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Online Reputation Definition & Meaning

Online reputation is the consensus public opinion of an individual or organization based on their online presence and dependent on both their behavior and the subjective thoughts of observers or customers. Online reputation did not always develop so quickly, but with the rapid growth of social media, it's very easy for a company to improve or destroy their online reputation (or have that done to them). Just as individuals and companies have a reputation based on their activity in the real world, a misplaced message, financial scandal, personal disagreement, failure to deliver on promises, or misunderstanding can easily change the way someone is viewed on social media. It can also have a huge financial impact on a business. Online reputation is important to consider and cultivate, especially if careers and finances depend on it. In fact, there's a whole industry that springs up around online reputation management.

What affects online reputation

Bad reviews: this is one of the fastest ways to change an opinion about a business. A few bad reviews can cause potential customers to be wary, sometimes with good reason. On the other hand, a thoughtful response to criticism is a fast way to impress current and future customers.

Social media: it's so easy to dash off a quick post or response, but a badly timed or hastily crafted piece of content is almost impossible to take back. Then it's present for everyone to see and remember.

Messaging: direct messages and emails are a good method of communicating with friends or customers, but they can also be avenues for angry people to lash out or even for harassment. Some businesses have directly messaged customers who left negative reviews, threatening or harassing them. The nature of privacy in messages and emails makes harassment or abuse easier as well. Always be thoughtful in all communications of any kind.

Technological problems: for businesses, one outage or glitch can damage reputation, particularly if quick technological turnaround is important for that company (such as a financial institution whose servers go down).

Spread of misinformation: technology makes it easy to produce information, particularly untruths. Whether it's middle-school gossip or high-level executive discussion, false information spread over the Internet can quickly damage a reputation.

Security breaches: even the biggest industries are not immune to data breaches and security issues. Even Facebook has come under scrutiny for data privacy issues.

Online reputation changes quickly

Social media causes information to be spread at insanely fast rates. Within minutes, customers know that a business has had a data breach, said something politically or socially insensitive on their marketing platforms, or done something helpful for the community. Social media also allows users to quickly involve themselves in situations to which they don't belong, simply by sharing and commenting. An individual or business can see their online reputation rapidly changing. It changes with every picture a person posts on Instagram - users' minds adapt based on every piece of content they see.

Online reputation does differ somewhat between individuals and businesses. Individuals have more control over their online presence and can change the privacy settings on their email, social media, and other Internet accounts. That doesn't stop other people from sharing information about them online, however. Businesses have more open platforms and must interact with customers in specific ways. Internet users have many expectations and demands of businesses: fast response to email and messages, accuracy, helpfulness, honesty, and socio-political awareness, just to name a few. Missing the mark on any of these can cause Internet users to view businesses negatively. On the other hand, quick response and problem-solving, timely emails, and an effective marketing campaign can build a solid online reputation.

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