Your Digital Reputation Is Of Paramount Importance


I’ve written several posts here at The Future Buzz aimed at helping you, a web-savvy professional, navigate to success in your career.  Previous posts in this series include:

Today I wanted to discuss  the importance of your digital reputation.  Specifically, I want to talk about how you can protect it, how to nurture it and how to avoid missteps which can potentially ruin it.  The truth is, your digital reputation is your real world reputation.

Recall law 5 from Robert Greene’s 48 laws of power:

So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once you slip, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Your reputation as a marketer, blogger, journalist or any variety of digital professional is your greatest asset.  Personal PR really matters, especially in an environment where titles are altogether meaningless.  It’s vital on several levels:

  • Personally – you are a company of one and your reputation follows you everywhere you go
  • For the company/agency you work for – what you say publicly on the web is tied directly to the reputation of your employer
  • For clients – your clients can and do read content you put out on the web on any of your social outlets

The obvious examples of reputations being ruined are people losing their jobs from inappropriate/unprofessional photos on their social networking profiles.  Sadly, many do not realize those are public spaces.  But what’s not so obvious is negativity or attacks on other companies or professionals in a manner which is derogatory and/or unprofessional.

I’ve written before not to be afraid to have opinions or take sides, and I stand by that.  But, discussing something intelligently and backing up what you’re saying with facts, observations or opinions is a far different animal than being outright negative to someone you disagree with merely because they rub you the wrong way.

People who do this only succeed in:

  • Making themselves look unprofessional
  • Undermining their own company’s reputation by representing them poorly
  • Burning bridges with future employers who have seen the negativity (the web, especially within niches, is a small space and when you post things publicly the world is watching)
  • Ruining the chances that their own content is actually shared
  • Slowly degrading their own reputation, authority and trust

There’s far too much negativity in the world, and smart businesses and professionals want to keep themselves as far away from negative attitudes and mindsets as possible.  This leads us to the paths for your own success in cultivating the right kind of reputation for yourself:

Being a positive force and thoughtfully contributing is the right path

Look at thought leaders like Chris Brogan or Seth Godin.  One of the reasons for their amazing reputations is the fact that they are an overwhelmingly positive force in a negative world.  People crave those who inspire them, and both of these individuals do that with stars.  The right kind of leaders are never negative.

Debate and disagreement are fine, but should be conducted professionally and with tact

You can debate, you can have opinions, you can align yourself with ideas you believe in.  But you can do this without embarking down a slanderous path.  There’s a fine line between intelligently pointing out things that are wrong and being unprofessional.  Steven Hodson at WinExtra is a master at being snarky, but if you read what he writes, he carefully backs up his points in a way that even if you didn’t agree with him, you’d still respect him.  Snark done properly is a style, and not necessarily negative.

Contribute to discussions on your industry in the same manner online as you would in person

A simple formula is this:  if you wouldn’t say something in person to someone else’s face, don’t say it on the web.  We’ve blurred the line between online and offline and many of us who have been online daily for more than a decade see no difference at all.  If you say something about someone, especially something negative, count on that person both reading it and reacting.

Any fleeting attention gained from negativity is overshadowed by the destruction of your reputation

Being a PR professional, I’m familiar with the phrase all PR is good PR.  And I think that is absolutely true for companies or individuals who have strong, unassailable reputations, loyal followings and in the end are on the good side of the force.  It’s when you personally draw attention to yourself in the wrong light and for the wrong reasons the attention you gain is not worth the dent in your reputation.

Authority/trust is different than popularity

You can be insanely popular, but have no trust or authority in the world.  While you might be able to court attention, it’s worthless if at the end of the day people don’t respect you or view you as an authentic individual.  Authority is built slowly over time bit by bit.

Nobody likes an immature expert

You could be the best in the world at something – but if you’re immature, people aren’t going to look forward to working with you, plain and simple.  Mature individuals are virtuous in their actions, even when they disagree.

The web doesn’t forget

The web is permanent, and anything you say is etched into a digital presence that isn’t easily removed.  Upset the wrong person and you could end up with a scar on page one of Google for your name that stays with you for a long time.  More than half of adults Google each other, so this is a real problem you could make for yourself if you don’t think about your actions carefully.  This also speaks to the importance of having a large digital footprint and owning your personal SEO so a spiteful individual could not easily harm your reputation in this regard.

Everyone knows there is snake oil in social media/digital marketing and PR

Both your proven track record and reputation are what allow you to stand out from the hordes of “experts” in the space.  In reality it is a small inner-circle of talented individuals who are proven leaders  at web-based marketing, and for the most part they are all friendly with each other.  It is telling if an individual is totally unknown to those at the head of the industry, or immediately known as having a negative reputation.

Know that an attack is inevitable

Even if you do all the right things, eventually – for whatever irrational reason -  someone will attempt an attack on your digital reputation.  Just consider the source first, and carefully weigh whether it’s even worth paying them attention.  In many cases, the individual attacking you may just be trying to get you to strike back to use the attention against you.  Where it’s an unknown/untrusted individual provoking you without just cause, taking the high road and ignoring the instigator may be the most prudent move.

Conclusion

The importance of your digital reputation can’t be stressed enough – especially during times when companies are assessing their partners and agencies are laying off individuals.  We’ve seen examples time and time again of both professionals and companies making unfortunate missteps.  Being thoughtful in what you publish, a positive force for good, and engaging others tactfully goes a long way in positioning yourself in the right light.

Related posts from The Future Buzz

The Two Kinds Of Web Popularity

10 Skills All PR Pros Need For 2009 And Beyond

Take The Extra Step Everyone Forgets

Related posts from around the web

Not a Good Time to be a Cog in the Machine (Shoe String Branding)

Develop Your Friend’s Personal Brand Because it Will Improve Your Own (Personal Branding Blog)

PubCon: Online Reputation Management (Online Marketing Blog)

image credit:  luc legay modified under cc 2.0 license