Thursday, March 05, 2009

Online Reputation Management: Minding the expectation gap

Yep, the web democratizes information. Everyone with an internet connection can be a blogger-journalist, twitterreporter or impassioned consumerist friendfeeder.

Plumbers, cleaning services and pest control companies can all have their reputation polished or tarnished on Craigslist, Angies List and a host of consumer review sites. 

In the ideal world (which is to say, the world that does not exist) one's online reputation would be a direct output of the quality of service/product one delivers. Like politics, though, online reputations reflect the numerous individual interpretations of 'truth' that real people, reasonable or otherwise, can reasonably be expected to hold.

Take doctors and healthcare. Did the doctor fix you? Were you fixable? 

The expectation gap inherent in these questions can lead to smiles or to a malpractice suit. In between these extremes are the thousands of online comments that serve to define Doctor Who or Doctor What's reputation. Online reputations can become so important that some feel the need to attempt to manage the unmanageable: through legal means (or at least the intimidation of a legal threat).

Some doctors have taken to having patients sign agreements that they won't post bad things online about the doctor under threat of legal action (here)...when the First Amendment meets Healthcare Reform, expect drama.

Marketers, PR professionals and company leaders big and small all ride the volatile love-hate relationship coaster with those online: We love those who would sing the company's praises--and stress out over those who so "unfairly" shout out the injustice of our company's practices...from perceived abuses of human rights in the developing world to callous call center support.

Managing one's reputation online can be a fulltime job...not every Twitterer or TripAdvisor review warrants a response. But you can't know which ones do and don't if you don't even know what you don't know. 

In some regards, this is the value proposition of a tool like Twitter search...when companies are able to search the realtime grunts and groans of customers and prospects, they can make informed responses to the realtime online reputation (hopefully derived from the real world brand experience)...this approach is also known as dialogue.

Then again, there are those who would make their fortune serving as arbiters of reputations through a neat and tidy score. Vanno, The Company Reputation Index, makes it simple to let people search a company against several criteria to see what their reputation is...all from the convenience of a widget anyone can post on their blog/web microphone:

One can ask the question, though: Why isn't Vanno in the index? [UPDATE: My bad. Apparently Vanno's parent company IS in the index...see comment from Nick DiGiacomo co-founder in comments section]


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful article. Vanno is in the Reputation Index. If you search on Vanno, you'll be taken to our parent, Identity Commerce LLC, which is ranked #4322 out of 5826. So we've certainly got some work to do!!!

    Nick DiGiacomo

  2. Thanks for the clarification Nick.