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The role of AI and machine learning in online reputation management

February 2022
 by Anita Walkowska

The role of AI and machine learning in online reputation management

February 2022
 By Anita Walkowska

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have permeated our everyday lives, enabling us to use home devices effortlessly through speech recognition, find TV programmes we are almost guaranteed to enjoy on streaming platforms, and use facial recognition to securely approve financial transactions.

Forbes predicts that by 2025, more than 95% of customer interactions will be managed by AI. Google and Microsoft are among the global brands that have already reshaped their business operations to focus on AI research and adoption, and AI is now used in a wide range of their products including Google’s search engine, Google Maps, and Microsoft Office 365.

AI and the psychology of trust

In today’s heavily digitised world, businesses are focusing on digital transformation and reassessing their brand and online reputation management strategies. This now involves much more than simply moving traditional operations to a digital environment. To truly enable and grow their business, companies must also focus on prioritising user privacy and ensuring they adopt AI in ways that don’t result in reputational damage.

AI can enable a company to scale up quickly by automating processes, analysing data, and managing customer engagement, all of which are impossible to achieve manually once a company reaches a certain size. However, in the rush to keep up, important considerations can be neglected, leading to reputational fallout further down the line.

Many successful start-ups which have harnessed the power of AI have become household names, with app-based fintech, cloud and delivery services leading the way. Some established technology companies, such as Intel and Siemens, have revolutionised their products to increase their market share. But other brands, in growing at such an unforeseen pace, have suffered severe reputational damage. Platforms within the Meta group, for example, have been accused of relying on biased algorithms and moderation, unwittingly resulting in unfair censorship of certain groups on social media, while failing to eradicate hate speech on their platforms. 

The two sides of the AI coin in reputation management

For better and worse, AI has revolutionised online reputation management for companies and individuals. AI can add value by processing large amounts of data and recognising patterns much faster than the human brain. Advanced AI and machine learning can enhance the speed, precision and effectiveness of human efforts, and are applied in multiple business tools including decision support systems and intelligent retrieval systems that complement and enhance human capabilities.

But AI can also be used maliciously to harm a company’s reputation in efficient and aggressive online attacks. Facilitated by AI and machine learning programmes, false rumours can be shared widely through automated attacks by competitors, ideological opponents or even disgruntled former associates. The AI-enabled creation of manipulated videos and images can add weight to any false story. And vulnerabilities in AI programmes can be exploited in cyber-attacks and breaches – with a considerable impact on consumer trust in a company’s data handling.

How can AI support online reputations? 

AI can be a valuable and sophisticated tool in helping to meet online reputation management challenges. Used in sentiment analysis programmes, AI can understand and differentiate the tone of voice in website copy, reviews, social media posts and press releases, flagging harmful content that can negatively impact a brand’s online reputation, and enabling the brand to take remedial action.

AI-enabled online reputation management software can lead to a better understanding of customer needs. By suggesting the most effective types of content, products, or services that match users’ queries, it can help create valuable content while avoiding negatively perceived topics.

It can also add intelligence to existing products and enhance digital marketing solutions. Combining the use of big data and AI to help monitor key online channels such as social media profiles, magazine publications, forums, blogs, and review platforms, AI-based software can help track brand mentions, discover potential influencers, and improve brand management.

However, the reputation of an organisation is complex and multi-faceted, and while AI can have a huge impact on a company’s growth, it has limitations. AI can be trained to develop intuition based on large masses of data, but only as far as the rules and parameters of a situation are known. Creative thinking, out-of-the box ideas, decisions driven by empathy and emotions, self-imposed assumptions, as well as intuitive and conscious decision-making will always differentiate humans from machines. Humans are too unpredictable, complex and emotionally-driven for AI to replace the human touch altogether, and it must be seen as a tool to work alongside human expertise and intuition, rather than a replacement for it, in the online reputation management space.

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