All of a sudden I’m hearing lots of people talking about “reputation management” and “online reputation management”. What the heck are they talking about and how does it different from what we’ve all been doing, trying to put our best foot forward in the digital universe?
You’re right that reputation management seems to have become the new black. Actually, I don’t know what “the new black” means, but I hear that all the time too, as in “blue is the new black”, so it must be trendy to say that.
Anyway, as far as I can glean, “reputation management” refers to exactly what you say, of putting your best foot forward in the digital world. The issue is really what do people find when they search for you on Google, or Facebook or Flickr, or any other social network or online venue.
It’s nuanced too because if your name is, say “Dave Taylor”, but you sometimes write online as “Danny Danger” and somewhere indicate that the latter is a pen name for Dave Taylor, then the dots can be connected and you need to worry about not only what your own name reveals, but what your pseudonyms reveal too.
This is really a significant issue for people just graduating college too. It might seem fun at the time to have a blog entry on your MySpace account about how you and your buddies crashed a sorority party and slipped some drugs into their water supply, but when you’re trying to get a job two years later with a reputable company like Accenture or Boeing, you’ve now got a significant digital liability you need to overcome.
Worse, imagine that you’re a popular industry figure (or company!) and in addition to your fans, you also have quite a cadre of detractors. You know, the ones that register the “sucks.com” domain (like “walmartsucks.com” or “dellsucks.com”). Further, imagine that when someone searches for you (or Walmart or Dell) that these detractor sites come up ahead of your own in Google. That’s a very serious problem and one that isn’t trivially solved.
You can’t sue them because of freedom of speech, parody laws, offshore hosting, etc. Even if you could, it’s probably not a smart approach anyway. Instead, what you want to do is virtually stuff the ballot box and ensure that the top matches are positive, are information that you control. That’s really reputation management at the topmost level.
How do you get your own material to the top of the heap? By producing good quality original content that other people find sufficiently valuable that they link to it and thereby cast online votes towards its value. That’s how I’m ahead of pro wrestling star Dave Taylor, professional trombone player Dave Taylor, game programmer Dave Taylor and on and on. It’s a popular name, but if you Google my name, I’m the top two or three results and have been for years.
As with any other corner of the industry, there are now books out on reputation management, including Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communications by John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia, New Strategies for Reputation Management: Gaining Control of Issues, Crises & Corporate Social Responsibility by Andrew Griffin, Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness by Gary Davies, Reputation Management by Gerry Griffin, Radically Transparent by my friend Andy Beal and Judy Strauss and, of course, a title that has an enumeration too: The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation: Creating, Protecting, and Repairing Your Most Valuable Asset by Ronald J. Alsop and Ron Alsop.
To round this discussion out, I asked some of my Twitter friends (find me on Twitter) to define reputation management and here’s what they came up with:
“It’s all about tracking actions and the opinions of others about a particular person/company then working out a reaction or plan to work with these actions and/or what is being said about the company/person. Done correctly reputation management can be an extremely powerful tool in today’s day and age.” — Jeff Ledoux
“Reputation management… an oxymoron; you can monitor your online rep, but can you really “manage” it? Or, what Wikipedia said.” — Paul Chaney
“Keeping tabs on the media to make sure what you want people to say about you is what people are saying about you ;)” — Owen Cutajar
“Reputation management is realizing that the perceived value of your brand is defined by your stakeholders and therefore requires your constant monitoring and participation in their conversations. How do you implement it? Judy Strauss and I spent months writing Radically Transparent in an effort to provide a blueprint for it.” — Andy Beal
“Maintaining & defending a consistent message & style across all social networking and traditional web sites.” — Bob Rudis
One more link: SuretyMail, which is all about email reputation management. Check it out if you do lots of mailing to customers.
So there ya go. I hope that helps you understand what reputation management is all about in the digital age. Boiled down to its essence, it’s “make sure Google likes you”.