How companies bend the truth online: 5 secrets consumers should know

If you’re looking for reliable information about a product or service, you absolutely have to know about reputation management.

Think of reputation management, or “rep management,” as controlling what people read about your company online, and to a certain extent, offline. The goal is to either delete the negative information or push it to the bottom of search engine results on sites like Bing and Google.

The result? You’re far less likely find the bad reviews from disgruntled customers who would warn you about a company – and far more likely to see the glowing write-ups from adoring clients.

For example, here’s what one company, Defend Matrix, promises clients it will do:

• Identify positive web pages, blogs, forums, articles, or pages that it controls, that can be quickly elevated in the search engine rankings using optimization strategies. These pages blanket and replace negative listings.

• Post hundreds of positive articles, blog, journal and forum entries, news items, press releases and other pages on a steady, on-going basis. These postings offer positive reflections on your reputation — but more importantly, they replace negative postings by taking the top positions on the sites in which they appear.

• Create new, positive content on your site and on sites that Defend Matrix controls, then optimizing this content so that it rises quickly to the top search engine rankings. Defend Matrix owns hundreds of sites used for this purpose.

“The goal of reputation management tends to be one of two things,” says Babak Zafarnia, president of Praecere Public Relations. “Either a company wants consumers to know something good about its business, or wants consumers to know that the company actually cares about its perception.”

Businesses have plenty of reason to engage in this kind of activity, says Sharon Geltner, a reputation management expert with Froogle PR.

“These days of unscrupulous content mills, in which unpaid, or grossly underpaid writers hired from across the globe report on anything, pretty much according to whim, make reputation management important,” she says. “You do not want future clients, significant others, college admissions departments, HR types, employers and colleagues getting a bad impression of you — even if you did nothing wrong.”
If the idea of a company trying to manipulate Internet search engines to ensure you don’t see all the bad stuff about it is a little unsettling, don’t worry. There’s more.

If a company is engaged in reputation management – truly effective reputation management – you probably wouldn’t even know it.
Most rep management operations are secretive and can only be detected by an expert eye, according to people with knowledge of the industry.

“The only way would be to see how quickly they respond to a negative attack,” says Gary Bahadur, the chief executive of KRAA Security and the author of an upcoming book called “Securing Social Media.” “A good example of a managed reputation is Network Solutions. When they had a break-in, their team was out responding to blogs and putting out news stories the same day. All very positive responses.”
So what do you need to know about reputation management? Here are 5 facts that will help you become a more savvy consumer:

1. They can’t make anything disappear
Short of legal action, there is no way to completely remove negative content from the Internet, according to Ben Buzbee, who owns the reputation management company Affiliated Marketing Solutions. “There is no real guarantee that can be made in performing online reputation management,” he added. His company does use legal strategies to delete negative content, when necessary. Other times, he will try to boost positive content about a company online.

2. It’s not just about burying bad things
The goal of a good reputation management campaign, says Kimberly Ercius, president of the search-engine consulting firm Sercius, is an accurate image – not an overinflated one. Rep management initiatives focus on the first few search results because that’s where most users go. “If a business has a great product with a lot of fans, that should jump off the page at a glance,” she says. “Genuine reputation management doesn’t mean removing everything negative. If a company’s entire reputation management strategy is solely to remove all negative content, then the consumer is missing out on important information that would drive their purchasing decision.”

3. Besides, some bad things deserve to be buried
Jason Mudd, a principal with Axia Public Relations, insists some information should be pushed to the bottom of the search engine results. “Once you explore the situation by investigating the matter, in a very objective light, typically, one person in the situation – whether it’s a single employee or a single customer – is behind the entire thing,” he says. “Often, the employee messed up and the company took action by firing them. Sometimes, a customer failed to read the contract. Other times, the employee or customer were fired and now they are seeking revenge.” In other words, companies see reputation management as countering the negative publicity generated by a few disgruntled employees or customers, as opposed to controlling their image.

4. Successful reputation management fails (a little)
Because Internet users value authenticity, a rep management campaign that scrubs the web clean of any negative content is almost certain to backfire. Good reputation management doesn’t place a muzzle on customer opinions, says Shannon Wilkinson, who runs the Reputation Communications Corporation. For example, Wilkinson recently went shopping for a lamp at the Pottery Barn website. But a few reviewers panned the unit she liked. “I stayed on the site, purchased another lamp and have enjoyed it since,” she says. “Why? I trusted Pottery Barn because the company allowed those bad reviews to stay online. Many companies would remove them.”

5. Because information is manipulated, you need to do more research
“When researching a company, look beyond the first two pages of the search,” advises Richard Bialek, whose company, the BialekGroup, consults on reputation management issues. “Reputation management can reorder search results but it is difficult to totally remove all negative information,” he says. “Use caution and do your homework. Work with people you trust and as Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust, but verify’.”

“Remember,” adds Abraham Shafi, co-founder of Veechi Corp., a social media site. “Not everything written on the Internet is true.”
As consumer, it’s nice to know that a rep management company can be too successful at what it does – thus invalidating all of the information about a company.

And while the reputation management industry’s arguments for what it does may sound reasonable, the net effect for people like you and me is that we often have to work harder to find the information we need if we want to make an informed purchase.

“There will always be those who try to manipulate the system to their benefit,” says Doug Wolfgram, chief executive of IntelliProtect, an online privacy service. “But they will be weeded out when good, solid products and services have good, solid online reputations.”

Until then, read everything online with a critical eye.

(Photo: mc ri tz/Flickr Creative Commons)

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend