Network of Excellence in Internet Science

Session 2: Reputation

Dr. Laura Toogood Digitalis Reputation, London Online Reputation Management: A perspective from the industry

The field of Online Reputation Management (ORM) has emerged as an increasingly important component of the digital industry. Over the last couple of years, a select number of specialist firms have been successfully operating in this sector. Through the emergence of a professional field of ORM, it is clear that there is a recognised need for private individuals, corporate organisations and products to manage their online reputation.

The online reputation needs of private clients typically include dealing with crisis situations, general online profile management and constant monitoring of the Internet to help mitigate risk. Individuals typically become frustrated when the search profile for their name is considered an unfair representation or contains negative content. Another key concern is the longevity of third party generated content, which ranks highly for the client name. Such content can consist of archives of newspapers or other commentary that is available to users of search engines. This content is considered to have a more permanent impact on a client’s reputation than the print equivalent.

Private clients that engage with ORM are principally apprehensive about the lack of ability to control their profile in the online space. A common requirement relates to securing a presence on the SERPs, in order to ensure that Internet users view authentic and controlled content as a result of a search query.

Some of the processes of ORM include overseeing individual projects, devising strategy and deploying resources, in order to address such client concerns. Various technical strategies enable the manipulation of search engine results pages (SERPs) in order to ensure a client has the desired online profile when Internet users search for certain keywords. Content that is perceived as positive or neutral by the individual is typically promoted to rank highly in the SERPs, thus demoting negative content.

Some individuals do not want an obvious Internet presence and require some level of anonymity to be implemented. Others desire a strong presence and require advice on utilising personal websites and social media profiles. Client’s requiring the latter commonly demonstrate a lack of skill and understanding about using web assets and are nervous about how to portray their persona online.

Therefore, ORM not only addresses the SERPs, but also encompasses social media use, as well as online branding and positioning. Collaborative work takes place between ORM experts, reputation lawyers, publicists, private security firms and PR companies to service the needs of private clients.

ORM is an area of research that fits into the use of social media content as a resource in personal strategies of manipulation and maintenance of online persona. Therefore, the demand for ORM poses some important questions: What causes certain individuals to place value on how they are portrayed in the online space? Is it possible for your physical reputation to be aligned with an online persona and can these become unified and communicated successfully in the digital space? 

From an industry viewpoint, I will present some case studies that have been anonymised, along with a number of suggestions for future research. This will illustrate the need for developing a clearer understanding of what drives certain individuals to engage with ORM.

Marco Bani Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna How to build, measure & use ‘social reputation’ to foster a better democracy: Principles and practises for online trust in e-democracy processes

For several years governments invested significant resources in the digital management of democratic processes. Furthermore, e-government, with the introduction of ever more collaborative and immersive digital tools, such as social media, has moved away from the simple digitalization of document processes, organizational and decision-making within the administration, towards a new model that involves citizens (and communities of) in the co production and sharing of information, provision of services and participatory policies, which may lead to a new reconsideration of e-democracy theories.

These processes require the acquisition and management of a large amount of information, which rise some questions about the profiles related to the protection of individuals and social control. It is not just a matter of privacy, but the new online interactions promoted by social media require a greater mutual accountability and a better evaluation of others social aspects such as reputation, trust and acknowledgements.

Trust in institutions has been steadily declining in the Western democracies and the possibility of developing a real partnership between citizens depends on the degree of transparency and accountability they are able to offer. Governments should be more reachable, available and relevant to users, delivering responsiveness of policy to technological change and fostering a “call to action” of their citizens, giving motivations that will encourage usage of government services through online platforms. Motivations which do not necessarily being financially, but mainly related to "social reputation", the true currency of web.

The value of reputation is not a new concept to the online world: we can see that whether in e-commerce sites, as the star ratings on Amazon or the PowerSellers system on eBay, or in online communities, from the smallest one to the biggest, such as Wikipedia. People understand that the way they behave online will impact their ability to maintain a presence on those sites as well as perform all sorts of transactions in the future. In the same way citizens who help their local community would be recognized for the vital role they play in generating different kinds of wealth for society. “Social currency” enables people to connect and collaborate like never before and shape public sphere where innovations occur and anyone can benefit from the adoption of new technologies and ideas. Moreover, in the development of civic actions, a very high degree of trust is required between strangers, and democratic stakeholders (governments, citizens and civil society) need to conceive “social currency” as an accurate and legitimately powerful tool and encourage users not to misuse it, to make digital and social identities actually truly reflect participation in democratic process, acknowledging participation according to fair and equality principles.

A reliable system of “social reputation” is needed to avoid the high risk of pollution of participatory policies by corporations, lobbyists or people who want to affect negatively for their own good, already present in great numbers in the actual digital public sphere. Besides that, the methods and resources used so far for trust in peer policies are fundamentally disorganized. In the past year, a plethora of reputation services have launched to serve as the connective tissue of reputation and trust across the web. But no one has risen as standard for a use in e-government process. The various reputation systems differ not only in their approaches and implementation, but also in guiding principles. This uncertainty prompts a number of key questions: it is possible to rank trustworthiness in the digital public sphere for e-democracy processes? It is possible to use tools and principles already used in web communities to calculate “social reputation”? Is user data from social media useful in increasing trust? Will a single”social reputation” score work across multiple platforms? And what procedures are in place to ensure users’ privacy, the accuracy of the rankings, the ability to address mistakes in rankings and the necessary acknowledgments to reward who is actively involved in civic engagement?

This paper analyzes innovative practices in the evaluation of “social reputation” to support the participation of citizens (and communities) in a reshaped public sphere, and recommends principles in order to foster a more active and trustful engagement, guessing that having an accountable social reputation system holds enormous potential for sectors where trust is fractured, such as politics and actual democracy.