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One of the most talked about topics in the last couple of years has been reputation management. But most people intuitively assumes it means online reputation management. Not necessarily.

Anyone who has been in business for long knows that reputation management is just as important off line as it is online, but few people realize that it’s much more difficult to manage off line. Joe Hall communicates this very well in his blog post at Marketing Pilgrim.

I like his political analogy. It’s also true in business, though few people do it intentionally to harm a business’s reputation.

Here’s how it works, the whisper campaign. Someone tries a new restaurant in town and they didn’t like the salad. They tell their friends they didn’t like the restaurant. Now the friends go and tell their friends that the restaurant has a lousy salad. Pretty soon, everyone in town is talking about how lousy the salad is just because one guy didn’t like it.

That’s the simple version. Reality is much more complicated, but this is what company’s face off line. You may never know which customer didn’t like your salad, but you’ll know if you’ve only sold one of them. And the customer paid cash. So you can’t even track him down. Bummer.

But in all seriousness, if this conversation took place online then you’d know who said it and when. Even if the person used an anonymous name or fake name, at least there’d be a record of where it was and when. For instance, some user named Evil Twin tweeted it at 12:01 New Year’s Eve. You can always point to that tweet in your reputation management responses and follow any rumors that spread from it.

Online reputation management is easier than off line reputation management because there’s a record. And if you can follow the record, crafting responses is a whole lot easier.

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