BLUE PHOENIX – Back in the dark ages of the internet (the Prodigy years, we’ll call it), nobody imagined that the rift between online and offline would ever close. Furthermore, people didn’t really imagine that their cyber-actions could have real-world consequences. The two were mutually exclusive.
Fast forward a couple decades(-ish) and we live in an age where a nasty comment on a forum can very realistically affect any company’s bottom-line. More tricky is that for businesses, word-of-mouth has become something that can now live on indefinitely, through reblogs, IMs, tweets and any number of other online communiques. Which is why news of Reputation.com raising a $41 million round of funding isn’t entirely alarming.
ConsumerAffairs’ James R. Hood writes: “Black hat SEO companies spam the search engines with questionable content and keywords while black hat reputation management companies flood the Web with fraudulent glowing reviews designed to mislead consumers.”
It’s a 21st century way of expressing word-of-mouth PR that’s been around for ages. A big difference is scale. If segments of angry consumers are speaking ill of a company, that company has a better chance of doing damage control if there’s a dedicated PR firm working around-the-clock to minimize the impact of angry sentiment.
Sometimes it’s also a matter of having a team on hand to correct otherwise inaccurate information being spread by customers. Hood also writes about a customer who felt defrauded after fees were assessed to her credit card — only to be admonished by another alleged customer and the company’s CEO for not reading the fine print.
But because company CEOs can’t be on damage-control duty 24/7, this is where firms like Reputation.com are making their bread and butter.
Although in light of the $41 million round of funding comes another interesting wrinkle: A product where consumers can store their personal data and charge advertisers to access it.
However, VentureBeat’s Meghan Kelly was wary about the process:
While the idea of having control over my data enough to monetize it is tempting, I think I’d want to know more about the back-end processes Reputation.com engages in. Here the details are frustratingly vague — especially for such a sensitive proposition…I was left with no details about how the company farms my data from the web, and slightly creeped out.
And when VentureBeat asked CEO Michael Fertik about Reputation.com’s ability to skew the web-truth, Fertik responded:
Google is pristine on its own, you have to believe that Google is perfect… Google is just a machine, it’s not God, it’s a machine.
Cross-published at the Blue Phoenix Network blog.