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More than half of all online consumers – sixty-one percent, to be precise – read online reviews before deciding whether to make a purchase. Online reviews are now considered essential for e-commerce sites. They are proven sales drivers, and studies show most customers want to see some kind of informed review before they click the “buy” button.
So what happens when a disgruntled customer uses the review function to unleash a poison pen? Recent years have seen a veritable explosion of online reputation management companies. These companies specialize in suppressing, even removing, negative online content for their clients.
Reputation management is generally defined as influencing an individual’s or business’s reputation. While it began as a public relations term, reputation management has been adapted to the cyber-age, and has become primarily an issue of search engine results, those listings we get from keyword-based searches from sites like Google. They are crucial to online marketing.
But when things go wrong – as in that hypothetical disgruntled customer with the poison pen, or poison computer keyboard – individuals and businesses are increasingly turning to online reputation management service companies.
Everyone from celebrities to corporate executives to ordinary, low-profile citizens have found the need for online reputation management. “It took a couple of months, but now when you Google my name, the negative sites are buried about six or seven pages in,” said a physiologist wrongly linked to school that shut down. As he told The New York Times, “My clientele has dramatically improved.”
Some experts believe that the Internet has become so vast and uncontrollable, we are at the dawn of a new age – and a new growth industry. “We are heading into an era where there will be the equivalent of a WikiLeaks moment for everyone,” said the chief executive of an online reputation management firm. “Every two weeks we find new and novel ways that people can be harmed on the Web.”