The Risks of Outsourcing Online Reputation Management

by Brett Borders

Online reputation management services require a very personalized touch. A good provider must have intelligence, intuition, patience, stealth, and strong communications skills … plus successful, non-theoretical experience with public relations, SEO and social media marketing campaigns.

image: jcardnial18                                      

It’s a complex, emerging skill set which relatively few people or agencies can smoothly deliver, yet. So before you trust someone else to manage your online reputation, you should be aware of some of the risks and pitfalls that could happen:

  • They will hire unskilled, overseas workers to post random content and gibberish under your name. This won’t do anything except waste your money and make you look like a grade school dropout. Unfortunately, quite a few of the firms you’ll find in searches for “reputation management” specialize in this type of service.
  • They’ll build spammy links that will cause your sites to get mistrusted by the search engines. Some providers don’t understand the importance of link building – they just make lots of profiles and hope for the best. Others will try to get you some links, but they’ll get quick, spammy links that will ultimately harm your website and profiles’ reputation in the search engines. The best firms have their own portfolio of high-quality web properties to get links from, and they work with smart, English (or native language) speaking SEOs to build the right links and keep it authentic.
  • They’ll create hokey, praise-filled content – making it obvious you are trying to “cover up” something. I call this the “bad plastic surgery” effect. Some firms will awkwardly deny everything on your behalf, write cornball press releases, or commit other not-so-transparent blunders that will make people more curious and fixated on any negative information.
  • They can monitor your reputation, but can’t really deliver effective solutions to any problems that arise. Monitoring your reputation is important. And responding to a negative comment or forum post is usually a good idea, but it’s not as effective as actually removing the post or thread. Skilled reputation managers can use SEO and social media marketing to make negative information less visible in the search engines – so people are less likely to even see it in the first place.
  • They’ll upset your defamer, or unwittingly “tip them off” them to what you’re doing. If someone contacts people on your behalf in the wrong tone, or if it becomes obvious that you are awkwardly trying to “manage your reputation” (suppress their content) – it can get very ugly. Defamers can get even more vengeful.
  • They’ll make profiles or content for you that will be discovered and publicized as a fake. If someone writes content for you that is discovered or called out as a forgery, it can make your online reputation exponentially worse. Wal-Mart was eaten alive for this, so was Jet Blue. Social media audiences are incredibly discerning as to what is “authentic” or not, and they love to dish out harsh vigilante justice on anything that smells fishy. You don’t want to be the target of this!
  • They will provide you with few details of what they are doing. Be aware of operations that promise big results, but have no information listed on their own websites or blogs about what they actually do. “Proprietary” or “secret” processes oftentimes mean “questionable” or “non-existent.” Yes, there are things that should be confidential — like previous clients’ campaigns or identities — but you have every right to know what someone is going to do if you hire them.
  • They will create sites or accounts for you and then hold them “hostage.” Some firms will register sites for you (like and create blogs and profiles, but then refuse give you access to them. They require you to keep paying their monthly retainer indefinitely or they threaten to pull the plug on any progress they have made. This is extortion. You should insist on registering all websites in your own name, you should demand a list with the logins and passwords to all accounts and profiles a firm creates, and all work they do should be “yours to keep” — forever — even after your contract with them is finished.
  • They will take your money and do nothing. There are some greedy, slick-talking SEO and reputation management firms who will take anyone who calls – regardless if they have the time or expertise to deliver for you. In contrast, the best SEOs and reputation managers are in-demand and are less likely to be affordable or to have available time for your case. Therefore, it can be much easier to get signed up with a huckster than to hire a solid provider.


image : jarkel

Beware of online reputation management services for cheap or promises to repair your online reputation quickly. It may be very tempting to believe someone has a “magic bullet” that will quickly make your troubles go away overnight, but it’s unlikely to be true.

Doing online reputation management yourself will often yield the most authentic results, but it is a complex and time-intensive process that many people need help and guidance with. Just be aware of the possible risks, do your research, and pick a firm you’d feel comfortable to have representing your personality and brand in all types of online situations.

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  • Great post, with some real, reality-checks for those outsourcing this valuable part of online marketing.

    Maria Reyes-McDavis
  • These are absolutely true..but we have to remember also that everything have their own pros and cons..^^ you just have to weight it all carefully.
  • I enjoyed the "alert the defamer" line. In my brand rep experience I've gone toe-to-toe with defamers on the phone, via email and otherwise, and in a couple of situations I've gotten them to recant their comment, blog post, whatever. If you know going into it that there's no hope of reasoning with the detractor, then you definitely want to stay under the radar so they don't catch a sniff and attempt to do more damage.
  • Brett Borders

    There are a TON of potential complications with these kind of campaigns. I'm made this list as a way of reminding myself what can go wrong just as much I am trying to warn other people. I have seen some incredibly bad reputation management jobs (near-illiterate people posting random content) that are nearly impossible to delete, and look much worse than the original "negative" content.

    Zoobie Joy,

    Yup. Represent yourself carefully online, choose someone else to represent you online even more carefully.


    Great job on getting information removed by telephone and e-mail! If done with full awareness and tact, it can indeed work very well. But if the issue is a painful old wound or grievance, and someone else opens it back up and gives them some more "ammo" to defame you with - particularly a cheesy cover-up attempt - it can be tragic. You have to be very, very, very careful.
  • You make some great points, reputation management is a very 'tricky' service to offer, you especially need to know what you are doing.

    Or as you say, more importantly the client needs to know what you are doing and whether you are protecting them in the process and not making things worse.
  • Oscar Del Santo
    This article should bring home to end clients the importance of dealing with reputable companies that have the right expertise in SEM, SEO and of course a sound PR base as well.

    A welcome addition to a fascinating topic
  • Brett Borders
    Oscar Del Santo,

    Thanks for your comments! It's very hard to deliver this combination of services. It's a big responsibility.
  • Outsourcing is the most convenient way to introduce your business and your company...It cost less than the usual way or the old fashion way.
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