People have always used the internet to spread hate, but social media sites offer even more sophisticated weapons for publicly shaming one’s enemies. The best way to fight negative content is with more content, says Mike Zammuto, president of the online reputation management firm Reputation Changer.
Since his company first launched in 2009, Zammuto said he has seen an uptick in the number of photos that his clients are anxious to have pushed down in the search search results. One arrest, for example, can ensure that your “entire life is reduced to one mugshot,” he said.
Dominating the front page of Google and other search engines is vital in managing a person’s reputation online, said Zammuto. On average, the top three organic search results in Google get 58.4 percent of of the clicks, according to a study from Optify, and the first post post takes 36.4 percent of that. Just one link down, the click-through rate dwindles to 12.5 percent — and it only gets worse from there.
The sharing power of sites like Twitter and reddit can spread the bad press even further, with social media accounts also turning up in the search results on Google and Bing alongside news articles and websites.
Ultimately, Zammuto said that clients have reported losing job opportunities over things that happened in their personal lives, like a nasty post on the infidelity website, Cheaterville, where cheaters are called out by name and rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars for their crimes.
While users can flag inappropriate content for removal from discussion boards like Disqus and social networks like Facebook, this method is not guaranteed to make the bad posts go away.
Reputation Changer counters the negative press for its clients with profile websites, articles, and press releases that tell what its clients “wish more people knew about them” and that are optimized to rank higher in the search results. This also includes updating Wikipedia entries and cleaning up the auto-suggested terms in Google’s search box. With images, said Zammuto, Google uses geography and other context clues to surface the most relevant pictures.
The business has grown quite a bit in the last few years, Zammuto added, with a team of 120 employees and four offices including its headquarters in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
One area of growth, he said, is in managing celebrity reputations. The comments that famous clients bring in are “negative and very personal,” he said, and were posted freely on social media sites in part because others don’t realize that celebrity accounts are connected to real people.”People think [celebrities] are all-powerful,” said Zammuto, but in reality, they have to work at maintaining their images online just like everyone else, and their feelings do get hurt.
People who aren’t famous and who don’t have much of an online presence have an even harder time recovering when they are suddenly thrust into the spotlight for one thing and one thing only. A single newspaper article or an ill-conceived viral video could brand a person as “that woman who challenged an insurance company in court” or, worse, “that guy who said racist things on YouTube.”
For people who are trying to build a reputation from the ground up, Reputation Changer offers free tools like Completed, where users can aggregate information from all of their social networks, like Google+ and LinkedIn, and record their accomplishments. The company also has a Reputation Command Center on its website where users can sign up to get alerts on different keywords and other tools.
Managing a reputation is “a lot like sculpting,” Zammuto said; “you carve away until it looks like [Michelangelo’s] statue of David.”
Image by Asier Villafranca.