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Protecting The Client: The Fast-Growing World Of Online Reputation Management

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , London , 27 January 2020

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As part of our series on "protecting the client", we talk to a business in the UK that concentrates on helping clients manage their online reputations by overseeing how their names appear on Google searches or other channels.

We are examining issues falling under the heading of “protecting the client”. One way in which this plays out today is in the digital world, the world of online profiles, work resumés, regular news stories and, of course, social media. People in the public eye, or even less renowned financial industry employees and their clients, need to watch their reputations.

The saying that no publicity is bad publicity is no longer accepted by many people. After all, sweeping European Union legislation called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, embeds a notion of the “right to be forgotten”. GDPR has put privacy back on the agenda in some ways that arguably are at odds with endless demands for more transparency. In the US, there are also moves to develop privacy legislation.

Just as cybersecurity threats have spawned a new anti-hacking industry, so the world of online reputation has spawned a reputation management one. To some people this might sound a bit dubious, even dishonest, if it were to mean that embarrassing but accurate facts about a person were to somehow disappear completely. The topic is controversial, but it is understandable why, to give an example, an innocent man involved in a court case might not want that fact to come top in a Google search of his name. Even so, journalists who are trying to find a genuine story and not just muckraking might have a problem with such "reputation cleaning" activity. This is all treading on a fine line.

But there is clearly a bit of a market for such adjustment of how stories about people appear when their names are searched. A UK firm operating in the space goes by the beguiling name of Pure Reputation. Founded in 2011 by Simon Leigh, a former employee at Barclays Wealth, as the wealth and investment arm of the UK bank used to be called, the organisation said it has the slogan “In Your Corner”. 

This news service recently asked Leigh about his business. 

What does your firm focus on?
Historically, only companies would use online marketing like SEO (search engine optimisation), social media and online PR. Individuals did not have the same opportunity. Online reputation management opens the door to them, allowing them to control their name online. We understand the connection between bad reviews and lost sales and cancellations. We know how negative press can prevent individuals from finding a job or losing their job at their company. Even if an individual passed a job interview, the company lawyers will do a due diligence check on their name online. If they find something that might negatively impact the brand, the individual won’t get the job.

These days, you do not have to be a celebrity to end up in the newspapers. You do not even need to be found guilty of something to be in the newspapers. They can write a story about you appearing in court or just being accused of something. If you signed a non-disclosure agreement you may be constrained about putting your side of the story out there. We work with real people in real-world situations, helping them move on with their life. Negative news articles can remain online forever if not removed or suppressed and most people do not bother putting positive content online about themselves until something negative emerges. 

Companies need guidance on how best to use their positive reviews and feedback, and even products have their own reputations. Reputation management is therefore becoming increasingly important and we are at the forefront of what can be done online.

What is the main area of business activity for Pure Reputation? What has grown the fastest and why, in your view? 
Most other companies offer either a long-term retainer service that doesn’t include removals or a removal-only service at a high cost per page. Pure Reputation both reports the negative content and promotes positive content. This keeps costs low and ensures that when the negative content is gone, there is quality content there to take its place. Our main areas of work are:

Review management – adding positive reviews from the client to their pages, reporting negative reviews for removal (all approved by the website itself using tried and tested methods), and review monitoring.
We can remove negative reviews from websites like Google reviews, Yell.com, Yelp, MoneySavingExpert, CarDealerReviews, Yahoo Answers, TripAdvisor, Glassdoor and Trustpilot. The more defamatory they are, the easier they are to remove. Some negative reviews are not genuine, and most use fake accounts to write them anonymously and we use this to have them removed. Scam and Ripoff websites are scams in themselves and we can have those removed from Google search for the client's name or brand.

Positive content promotion – using approved content from the client including images and videos. We then put that online in a way that helps them dominate the results. We also mix up the results by linking to existing non-negative third party content appearing to leverage more assets.

What has grown the fastest in the pages in the last two years is news article removal. The tabloids in the UK and regional papers feature more and more private individuals in them, who don’t have anything positive existing about them at the time. This means that the articles go straight to the top of Google.

The newspapers also write their articles in a click-bait way exaggerating what happened in order to increase clicks to their website and on-page advertisers. This is all at the expense of the individual, who now cannot find work because of this appearing about them. Review management has always been an issue for companies and will continue to be.

Can we talk about the wealth management/financial services industry: Are you getting many inquiries for your services via this route? What sort of things are people asking you to fix? 
Before founding Pure Reputation, I worked for Barclays Wealth in Canary Wharf as online acquisition manager with the VP of Barclays Wealth. This is where we developed those ‘In a recent study by Barclays it was found..’ press releases. It is a way of getting positive press out there without seeming self-serving. Putting out positive content is essential to controlling the results in Google and this allowed them to do that. It is also where I was aware of the emphasis on compliance in online content and leveraging what they had. 

In the financial industry clients are more careful when it comes to the kind of websites they want to be associated with for links. They therefore used a lot of their own websites for links. What they say online is also very controlled and things have to be completely accurate and reflective of the brand. I took this and used the same technique with all our clients, ensuring that we leverage what we can and present them accurately.

The kind of financial/wealth clients who approach us include finance companies whose director has had a negative story in the press, and this is preventing them from going to banks for funding, or attracting new business because of due diligence. Something might be suppressed in the UK, but they might get an enquiry from the US where it is still visible and will cost them the client. These are sometimes nothing to do with their business and a personal matter but because they are named as a director, it spills over into the company and impacts their business. FX companies who have people losing a lot of money on their platforms are called scammers and need reputation management to protect their brand from bad reviews. Individuals who worked at investment firms and have had a personal scandal reach out to us to help them move on from that.
 

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