sell and promote your company is not only unethical but a lot of the time illegal. When you are creating digital content about your business and why people should use you, you need to ensure that you are being truthful with everything you say.

Straw Man Techniques

To win over potential customers a lot of businesses will use straw man techniques. This is where a real person writes under the name of another, like when authors have pen names that they publish their work.

This can be used in digital marketing on prospective customers as people would create social media accounts, start websites, and create other online content to have an online footprint. Whether or not this practice is ethical depends on the reason behind the use of a straw man.

If the straw man has been created because someone wants to shield their identity and it isn’t nefarious in doing so, then this is most likely ethical. Common examples include if someone wants to post an unpopular opinion but then looks after their personal branding do not want to face the potential backlash that could arise. If a straw man has been created with online reputations in mind so that false information can be spread, or opinions can be manipulated then this would be unethical.

Search Engine Optimisation Techniques and Ethics

There are several different search engine optimisation techniques that work but they still are not ethical. A lot of businesses will revert to these techniques to rank highly on search engines and ensure what they’re ranking for paints them in a positive light. Some of the most used but still unethical search engine marketing techniques include:

  • Producing low-quality content
  • Producing content that largely misinterprets facts
  • Using techniques that completely take over an individual’s web browser in some way without having their permission to do so
  • Techniques that will show one type of content to the search engine and then a different version of content to those who click on it
  • Content that contains keywords that are not relevant but get search results

The above practices are all considered unethical since they hurt people in some way, both directly and indirectly. They can waste a potential customer’s time and make the customer’s journey an unenjoyable one. They could also damage a customer’s systems, make it so they’re relying on false information, and also misinterpreting information as well. As such, if you are trying to get on the first page of Google and are using search engine optimisation to do so, you need to ensure the practices you adopt are ethical.

How Can You Manage Your Online Reputation in a Way Which is Effective and Ethical?

As previously stated, one of the most important things that all businesses need to have in this modern age is a positive online reputation. This is because consumers will look out for positive and negative content surrounding an organisation when deciding whether to work with them. As such, it is incredibly important to stay up to date with your online reputation and ensure that your public perception remains positive.

There are a few different ways that you can stay on top of your online reputation and a lot of these methods are not actually perceived as being very ethical. A lot of methods considering GDPR and restrictions imposed by search engines could even be considered illegal.

If you want to manage your online reputation in a way that is effective and ethical, then you should consider enlisting the help of a professional reputation management organisation. These will be able to remove false negative information about you from Google, help you to keep on top of what your online image is like, and implement different strategies that will ensure your public image is as positive as can be.

In working with such an organisation you will be able to ensure your business succeeds and continues to grow in a way that is also considered ethical.