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?

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