If you’re one of the unfortunate millions disparaged by useless ‘rant’ sites like Ripoff Report or Complaints Board, 2016 could be the year justice is served – with a side order of French toast. Companies specializing in ORM tactics have been forming in droves, most offering the same type of service. Because there’s only room for so many at the top, here’s what I foresee happening around the reputation management realm in 2016.

A more simplified solution will be born

Today’s media landscape demands constant change; it’s part of the societal fabric woven by the internet’s greatest writers and forward-thinking companies. Businessmen demand new updates to old methods. And in some cases, a massive dose of duplicity is in order. Because everyone knows there’s nothing like waking up to widespread scandal, right?

Reputation management companies circumvent the same message in different contexts: take bad stuff, move down, take good stuff and move up. The process takes several months if done right; the problem arises when:

  • The items pushed down slowly regain mitigating weight;
  • The good stuff (generally ghost profiles built on high ranking social/media sites) loses weight due to the lack of consistent page views.
  • Customers become infuriated, demand explanation or cash back.

I’ve heard in some cases ORM companies have given individuals a bad reputation, approached them with the issue, then made off with money that was never rightfully earned. Sick, but true. There are even cases, such as that outlined by USA Today, where fake online reviews trip travelers and turn them away from an otherwise excellent lodging choice.

I believe this will be the year a breakthrough method in managing one’s reputation will come about. Albeit some brainy algorithm, an act of reverse engineering or a long overdue update in how Google treats digital disparagement. Only a select few will wrap their head around the “new style” well enough to offer this to their clientele.

The kings will fall

And they will not fall gracefully.

Sites like Ripoff Report (I use this as an example frequently due to their brash, questionable approach to ‘consumer advocacy’) are empowered because the internet gave everyone – yes, even those rumor mongers and hate speech propagators – a voice. Their quest to provide the world with consumer advocacy is an epic fail for numerous reasons, the main one being the fact anyone can write a nonsensical report with little to no factual basis. Then you are offered a paid mediation option to defend the untrue report; once done, (if you win in arbitration), the report that was false from the get-go is updated but not removed.

Society will not stand idly by anymore – the flagship companies who are circulating high ranking falsehoods on an hourly basis will fall. Google will more than likely undergo several very long (and nasty) legal battles over Communications Decency Act (CDA) verbiage and decide to either ban these sites from their search results, or lessen their impact on search results. Then, of course, more suits will follow over their autosuggestion feature.

If this doesn’t happen soon, a massive portion of today’s businessmen and women will finally realize that these free speech websites are merely nothing more than sordid solicitations, and disavow their existence altogether. Which many have already begun doing, anyway, because there’s actually bigger fish to fry than worrying about how some rant site allowed an unprovoked attack on one’s otherwise flawless character.

People will begin learning ORM from sites that teach

One of the 10 commandments of reputation management I found appealing stated thou shall not respond to criticism poorly. Our digital presence is inevitable, and whether we submit our entreaties to Google or not, there’s a fine line being drawn as we speak between establishing your digital identity, and fixing the seemingly irredeemable contexts your name has be used in.

It’s not that individuals don’t have time to fix or build a formidable digital presence; many are simply clueless as to which end of the steak to begin cutting from. And for those individuals, a solution will be born.

No, this won’t be some software suite you install and autorun; companies specializing in SEM and reputation repair will offer classes (DIY seminars, if you will) that help you manage your own name on your own time. With this education, entrepreneurs who never took their online presence seriously will join the rising force of individuals who have always cared about how their perceived but never knew the mechanics behind personal PR.

This is the year, folks

Reputation management has been a societal enthrallment since the advent of color television (and beyond). The only difference between 1940’s America and today is the assertion that one cannot survive in business online without a squeaky clean name. Which is true to a very limited extent.

Companies specializing in ORM will begin enacting newer methods of handling unmerited verbal attacks. Ripoff Report (and similar sites) are already deeply engaged in courtroom theatrics, with no real winners or losers emerging. There’s a very thin line being drawn between Section 230 of the CDA, and defamatory speech. That invisible line is where ORM companies reside, but they won’t survive by simply pushing down negative search results for much longer.

2016 will be the year some form of useful reputation management will explode onto the scene – the question is, will it be the right form for you?