Businesses need to become more proactive about managing their reputation online as the risks of operating on the web are on the increase, according to research from Gartner.

Gartner predicts that by the end of 2010 criminals will routinely use the internet to extort funds from organisations, threatening to damage their corporate reputation by ensuring that routine online search requests will return negative or even libellous results.

“If your business depends on a positive internet reputation, then you have little choice than to explicitly manage that reputation online, “said Jay Heiser, research vice-president at Gartner.

“The internet is like a bad-news Petri dish. Negative information multiplies and spreads with frightening speed and becomes virtually impossible to erase.”

Despite the plethora of reputational resources that are available to assess and help manage reputation - from PR agencies and competitive analysis companies to identity verification services and content analytics tools - a comprehensive ‘scan and alert’ mechanism for the internet does not yet exist, said Heiser.

“Reputational persistence is a unique internet phenomenon that traditional reputation specialists have never had to deal with. The fact is that where the internet is concerned the only way to counteract persistent negative information is to overcome it with a greater weight of positive information. This means getting to grips with internet reputation management.”

Heiser recommended that organisations seeking to proactively manage their reputations online take steps to understand the role that reputation plays in social and commercial relationships and work with PR and marketing to create a reputation management strategy.

He also said firms should take the trouble to educate their employees about how to assess reputation and look for new business opportunities in reputation enhancement.

Heiser also highlighted the importance of establish a policy against allowing your employees to place co-worker recommendations on peer reference sites such as LinkedIn or Ryze.

'Trust no-one on the web' – security group