"Google is not God, it is not the First Amendment, and it's not the truth," said Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation Defender, re-named last week Reputation.com. "It's probably the best machine of the last 10 years, but it's just a machine." -- CNET (1/20/2011)
|Reputation.com founder Michael Fertik|
As someone who has made a career managing reputations - from individuals to institutions - I was compelled to inquire about the methodologies deployed by Mr. Fertik's company. Those endless radio spots had something to do with it, I'm sure. You know, the ones that send chills down the spines of dentists everywhere by linking a sudden drop in new patients to that embarrassing page one result in a Google search of the dentist's name.
The spots are hard to miss and may be fueled by the company's January 2010 investment from heavyweights Kleiner Perkins and Bessemer Trust.
Knowing a bit about the painstaking work entailed in trying to decipher Google's ever-changing algorithm in an effort to de-elevate the negative and elevate the positive, I tweeted my natural skepticism about Reputation.com's claims. The company, to its credit, was listening and contacted me to organize some time over the phone with Mr. Fertik.
Six weeks later, Mr. Fertik called. He confirmed that until recently the company had focused exclusively on the individual. From SFGate: "Tens of thousands of customers pay the nearly 4-year-old company upward of $9.95 a month to take charge of their online identity and privacy." More recently, however, Reputation.com has turned its attention to the enterprise whose reputation management duties have historically resided within the public relations domain. He mentioned that companies are willing to pay "from $100K-$1MM" to clean up their online acts.
I probed him about Reputation.com's technology and its approach to conversation mining for the enterprise, i.e., capturing, deciphering and re-shuffling the ranking of reputation-critical online information. After all, there are countless companies that specialize in SEO, let alone semantic and sentiment analysis.(See my previous post.) He insisted that Reputation.com is different.
We had to cut the phoner short, but we promised to regroup shortly. Six weeks later I reached out again and we agreed to meet for drinks in New York City. I was very impressed by Michael's passion and commitment to solving the daunting challenge of managing online reputations (and Google). While I found his answers to be (purposely?) vague at times, I did appreciate his candor in acknowledging that his company is just scratching the surface of this Herculean task. And it wasn't for a lack of PhDs from Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and the like among his 110 employees or so.
I decided at the time not to pursue a piece on Reputation.com, until today when I stumbled across CNET's take on two companies playing in the reputation management sandbox, Fertik's among them. Here's an excerpt from Tom Krazi's piece, "A Primer on Online Reputation Management:"
The work done by consultants in this field requires them to study Google's ranking results very closely, and over time Reputation.com has identified "hundreds" of ways to influence Google's rankings, Fertik said. However, many of those are only applicable in very specific cases, or for short periods of time, or too much trouble to be really worth the effort, he said.The topic is especially ripe right now. Huffington Post yesterday posted a piece from Dorie Clark titled "How to Repair a Damaged Online Reputation," the automation of which (most digital cognoscenti concur) is easier said than done.
Still, Reputation.com says it has identified "a few gems" for getting things done in Google that it naturally declines to disclose. "What we have to do is spend as much time in useful observation as possible, and hope and verify that our beliefs are right," Fertik said.
With Google taking it on the chin of late, I was encouraged to hear from Mr. Fertik that he and his associates are turning their attentions to the social-spheres. I plan to keep an eye on Reputation.com's progress.