The University of California recently experienced a major scandal as Katehi, the chancellor, was placed on leave after it emerged that Katehi signed off on a deal to employ online reputation management consultants to scrub negative references regarding the university from the net.
Although this UC Davis scandal continues to evolve, what it demonstrates is the dark side of the online reputation industry. Despite it being used for building reputations in a short period of time, there are those who use strategies that are exactly against the spirit of what this industry is all about.
So what has this scandal done to the reputation of both the university and the industry in general?
Shining a Much Needed Light
Most online reputation consultants are actually happy that this scandal has unfolded. They are delighted that the rogue operators in their industry have been revealed in public.
The references from the net, which Davis wanted to be removed, involved student protesters being pepper-sprayed by police on campus. He didn’t want the world to be able to easily reference this scandal, and so he had consultants attempt to deal with the negative references.
It should be said that it’s impossible to actually remove a search result completely from the Internet. Instead, what Davis really meant was he wanted them buried so far down the rankings that nobody would ever come across them.
The Consequences for Businesses
For a start, the university is likely to lose its chancellor. That’s the immediate effect of what has happened here. On the other hand, they have also attracted even more negative attention than before. People who didn’t know about the story involving the pepper spray are now uncovering it.
Furthermore, the reputation of the college has taken a hit simply because they have attempted to hide the truth. There’s nothing the general public hates more than any organization trying to hide something from view. Trust is important whether it’s a university or a mom and pop small business.
This scandal should show that businesses that do things the wrong way and then attempt to cover it up are going to get caught. They are going to be discovered, and it could very well destroy their reputations forever.
So what are the likely outcomes for the university?
As well as the loss of their chancellor, they may very well discover a drop in the number of applications. There are those who believe some students could even decide to go to other universities through transferring their courses. The University of California has become notorious for all the wrong reasons.
What Does It Mean for the Online Reputation Industry?
The online reputation industry is not there to hide the truth, nor do they have the capacity to do this. What many of the news reports got wrong was that ‘scrubbing’ results from the Internet isn’t possible. The intention was a highly-publicized PR campaign.
What the university got wrong was the timing. By being associated with spending $175,000 on online reputation services they were seen to be attempting to make the incident blow over.
True online reputation management is about forcing negative search of the results out of the public eye through employing positive content. The goal is to make sure that the most positive content reaches the public eye. This content is perfectly true and there’s nothing problematic about it.
There are online reputation consultants that don’t do things by the book, but the vast majority of consultants are decent honest companies that help organizations to do better. Remember, these companies need positive content to promote their clients to begin with.
If a business is corrupt and doesn’t treat customers right, even the best online reputation company will have little effect.
What Does this Mean for You?
It’s unfortunate that the university tried to make a big investment in online reputation consultancy so soon after the news broke free. Journalists only had to put the two together to come up with a story that would sell. But what the university did in itself was nothing out of the ordinary.
Every company will be hit by negative reviews they need to turn into a positive sooner or later, and it isn’t always of their own making. 90% of consumers read reviews before buying, so online reputation consultants are critical allies to have and a smart company knows how valuable they can be.
What do you think of the UC Davis scandal?