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Winning the Name Game

Technology tools are helping companies monitor their reputations on the Internet.

By Alan R. Earls
April 5, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - How much is an organization's reputation worth? Just consider the fate of Martha Stewart's company since its founder has been in legal hot water -- stock prices battered, consumers on the run and no place to lie low until the scandal fades from public memory.
While Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's fate offers an extreme example of a spoiled corporate reputation, damage can also come more subtly. In the Internet Age, companies are learning that they must be more alert than ever to what customers, shareholders, regulators and the media think about them -- and what they say about them.
"Reputation management is one of the most important components of a successful PR department, but it is also one of our greatest challenges," says Dan Miller, public relations manager at PacifiCare Health Systems Inc., a health care provider in Cypress, Calif. Miller says his five-person department has struggled to find the time to adequately assess what's going on in the industry and has relied on an outside consulting firm to perform a manual analysis of what's being said about PacifiCare in print and on the Web.
But things are changing. Today, reputation management is increasingly the focus of new technologies and techniques, ranging from human-aided Web searches to advanced analytical software running on enormous server farms dedicated to teasing trends and shades of meaning from millions of Web pages. PacifiCare now tracks its reputation using software delivered as a service from Biz360 Inc. that mines millions of Web pages for information about the company and the context in which it's presented.
Even with the best technology, protecting and strengthening a corporate reputation is no small task, in large part because the Web has empowered people to communicate more freely and openly than ever before -- sometimes blindsiding businesses that thought they were sitting on top of the world.

Winning the Name Game
Image Credit: Marlena Zuber
As a matter of fact, reputation management has two current meanings. From the consumer's point of view, reputation management consists of those consumers who, on their own initiative, share their impressions of an organization or person. Familiar examples include book reviews on Amazon.com or the comments that buyers and sellers post on eBay about one another's business practices. In short, consumers manage the reputations of those with whom they do business.
Companies on the receiving end of such scrutiny, however, view reputation management as the actions they need to take to ensure that they and their brands remain unsullied and viewed in the most positive light possible. And it's here that technologies like those adopted by


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