The great thing about the Internet is that the voice of a single person can carry as much weight as even the largest companies. The scary thing about the Internet, for many companies, is that the voice of a single person could potentially damage the reputation of even the largest companies.

Wherever there is a new fear, someone is going to try to make a buck off of it. The fear of a small number of disgruntled customers causing significant financial damage to a company’s business has spawned the growth of “reputation managers.” I even saw a link describing “reputation insurance,” which I felt compelled to click on just to see if it was a joke.

But companies should resist the temptation to trust their reputation to this new breed of
fear-mongering. If we are to encourage people to trust companies online, companies have to trust that the Internet community will be, on the whole, fair to them, as well.

Reputation management can easily backfire. The Financial Times reported a case of 50 employees of one of Britain’s leading PR firms making Wikipedia edits under faked identities to boost the reputation of one of their clients. I wonder what that did to the reputation of the PR firm. Representatives from PRSA inform me that it is against its Code of Ethics to omit disclosing a relationship to a client. I’m glad to hear it. Incidents such as these undermine trust in Wikipedia and other Internet communities and thus make it harder for reputable companies.

Yes, there is the occasional Internet crazy who insults companies unfairly. What should you do?

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