What Is Online Reputation Management & Does It Work

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is online reputation management (ORM)? What are some tactics that ORM companies use to influence their clients’ online presence?

Online reputation management (ORM) encompasses a number of tactics aimed at influencing an individual’s or a brand’s reputation in the online space. Usually, it involves creating new online content to knock down undesirable information further down the search results.

Keep reading to learn what online reputation is and how it works.

What Is Online Reputation Management?

Reputation management companies aim to hide shameful or damaging information about people by creating new online content that knocks that content onto the second or third page of online search results. According to Google, 53% of people don’t look past the first two search results and almost 90% of people don’t ever click past the first page. 

Reputation management companies tend to be discreet and mysterious, and few people who sign up have their identities exposed, unlike the applicants for the Right to Be Forgotten. Their clients aren’t only people who have been publicly shamed—one unnamed company was started by a felony rapist who wanted to hide his crimes, and other common clients include pedophiles and neo-Nazis.

How Reputation Management Works 

It’s hard to influence Google’s search result rankings because the algorithms are always changing. For example, in the mid-1990s, search engines ranked results based on how often a keyword appeared on a page. If you wanted to bury something about yourself, you could have just created a page with your name written over and over. 

Keyword frequency wasn’t a very good way to get relevant search results, and two Stanford students came up with a new algorithm, PageRank, which would order search results by popularity instead. PageRank assesses links—the more pages that link to a page, the more the algorithm assumes that the page is endorsed, authentic, and respected. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tumblr automatically have a high PageRank because Google’s algorithm thinks these sites are popular. 

At the time of writing, Google’s algorithm seemed to prioritize either brand new content, or content that was older than about twelve weeks and is thus considered authoritative. This algorithmic element is another difficulty for reputation management companies—the content they initially put up about someone doesn’t stay at the top of the search results for long, and after time, the results revert to the older things that people want hidden. 

Reversion isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it shows that Google’s algorithm is unsure of what information is most important. This is the company’s chance to make the new information take over for good by flooding the internet with even more non-shaming content. However, the uploading has to be timed carefully and appear natural, otherwise Google’s algorithm will notice the deluge and realize it’s being manipulated. 


What is online reputation management company Reputation.com? It was created by Michael Fertik, who came up with the idea of online reputation management in the mid-2000s when revenge porn and cyberbullying were starting to appear. 

Fertik adheres to a code of conduct. He won’t take on clients who are under investigation for or who have committed certain crimes—violent, fraud, sexual, or crimes against children—and he won’t put up any content that isn’t true (many companies invent accolades as part of their content creation). Fertik’s clients tend to be people who have been publicly shamed, revenge porn victims, people who were falsely accused of crimes, or politicians who had said something awkward that hasn’t yet gone viral. 

Fertik is often criticized for his work because according to some people, reputation management manipulates the truth and attacks free speech. He thinks his work is justified—public shaming can destroy people’s lives, and its prevalence makes everyone scared it will happen to them next.

What Is Online Reputation Management & Does It Work

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jon Ronson's "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full So You've Been Publicly Shamed summary :

  • How public shaming can ruin people's lives
  • Why public shaming isn't just a way to get corporations to do the "right thing"
  • 6 strategies you can use if you're a victim of public shaming

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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