Perhaps both, says Ron D. Smith, depending on how a company handles its online reputation.
Online reputation management is essentially the act of ensuring one’s self is represented positively and accurately online. According to Ron D. Smith, this may sound easy but is actually a complex process that should not be initiated without some foreknowledge and understanding of the intricacies that go along with it. Since many business owners fail to plan or budget for online reputation management costs ahead of time, they face greater challenges in the face of search engine adversity.
Search Engines – A Roller Coaster of Information
According to Ron D. Smith, search engines such as Google or BING are the places where most consumers begin in the search for information. What they find, however, can change with the wind. A search term rendering positive results today may provide a less-than-flattering image tomorrow. This is because search algorithms are constantly updated and improved to weed out “useless” results.
Unfortunately, since search engine algorithms are not humans, they rely on data versus context to lend credence to a website’s standing. Even Google is not immune to this robotic filtering method. In 2011, the search giant faced its own online reputation management meltdown when information seekers entering the term “Jew” were bombarded with anti-Semitic propaganda instead of information about Judaic people or culture. Ron D. Smith reports that the company immediately issued an apology and changed their algorithm to display non-defamatory information.
Decisions Made without Contact
Search engines, points out Ron D. Smith, make it very easy for people to form opinions about businesses or individuals without ever having actual contact with them. Billions of dollars are spent each year based entirely on search results. Without so much as a single telephone call or a face-to-face meeting, a consumer can search for a product or service, read a few online reviews, and make a purchase with no human interaction whatsoever. And, with today’s hunger for instant gratification, most people gather information and shop exactly this way.
Companies who have a handle on their online presence are typically the ones who attract consumers searching for their product or service.
Businesses should not react to negative online information in the heat of the moment, according to Ron D. Smith. He explains that employing preemptive online reputation management tactics, such as maintaining a blog and monitoring for slanderous content posted online, are some of the most effective ways to combat the information overload. In other words, a company that owns its own reputation and remains diligent in its upkeep will be able to use search engines as a marketing tool rather than view them as an obstacle to overcome.