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Keeping Your Reputation Out of the Jaws of Social Media

It Takes Candor, Transparency, Aggressiveness and Constant Attention

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From the time they were little, I taught my kids that you get one reputation in life. And you need to live your life accordingly.

I'll bet there are dozens of professional athletes, Hollywood A & B-listers and politicians who wish they had heeded that advice. So much inexplicable behavior is ruining reputations overnight, it boggles the mind.

In my home market (Philly), a wide receiver for the Eagles football team, Riley Cooper, was recently caught on video spewing a racial rant. Golden boy one day, tarnished athlete the next. The latest gaggle of suspended MLB players thought they wouldn't get caught taking illegal, performance-enhancing drugs, but they were. In the entertainment world, the Lindsay Lohans, Miley Cyruses and Chris Browns seem to thrive on being out of control. And who can forget the Anthony Weiner-Eliot Spitzer types, who are battling for their political lives over self-inflicted wounds?

These individuals would have been so much better served if they had managed their personal reputations as if they were corporate brands. Like a consumer packaged good or a professional service brand, personal branding requires a full-time commitment. You cannot start a branding effort, then stop, and expect to be successful.

According to Glenn Llopis of Forbes, an individual needs to "…view your personal brand as a trademark; an asset that you must protect while continuously molding and shaping it. Your personal brand is an asset that must be managed with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you and / or by being associated with your work and the industry you serve."

Here are five things that every individual should consider to protect a reputation; and they go for companies, too:

You can run, but you cannot hide. In a world where social media hold everyone accountable for their actions, you need to accept the fact that if you upset your customers, or your fans, you will likely hear about it on one of the social-media platforms. Many companies are scared that social media will ruin their brands' reputations, so they hide from it. But, as the case of Nestles proved, that is the wrong way to deal with a social-media crisis; confront it head-on, and go to bat for your brand.

The lens is everywhere. In a world where citizens have become journalists with their mobile devices, assume that you, and those using your products and services, are being photographed or videotaped. So watch what you say while drunk at a concert, Riley.

Be transparent. Candor is at a premium when managing your online reputation. If you've inadvertently angered someone, come clean. If your customer service didn't live up to expectations, or your brand did not perform as advertised, be straight as to why, and how you plan to rectify it. If you don't, you will inflame the situation, which can quickly get out of control in the social world.

Educate those who use the tools. Little has been said or written about the importance of educating the next generation about reputation management. The more intelligently people use social tools, the more they will use them in a productive way. At the Center for Reputation Management at Drexel University's LeBow College of Business, which I run, we bring real-world scenarios to the classroom, for both individuals and businesses to study.

Get out ahead of the noise. You never want to have to be reactive when managing a reputation, though there are times when you need to respond to a situation. The best way to enhance a reputation, whether for an individual or a company, is to have a plan. Develop your message. Identify your most important social platforms. Build and engage an audience with thoughtful content. If the _ _ _ _ hits the fan, you'll have some brand equity to help guide you through.

In an era that has seen reputations rise and fall in spectacular ways online -- and very quickly -- it is prudent to take the most thoughtful approach possible to managing one's brand.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Brownstein is president and CEO of The Brownstein Group, Philadelphia.
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