How do you control your online reputation when information is so accessible? Lizzie Murphy meets Simon Wadsworth.
I don’t usually google myself when preparing to interview someone but in Simon Wadsworth’s case I’m taking no chances.
Wadsworth is managing director of Igniyte, a Leeds-based company which specialises in managing the online reputation of individuals, brands and companies.
Specifically, he helps clients to remove negative posts from page one of Google and create a positive online presence instead.
After a quick search reveals nothing more than my Twitter account and a few articles I’ve written, I’m satisfied Wadsworth, 49, will not find anything that would cause me concern.
“My Google page one looks pretty boring,” I say as we sit at a large meeting table in Igniyte’s city centre office.
“That’s good, dull’s good,” says Wadsworth.
Most of Igniyte’s clients contact the company in a crisis after finding poor reviews, negative press stories and even personal online attacks, which they can’t remove.
“We’re almost initially like a counselling service,” says Wadsworth. “People often come to us in a crisis situation, something bad’s happened and it’s caused them big problems in their lives.”
But shifting content is not always easy, particularly from newspapers. “You can’t really go to a paper and say ‘take it away’ unless there’s some good reason for doing that,” he says. “So you have to find other ways of moving it.”
This usually involves promoting higher ranking positive or neutral content so that the negative posts are moved off the first page of Google.
“The stuff that is sitting on page one generally speaking is there by default because there’s nothing else ranking for it,” Wadsworth says.
“Big powerful sites like Trip Advisor, moneysavingexpert and Consumer Action Group all naturally rank really high so it’s difficult sometimes to move threads of negative comments.”
One way of producing positive content is to create social network profiles on sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, which all naturally rank high on a Google search.
Igniyte also encourages companies and brands to create positive PR by contacting their client base for positive reviews. “The negative stuff might be there because they are not soliciting any positive reviews,” he says. “It’s not necessarily indicative of the company.”
Igniyte, which also has a London office, currently has about 35 clients on its books. In the last eight weeks the number has doubled and continues to grow.
Wadsworth says: “A lot of people don’t realise it’s an industry. If you say online reputation management, people don’t know much about it, but we’re opening the floodgates.”
The medical and financial sectors dominate the firm’s client base but it also works with celebrities and individuals who have been thrown briefly into the media spotlight.
But there is clearly a moral issue surrounding some of the requests. “I’ve had major drug dealers ringing me up from prison, about to be released, and I’ve had one or two murderers. But we obviously don’t work for those people,” he says.
He adds: “A question we often get asked is ‘where do you draw the line?’ If a company or an individual has done something in the past but they are trying to get themselves back on track, why shouldn’t we help them?”
Then there are individuals who have been caught up in incidents through no fault of their own and are finding it hard to shift the association. “I had a sad case recently where a lady’s mother had been murdered and the snippet on Google contained the daughter’s name and the word ‘murderer’,” says Wadsworth.
“People weren’t clicking through to see the story and her reputation was being damaged.”
Igniyte’s prices range from £1,000 to £10,000 a month depending on the size of the job and clients initially sign up for three to six months.
The company, which was launched in 2009 as a digital marketing agency, entered the online reputation management arena 18 months ago.
“A client who had a problem with their Google page one came to me and said, ‘how can we fix this?’ ” says Wadsworth.
He spent the next nine months working out how to fix the problem. “There was virtually no industry in the UK so I researched what was going on in America but it was difficult because it was all a bit black artsy.
“So we just tried loads of different things until something worked.”
Wadsworth realised he had found a gap in the UK market and changed Igniyte’s focus to online reputation management.
It now has 14 staff and a turnover of more than £1m.
In the future, Wadsworth, a married father of four, says the company will get involved in more legal challenges in partnership with law firms. Igniyte will also add monitoring to its list of services.
Bolton-born Wadsworth fell in love with the internet in its fledgling days. After graduating from Bradford University, he worked for the European Commission at an IT and telecoms consultancy. During that time he visited a friend who was at university in America.
“It was 1992 and being an obsessed Man City fan I said ‘how do I find out Man City’s results?’ He said ‘wait here’ and went and printed them off. I said ‘how on earth did you do that?’ and he said it was called the internet.”
Wadsworth adds: “It was a light bulb moment and it seemed blindingly obvious so I jumped ship and set up an internet company straight away.”
That company was internet design agency Brand New Media, which advised companies on how the emerging internet market would affect traditional businesses. By 2000, the Leeds-based company had grown to 40 staff with clients including Heinz, Procter and Gamble, and Tesco.
Wadsworth sold the business to French PLC Fi System but stayed at the company for another 18 months before leaving to set up a new agency called Swamp. Swamp went on to become one of the best known digital agencies in the UK and worked for clients including Umbro, La Redoute and Best Western Hotels.
In late 2006 Wadsworth sold swamp to Leeds-based Brahm (now Brass) and launched retail and office supply business The Retail Factory. He sold the firm and launched Igniyte.
So, I ask, is the plan to grow Igniyte and sell it as you’ve done with companies in the past? Even on paper, Wadsworth appears to be someone who gets bored quite easily.
“That’s a very good summary of me,” he laughs. “You’re right, potentially it could go down that route eventually.
“But we’ve only been doing this for nine months so that’s a long way down the line.”
Simon Wadsworth Factfile
Title: Managing director
Date of birth: March 22, 1964
Education: BSC Economics and MSC Computing at Bradford University
First job: Data analyst
Favourite holiday location: Samoens, France
Favourite film : Amadeus
Favourite song: Kashmir – Led Zepplin
Last book read: I’m Not Really Here, by Paul Lake
Car driven: Nissan Leaf
What is the thing you are most proud of? My kids