Blog Post

Now That We're All Web-made Celebs, Do We Need Tools to Manage Our Reputations?

It’s downright impossible to be a private person these days. Sure, you could stay off Twitter and Facebook and lock the doors. But whether it’s a colleague uploading a drunken picture of you online, a personal letter to a friend stored on their webmail provider’s servers or a random hater posting about you on a message board, much of the information about you on the Internet is completely out of your hands. What do celebrities do about this problem? Hire an entourage of people to manage their reputation.

But few us have the luxury of an entourage, so instead we might be looking for help from companies like ReputationDefender or Visible Technologies, which collectively raised more than $30 million for reputation management this week. As ReputationDefender CEO Michael Fertik put it to me, “Everybody is now the star of their own movie on the Internet whether they like it or not, and the majority of content about you is not going to be put there by you anymore.”

I spoke to Fertik in light of his company raising $8.65 million in Series B funding in a round led by Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Bessemer Venture Partners. Redwood City, Calif.-based ReputationDefender provides consumers and small businesses with tools to manage, analyze and remediate their reputations online.

Though I personally don’t feel paranoid enough to invest in this sort of a product in my own name, I can understand why other people, especially entrepreneurs and companies big and small, might need a reputation manager. What’s said about you online can very quickly come to define you. And in that vein, Visible Technologies, a online reputation management and social media engagement platform for larger brands, today announced $22 million in Series C funding led by Investor Growth Capital and including existing investors Centurion Holdings, Ignition Partners, In-Q-Tel and WPP (yes, that’s the In-Q-Tel that’s the investment arm of the CIA — social media marketing and national security go hand in hand these days!).

So why is reputation such a loaded term, garnering millions of dollars from VCs?

Reputation management for individuals could really be called privacy monitoring, said Fertik. And reputation management for brands could really be seen as interacting with customers online. Now that everyone has a public image, regular people and big companies have a lot more in common with celebrities than they did before.

So what’s next? Certainly there’s a lot more to be done to get control over that information. For instance, ReputationDefender has little access to info that’s below a registration or privacy protection layer on a social network (Fertik said that ReputationDefender has a deal to get better access to social networks than search engines do, but it still has quite a ways to go on the “deep web.”) The ReputationDefender offering is kind of a cross between the hypothetical social media dashboard I’ve been hoping for and an inversion of “people search” products like Spock (used mainly to research other people, not yourself)…with an ample overlay of worry. Fertik contended that improving his product is more of a problem of business development and social norms than integrating technology, however.

There’s a parallel to the FTC requiring bloggers and tweeters to act like publishers and disclose sponsorship (though it’s come out that apparently celebrities are exempt because it’s expected that they get free rides?!). Everyone on the web is a public person now, as far as what you say yourself and what other people say about you.

By the way, if we’re all celebrities now, let’s hope we get some of the perks. That means cutting to the front of lines, being paid to go to parties and driving a Ferrari, right?

9 Responses to “Now That We're All Web-made Celebs, Do We Need Tools to Manage Our Reputations?”

  1. Companies have been trying to sell me my credit data for years – this is MY data that only exists because of me, shouldn’t it be mine already?

    Same goes for reputation, surely it’s mine? Trouble is with ALL the changes to services and content ownership rules its hard to know whether I have given ownership to someone else…


  2. It is interesting from a branding and marketing perspective. We work with companies who have had issues with other people posting messages and if it’s not something that you stay on top of and address, it can be damaging to your brand.

    If you can’t do it yourself, it probably makes sense for the larger organizations/personalities to have a service in place that helps them with it.


  3. No tools, just common sense.

    Ruthless pruning of followers in twitter.
    Care about whom you follow in Twitter.
    Care about who you befriend on Facebook.
    Attention to Privacy settings on Facebook.

    And, to be blunt, try to behave yourself in public and private so that your reputation is good anyway! My own rule of thumb? Never say or so anything online that you wouldn’t want your boss or mother to read about in the local newspaper. :-)

    Reputation Management is simply the latest way for VCs and others in the Social Media business to milk some dollars from us.

    • You have hit the proverbial nail on the head. What any “online reputation management” company does can easily be accomplished by everyone for free, with some common sense.

      Those “alerts” they’re trying to sell you? Yeah, Google offers those for free. And the offer to “destroy” negative content? Short of sending out cease and desist letters (which some of these firms do), you just create content on other sites to obfuscate search results.

      I personally don’t think any of these reputation management outfits is going to make that much money. Nothing that these firms offer is proprietary, and people will eventually wise up to the game. There might be a few people that make out like bandits, but I think that this space is just a money pit waiting to happen.

    • VCs don’t little or no grasp of this subject matter… very few even understand search engine optimization, let alone the complex combination of personal identity, brand space, public relations and employment.

  4. This has been a strange week in reputation management, obviously taking VC funds to grow this market out is proving some substantial trends.

    Unfortunately the reputation space is far from “perfect” and taking venture money doesn’t separate these two companies from the pack of PR and SEO firms that are doing the same job (just Google reputation management and you can see the dozens of firms playing in this space.)

    On top of the issue around things like the FTC, there are dozens of privacy concerns to think about in terms of the information being handled online. Employees and employers will be skirting on some entirely new turf that is against traditional public relations rules, legal compliance issues and even Google policy (the very beast they are trying to control/manage.)