Lentis/Online Reputation Management
Online reputation management (ORM) is a system used to response to the explosion of social media, which amplifies the voices of individual internet users . Many electronic market sites and online communities such as eBay, Amazon or yelp have developed reputation management systems which allow users to offer public feedback for a transaction.
In a physical setting, individuals can inspect the item of interest or use contextual clues (such as body language) to determine product quality and reliability of an information provider. However, online services commonly take place between parties with insufficient information about each other, and about the goods and services offered. One way to assess quality in the absence of an inspection or personal interaction is reputation. A company’s reputation affects its ability to sell products and services, and to attract investors. A study shows that consumers place considerable value on mechanisms that disseminate information on the past quality performance of firms.
An online reputation system is the primary mechanism used by online markets to collect, distribute, and aggregate feedback about participants’ past behavior and help people to decide whom to trust, and to encourage trustworthy behavior. Studies show that the overall commercial success of eBay is largely attributed to the original design of its reputation system . While the important of online reputation system is certainly evidenced by its adoption in electronic markets, the designs of existing online reputation system are far from ideal. The problems of ORM include :
- Low incentive for providing rating
- Unfair rating and no guarantee of reliable users
- inaccurate equations used to calculate user's online reputation
A new industry area called online reputation management service promise to help counter negative search results on the Web. It is the practice of attempting to shape public reputation of a person or companies by influencing online information about that entity . Reputation management companies said that even though it is almost impossible to get negative information taken down, but placing enough positive references above to push them off the first page of searching engines is operable The detailed procedure of this service include:
- Monitor references to the person or business through social media monitoring
- Analytic current public opinion of the person or business
- Promote positive information
- Address problematic issue that have been revealed and push damaging information off the first pages of search results
However, this service has several limitations. For example, it is not possible to control the online conversation about a person or a company so negative information can pop up all the time. Also, the false impression created by Online reputation management companies will not last, so individuals or companies trying to utilize the service need to pay a large amount of money each month to cover up negative information which continues showing up. In fact, the only truly effective way to create a positive online reputation is through appropriate behavior . .
In his June 2013 New York Magazine exposé “Scrubbed,” Graeme Wood investigates the use of online reputation management by a college acquaintance, Phineas Upham. Upham had been charged with conspiring to commit tax evasion on $11,000,000 hidden in a Swiss bank account and had been caught smuggling a bag containing $300,000 into the United States. Wood, who was interested in the developing story of his old acquaintance, noticed in February 2012 that a variety of web sites had begun to give Upham very prestigious awards: he was listed as “Head Finance Curator of Venture Cap Monthly” by one website and “Philanthropist of the Month” by another. Wood noted that all of these sites seemed to be “flimsy and temporary,” with essentially just a homepage and little other content. Another clue to the nature of the sites was that Upham was listed among many respected public figures -- public figures who are entirely unrelated. Wood began digging through the HTML code of the websites and unraveled a series of clues that led to an online reputation management company called “Metal Rabbit Media” that astroturfs for wealthy clientele. Upham had paid $300,000 for Metal Rabbit Media to roll out positive news sites over the course of several months to salvage his reputation.
This story presents an interesting look into the business of astroturfing on the Internet. Given the nature of the world wide web, it is difficult to verify the authenticity of much of the information that is available. When someone reads an article or visits a website, how can they trust the information presented there? The perceived validity of information that one acquires is usually proportional to the perceived credibility of the author or publisher: when we are at a physical store, we trust that a retailer is honest because we can physically interact with the product being purchased in most cases. On the internet, though, it becomes difficult to establish who is reputable and who is not. Unless there is a known quantity, especially a large corporation, backing content on the web, there is little to differentiate credible authors from those who are less so. The first issue is that there is a relatively low barrier to entry for publishing web content due to the rise of inexpensive -- even free -- and user-friendly all-in-one website builders (e.g. Weebly, Wix, and yola) that facilitate the creation of professional looking web content by non-experts. Additionally, the web can be flooded with intentionally misleading content that appears, at the surface, to be legitimate, as in Upham’s case. This, coupled with so-called “search engine optimization” techniques, can hide accurate content and completely distort the online perception of an entity. This relies on a common perception that is new in the digital age. The perception is that any search result that is not on the first page of a search engine’s results is not worth reading (a 2013 study by Chitika, Inc., that shows that over 90% of Google's web traffic is limited to the first page of search results). This perception encourages viewers to believe what they read as long as the results are near the top. The general lesson that can be learned from this is that technology can be used to sway public opinion, either legitimately or with false evidence.
Nestlé vs Greenpeace
In 2010, the environmental organization Greenpeace launched a social media campaign against the Nestlé corporation. The Nestlé corporation is a Swiss food and beverage company that was accused of using unsustainable practices for sourcing palm oil for its products, especially its Kit Kat candy bars. Greenpeace used mock advertisements that parodied the “Give Me a Break” Kit Kat commercials at the time in addition to a number of parodied logos to spread its message on Twitter and Facebook. Users of the social media changed their “profile pictures” to the mock logo and also directly engaged with Nestlé public relations staff on the issue. The Nestlé staff chose to attempt to disrupt the campaign by removing the mock ads from Youtube and by threatening to remove publicly visible postings on official Nestlé pages by users who had used the mock logo. There was substantial backlash against this approach, and Nestlé was forced to respond to Greenpeace’s demands directly. It had to suspend dealings with its source of palm oil in Indonesia and receive certification for its future sourcing to prevent additional trouble from environmentalists.
Marketing professionals cite this case as a textbook example of how to mismanage a situation. While interfacing with the customers is an important tool for managing the reputation of a business, when a company antagonizes those customers, especially in the middle of an ongoing negative ad campaign, it will only further damage the company’s reputation. More generally, this is an example of a known social psychological theory at work, reactance theory. Reactance theory states that when people perceive that an entity is limiting their “freedom” to pursue an activity in any way, they react to this negatively and in a manner proportional to the size of the freedom being infringed upon. In this case, Nestlé’s attempts to use the law to prohibit the use of a parody of their logo simply antagonized the protesters and gave them more reason to be upset, thereby spreading the logos and advertisements even more.
Student choices about course enrollment are partly influenced by instructor reputation and expected difficulty. RateMyProfessors.com (RMP) is a popular website through which university students in North America and the UK can anonymously review their instructors. Professors are evaluated on the basis of quality (helpfulness and clarity), easiness, and a chili pepper indicating “hotness.” The ratings are available to anyone for free, and students contribute to and use RMP for a wide range of moderate motivations including convenience, information-seeking, and interpersonal utility (, cited in ).
The ratings have social impact: they influence student enrollment decisions, university reputation, and educational quality. Effects on the reputation of the institution are partly mediated by college rankings that take RMP ratings into account (see Forbes college rating Methodology). Direct effects on educational quality are surprising, and they appear to be mediated by expectation effects: in a controlled behavioral study of roughly 100 college students, researchers found that exposure to simulated positive ratings on RMP significantly improves learning, while exposure to simulated negative ratings significantly hinders learning. This is consistent with decades of previous studies demonstrating that manipulation of student expectations influences motivation and learning outcomes.
What goes into a rating? One study of 4000 professors at 2 dozen universities found that over half of the variation in “quality” can be explained as a function of easiness and hotness , introducing appearance-dependent factors into subsequent learning outcomes. Additionally, since anyone can anonymously rate any class, professors sometimes write their own ratings or use the site to exchange inside jokes like “Its clear that Dr. Julius is being tutored by Dr. Voelz. His teaching is outstanding.” 
Lessons learned: content that manipulates expectations can influence outcomes in unexpected ways, and open services for reporting reputation will be frequented by the entities that they rate.
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