Is Digital Freedom Costing Us Our Best Businesses?

Pity the social media manager of U.S. Airways. When, last year, the company made a series of social media gaffes, the public didn't exactly let it slip by under the radar, and thanks to one employee's accidental double click, the business faced the fury and ridicule of the international public. A response by the company to a customer enquiry on Twitter soon became a hotbed of contention, and by accidentally attaching an incredibly inappropriate image to the response, one employee faced the wrath of the U.S. Airways bosses.

If 2014 will be remembered for anything in the business industry, then surely it is the online blooper. Since social media became a necessary part of business making and customer reach, the amount of mistakes that we have seen major companies make has increased tenfold, and with it, many reputations have been all but destroyed. Whether we like it or not, the internet has become an incredibly profitable way through which we make business and with it's increasingly prolific responsibility comes a whole host of potential pitfalls.

The trouble with many companies or professionals making their digital début is that there is little information out there regarding how to successfully manage a business-led profile. Much of what we know about social media and business-led technology is learned from trial and error and, despite having more benefits than pitfalls, the low points we must experience in order to perfect our image can often shift us to the bottom of the professional pack.

The rise of the Internet has given way to many good things but at the same time, a number of negative alternatives have slipped through the cracks and, unless we're prepared to be vigilant, it can be almost impossible to avoid mistakes entirely. There is another way, however. Floating in the digital stratosphere are a number of professional firms whose job it is to scratch out our internet-based mistakes. Reputation management firms might not be the most talked about of professionals but, in the eyes of major business players, they are an unequivocal necessity.

When one small slip leads to a barrage of unwanted and unfounded online abuse, companies can really feel the effect. In our increasingly-savvy age, we are much more likely to research a brand or product before investing in it, and if what we find online is in any way negative, there is a much greater chance that we will forgo our purchase and look elsewhere. The task of the reputation manager is fairly simple, but tough: Remove all false, or unfair negative information about a brand and leave consumers with the facts.

Reputation management companies don't have it easy; our propensity to listen to negative commentary is much higher than that which remembers positive information. Management firms must consistently work against human nature in order to give their clients the best possible start. Speaking on the subject, CEO James John of management company Reputation Firm stated that "consumers put a lot of stock into complaints. For some businesses, what people see online is crucial to their success." We might laugh at the mistakes that make up the blooper reel at the ending of a business year but in truth, our ridicule could be costing companies their place on the main stage.

Slander and online vitriol are very real issues that we face in this day and age. With the relative anonymity that the internet grants us, it seems easier than ever to blow a situation out of the water, and with a space out there for every Tom, Dick and Harry to have their say, we are running away with ourselves, screaming above the masses in an attempt to get noticed. If we hurt businesses along the way, we tell ourselves it is merely collateral damage.

John and his business, then, have a big task on their hands. Rather than trying to scrub a company entirely clean, businesses like Reputation Firm are trying to restore a sense of perspective on the web, enabling consumers to make decisions based from their own experiences. Talking on his firm's digital power, John states that "our company focuses on removing false or unfair negative links. We can't remove everything on the internet, nor do we want to. But if something shouldn't be there, we can often get it removed".

The world in which we live is being formed under our feet. Diving head-first into the information age, we are blind to the negative impact that it could be having on our economy, or professional circles. Whilst it is our responsibility to source and share the truth online, the task can often be easier said than done and when something major happens on the internet, it is easier to get swept along with it all, rather than probing a little further. Sometimes, it takes a little more guidance for companies to find their way online, and for us as consumers to realise our individual responsibility. The reputation management firm might not be an obvious hero, but in this day and age, it might be the most mighty force out there.