Decoding Digital Marketing: What Is Online Reputation Management?

People with word clouds above them

"Online Reputation Management (ORM) is the intentional influencing and protection of a brand through active listening and engagement across platforms," explains Marshall Nyman, Account Director at Rio SEO. "ORM encompasses elements of social media and reviews management, online engagement, content creation, PR, local listings management, and more."

James Robinson, Marketing Advisor for Iconic Genius puts it simply, "ORM is basically the new ‘word of mouth.’"

It’s "basically a public opinion of what is found online," says Jeremy Lessaris, the founder of irevu.

But where online? He continues, "Either on structured review sites like Yelp or Google Reviews or in a mention of your company on a blog, social media site, or another online platform."

In the ‘olden days,’ you asked your friends or family about a good company to work with or restaurant to go to. That type of word of mouth is now easily accessible online via ratings and rankings.

Robinson emphasizes that ORM is monitoring as well as managing what people are saying about your brand online. He says, "It includes social and digital listening tools, protocol flowcharts, alerts, notifications, response templates, and customer service."

With an online reputation comes the need to manage and monitor it.

"If you are not taking your online rep seriously," advises Kevin Tash, CEO of Tack Media, "then you leave all the hard work, blood, and sweat to the hands of disgruntled customers, you leave comments unaddressed, and ultimately hurt your brand. ORM is essential is staying ahead of misconceptions of your business."

The benefits of handling your online reputation are helpful to businesses small and large. Tash says that they boil down to the ability to control your company or brand’s narrative, stay ahead of angry customers, and proactively build your presence. He says that staying active can help with your brand’s traction.

How is ORM different from public relations?

To better understand where one field starts and the other stops, we asked experts for guidance. Here is what they said:

"PR has to do with larger messaging, milestones," says Tash from Tack Media, a Digital Marketing Agency. "ORM is an on-going day to day effort that requires someone to have their ear to the ground when it comes to your day to day activity, social feed, and even new mentions of your brand online. Public relation can have a greater long term impact, but ORM is its much younger, hipper cousin."

"In PR," says Nyman, "the brand controls the conversation while in ORM, the customer tends to lead. PR is an integral part of any ORM strategy but on its own is not enough."

Nyman adds, "A big misconception is that ORM is a task of marketing or PR, when in reality it is a company initiative that impacts customer service, sales, operations, R&D, and more. ORM should be looked at as a feedback loop. Every part of an organization should be involved so they have the opportunity to improve and hear what customers are saying."

What are the components of ORM?

We have already mentioned several components of reputation management. It is a many-armed monster with its sticky fingers in a million places. Let’s break the field down into easily digestible pieces.

Jeremy Lessaris, the founder of irevu, describes the following three categories of reputation management:

  • Growth and repair — for companies who have either no reviews or online reputation or a bad reputation from negative reviews or related content, ORM can help generate a more positive reputation to help grow or combat a negative reputation. Repairing a reputation can also mean flagging negative reviews that don't follow [terms of service] TOS, policies or procedures of review sites, and steps for companies who choose to take further legal action against misleading, inaccurate, fake, or slanderous reviews that impact their business.

  • Monitor, listen, and respond — for companies who already have a positive and often frequent amount of reviews and mentions, the goal of ORM is to help a company get connected to all the sources so you know what is being said about you. They can connect to those voices and take action to be involved in the conversation and respond accordingly.

  • Promotion — companies that have a great reputation ORM can help promote a company's reputation to influence more customers and drive measurable business results.

Let’s take a closer look at those three categories.

Growth and repair

This initial stage includes growing or establishing your business’s presence online and taking care of any negative search results or comments that may have been neglected.

Charles Lee Mudd, Jr from Mudd Law explains, "A business’s online reputation comes from its primary presence (let’s say the website), the image projected, social media, SEO, review sites, negative review sites, Glassdoor, content about the people associated with the company, quotes, and more."

To first establish your presence, E-Intelligence CEO Jitesh Keswani emphasizes the importance of owning a website and related domains. "Once your website is set, you can go ahead and invest in owning multiple domains. This is going to reduce the number of negative data that surfaces on the first page of the search result."

Here’s an example:

After getting your primary presence set up, you need to look outside of your own site to social media sites, review platforms, and business directories.

"Not only should a business show up in the top 43 online directories," says Robinson, "but sites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp (if applicable) are a MUST! Depending on the company there are other websites such as Angie's list, Houzz, Glassdoor and more, that may need to be monitored. This is why having the proper ORM tool is very important."

"Every business is susceptible to public opinion," cautions Lessaris, "there are over a hundred specialized review sites and dozens of social channels that can literally make or break a business. Consumers have more power today than ever before and studies have shown that consumers are more apt to write a negative review than a positive one. But it's not just what people are saying about you, it's also the frequency of public interaction that is now a large part of search rank. And the overall rank, the total number of reviews and average rating can make a business an obvious choice, driving measurable impacts to traffic online and in-store."

Establishing your business’s listing on social media and other platforms like Google My Business is a must.

"Being proactive about getting your reviews will help for that rainy day when someone has a bad experience at your business," says marketing executive and consultant Ryan Vet. "If you don't have many reviews and someone decides to take to the web to blast your business, your rating will be greatly impacted. If you have a nice cushion of reviews, you shouldn't have a problem."

"Most companies only need it when they get negative reviews," explains Reputation Stars CEO Pierre Zarokian. "However, if you are the type of company that expects to get negative reviews or wants to protect yourself against future negative reviews, then proactive ORM is recommended."

But what if you haven’t been proactive about your reputation?

"Depending on how long you have neglected your reputation, and how serious the incident was that is dragging it down, it could take as little as a few minutes, to a few years [to repair]," explains Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva.

Where should businesses start?

"It starts with identifying the problem," explains digital marketer Nolen Walker. "Bad reviews might be spam in which case they can be removed from the platform. If they are legitimate reviews, a professional and courteous response can go a long way towards restoring credibility. If the problem is systemic then the firm would have to reassess everything from who is handling social media posts to the content on the company's About Us page."

Lessaris adds, "Driving new reviews and focusing on positive PR is the easiest way to impact a negative reputation. Removing existing reviews is something that has to be assessed based on the legality and impact of the reviews."

Monitor, listen, and respond

This next phase is all about being present. It is about monitoring customer feedback, actually listening to it, and responding in a positive, appropriate way.

Nyman points out, "A brand’s reputation is everything. When customers leave feedback about their experiences, it can be a great asset or a massive liability — it’s entirely in how it is managed. While you cannot prevent negative reviews, other searchers are watching to see how they are handled by the brand. Prompt, appropriate action can improve the experience and ultimately lead to a more positive online reputation."

Robinson suggests that businesses, "Listen to what the people are saying. Fix it and then turn it into an ad campaign." He expands, "As a business owner, you should want to know what customers are saying about your business. As an advertising guru, I find my best copy in the reviews. As a business owner, you will find what I call ‘million dollar criticism’. These are small gems that customers leave in the reviews that would 10x your business. I have seen it done."

How do companies take advantage of customer feedback?

Vet explains, "There are so many platforms out there from Podium to Birdeye to in generating online reviews. These are great for small and local businesses, healthcare practices, etc. The most important thing to make sure is that it complies with the terms of Google, Yelp and other review sites. The second thing you want to make sure is that it is easy for your customers to use."

Using these platforms and their notifications can be super helpful. Nyman explains, "Given the massive volume of data consumers are generating in interactions across platforms, networks, and devices, it’s no longer possible for brands to keep up with manual ORM processes alone. Customers expect a response to their feedback within 24 hours. Brands must be empowered to monitor in real-time for all locations and to respond from within the same platform."

Speed is key when it comes to managing your reputation. Aegis FinServ Corp president Jim Angleton explains that measuring ORM success is "the swift ability to recognize wrongful data posted and alert the customer for details and direction. If a provider takes more than one day to alert you to adverse postings, something is wrong and they may not be right for you. Speedy, focused attention to harm is important."

Is replying to reviews that important?

"Yes, people look at reviews," says Robinson. "People Yelp, and will Google company in a heartbeat. It’s a new way to complain. An insane amount of companies miss out on a ton of business because they don’t respond to negative comments. "

How should you respond?

"Mitigating a negative review is a simple process," explains Masjedi. "You reply with an apology, and extend an olive branch. Offer to connect privately to discuss the matter. The best case scenario is that the person follows up with you, and you win back your customer. At the same time, you demonstrate to other readers that you genuinely care about your customers' experience. Even the worst case scenario under effective ORM is not all that poor, as you halt the troll in their tracks, and demonstrate your sincerity to others."


This final component to the ORM mix is promoting the good things about your company to influence your customers’ purchase decisions and ROI. This includes "strategizing optimization and producing creative content," says Keswani.

Zarokian adds, "Mostly, [ORM] is done by creating more positive content online, such as social profiles, mini websites and writing many articles. There is a lot of SEO involved to push the positive content up."

The bottom line

Online reputation management is a million things, but basically, it means establishing an online presence, then monitoring, mediating, and promoting the positive of your business. "A business simply can't compete online in 2019 without ORM," says Walker. "It should be a baseline service offered by all agencies since SEO is largely inconsequential without it. The benefits are very straightforward because they impact the bottom line. They include lead generation, boosted sales, and business growth."

Robinson puts it another way, "The bottom line is this: If you don’t put serious time and effort into ORM, then that just shows you only care about money. You won’t be in business long that way."

Read more: The Do's and Don'ts of Choosing an Online Reputation Manager

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