Defending Reputation Defender

“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

I recently had an opportunity to meet up with Mr. Fertik, the Harvard-educated New Yorker who founded Reputation.com, the best/only-known service for anyone worried about his or her Google persona (which is everyone, right?)

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.

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.

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.

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.

4 Comments

  1. Versie
    June 1, 2011

    I love the bit about “Google…is not truth”, but see, most people searching for stuff on the internet won’t take from their precious time to deepen their research and do investigative work and really find out if some negative stuff said about some company is actually true or not. The whole point of online reputation is to give the reader the chance to get both sides of the story and make up their own mind. They allow each negative comment and review to have a counterpart.

  2. Rob at Reputation.com
    January 24, 2011

    Hi Peter. Thank you for your even-handed analysis of the reputation management industry, and for taking the time to speak with Reputation.com CEO Michael Fertik. You are right that the topic of reputation management is very popular right now, as is the related subject of Internet privacy. Consumers, as well as legislators, are finally beginning to consider how online data (whether it’s an old address on a people search website or a defamatory blog post) can impact an indvidual’s “real life.” In the Internet era, your Google results are your resume, whether you like it or not.

    Michael Fertik is currently in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, where he’ll be speaking on the subject of Internet privacy. I encourage you and your readers to follow our blog at (http://reputation.com/blog) or Twitter (http://twitter.com/reputation_com) for updates from the event.

  3. Michelle C
    January 24, 2011

    Interesting post, Peter, I have to admit that working for a monitoring company (disclosure) I’m highly skeptical of companies like Reputation Defender and think that solutions like this can only be a band-aid solution and show why trust (and transparency) is going to be a major deal breaker or maker

    Michelle @Synthesio

  4. Barry Hurd
    January 20, 2011

    Good piece Peter.

    There are multiple points of performing reputation management. Reputation Defender has had a long track record of doing reputation work, but the issue of online reputation management really isn’t that new. I’ve had several clients utilize Reputation Defender in the past (some with success, some not) and the technology side of what they are doing is fairly straight-forward.

    A lot of the venture capital money Reputation Defender has received seems to be fueling a big public relations and mass marketing campaign as they try to educate the general masses to why it is affects them. As a front runner in the industry, they are paying a hefty bill to educate the market.

    The business side of this covers a wide range of higher-end topics including stock trading, influencer analysis, and brand monitoring. I know of several firms (including mine) that work almost exclusively on high-end business projects (executive names and brand items.)

    From my perspective: one of the biggest problems in the field is that Google, Bing, and Yahoo have taken a significant stance to monetize people’s names and there hasn’t been any type of industry control or regulation. For the past decade Google has had a blank check to monetize this space. I believe this is going to be changing in the next 24 months as political and financial events related to online reputation become documented.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line.