Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Managing a Fragmented Identity...ReputationDefender

Delving back into the vault of blogs past, I decided to get the latest on reputation management and see whether the demand for it has hit a plateau or grown since I last covered it in January.

I caught up with Paul Pennelli yesterday. Paul is the Senior Director of Marketing and Partnerships at Menlo, CA based Reputation Defender. The company launched in 2006 as a service targeted to individual consumers. The products allow consumers to first scour the net and then manage reputations according to what is found.

I asked Paul if there had been a shift in customer since launch and interestingly there had been. Paul explained that when the service originally launched, the majority of the customers (almost 80%) came to ReputationDefender with reputation problems. The customer base consisted of users from all walks of life needing to delete unwanted pictures and content to get a clean record online.

Today, the customer base has developed into a growing segment of adults 35+ that are looking to proactively manage their online reputations.

Not far off from the comment on my last post about SEO optimized resumes being the next step, it seems that generating and marketing this type of content is becoming a trend. Paul described one of the largest customer groups as “job seekers”. Whether just out of college or in between jobs, consumers are becoming much more aware of their digital footprint and are acting accordingly by spending a lot of time on their user profiles and making sure they are highly visible in the right networks.

Making things even more interesting (from the small business media perspective) is the emergence of individuals whose private lives are very closely linked to their professional careers. Paul cited lawyers and doctors as a fast growing customer group as they have a vested interest in proactively managing their reputations online.

With sophisticated vertical directories and professional community sites popping up catering specifically to these professionals, there’s no doubt that they will want to actively manage their presence.

I asked Paul about why there was a need to go deeper than a Google when managing reputations. After all, "Googling" is really what most people are worried about so why not just do a Google SEO clean up and be done with it? This led to an interesting discussion about the "Invisible Web". Paul explained that Google only scratches the surface of personal content that hovers around on the net. Social networks and other password protected communities are not crawled by Google and these are areas that ReputationDefender has been focusing on to provide customized services.

Consumers don't have to be part of a community to be "tagged" within a community:

ReputationDefender offers four core products:

MyChild – This service works to manage your teenager’s online reputation and privacy.

MyReputation – Monitor and manage your online reputation.

MyPrivacy - Removes your personal information quickly and easily from the largest people search databases on the Internet.

MyEdge – packages range from a basic starter with first steps to taking control of your online reputation to the most advanced package, that gives you detailed personal attention and complete spectrum of reputation design and promotion strategies.

After Paul described the MyEdge product as a personal PR manager, it wasn’t hard to understand why their business has been experiencing steady growth month over month (specially in the "job seeker" category.

Here are some additional data points that are most likely contributing to the growth of ReputationDefender:
  • 53% of American adults use search engines to find information about each other (Pew Internet & American Life)
  • 77% of executive recruiters use search engines to research applicants (CareerBuilder)
  • 43% of recruiters have eliminated candidates due to negative content found online (CareerBuilder)
  • 26% of college admissions officers use search engines to research candidates (University of Massachusetts Center for Market Research)
  • 26% of college admissions officers use search engines to research candidates (University of Massachusetts Center for Market Research)
  • 64% of teens say that most teens do things online that they wouldn't want their parents to know about. (anti-drug.com)
With strong growth in vertical directories and communities and the continued fragmentation of identities online, the demand for ReputationDefender types services could continue to climb.

The company has a lazer focused eye on their target and its growing needs, are engaged in highly targeted media campaigns and they appear to be ensconced in a nice (growing) niche.

In our next discussion I'm hoping to dive deeper into semantic search and the subjectivity of reputations. How does one report definitively on someones reputation? What kind of scoring is involved and how are the sources ranked to provide a realistic assessment on the quality of an individual's footprint?

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