The concept was initially created to broaden public relations outside of media relations. Academic studies have identified it as a driving force behind Fortune 500 corporate public relations since the beginning of the 21st century. As the Internet and social media became more popular, the meaning has shifted to focus on search results and electronic communities; such as review sites and social media.
In 2011, controversy around the Taco Bell restaurant chain arose when public accusations were made that their “seasoned beef” product was only made up of only 35% real beef. A class action lawsuit was filed by the law firm Beasley Allen against Taco Bell on January 21, 2011 due to the allegations. The suit was voluntarily withdrawn, with no verdict reached, settlement made, or money exchanged, and with Beasley Allen citing that “From the inception of this case, we stated that if Taco Bell would make certain changes regarding disclosure and marketing of its ‘seasoned beef’ product, the case could be dismissed.” Taco Bell responded to the case being withdrawn by launching a reputation management campaign titled “Would it kill you to say you’re sorry?” that ran advertisements in various news outlets in print and online, which attempted to draw attention to the voluntary withdrawal of the case.
Some businesses have adopted unethical means to falsely improve their reputations. In 2007, a study by the University of California Berkeley found that some sellers on eBay were undertaking reputation management by selling products at a discount in exchange for positive feedback to game the system.