Muckmakers: Online-Reputation Firms Struggle With Ethics

Before You Hire One, Remember the Coverup Can Be Worse Than the Crime

Rosanna M. Fiske is chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.

What do you get when you mix Google’s complex search algorithm with rampant reputational concerns and a nascent industry offering to placate nervous CEOs fretting over seeing their head shots listed in search results for the latest scandal?

Answer: The shady underworld of the growing online-reputation-management industry.

Scant data exist as to the size of this market, but there is little doubt that business is booming. It’s easy to see why: From the threat of WikiLeaks to their own ill-timed and ill-conceived proclamations, more than ever CEOs need help protecting their reputations and that of their businesses.

Maybe that’s why a Google search for “online-reputation management” returns 5.2 million results.

But there is a somewhat sinister underbelly to this prosperous business. It lurks where ethical communicators seek to inform; it openly tries to cover up previous online mishaps in an age where little is private anymore.

In short, it “cleans” up clients’ online messes, while creating muck for the rest of us. For those who value ethical communications and marketing practices, it’s not a pretty sight.

Read the entire article at Ad Age.