“Reputation management” is certainly nothing new in the worlds of marketing and business.  A company’s reputation is its #1 asset, and organizations spend countless hours and dollars with advisors and PR firms to make sure their messaging is just right.  Certainly individuals care about their reputations just as much, but it’s not been my experience that the regular person, on average, thinks about actively protecting his or her own reputation. 

But as they say, “the Internet has changed everything.” Where once a newspaper article or TV segment might appear and be gone the next day, the Internet now permits anyone to post anything about any topic, whether it be true or false, and such content is often posted anonymously.  And then this questionable content hangs out on the search engines… forever.  While we all applaud the seemingly limitless amount of global news and information the Web literally brings into our homes every day, how much of it is credible when there are no filters?  How do you decide what is true and not – and do most people even try?  I’ve certainly seen my share of urban legend, business rumor and celebrity talk online, but never stopped to really consider or question the quality of the content I was seeing or the judgments I was making about the individuals being written about based on that information. 

This can happen to anyone – and will, in greater and greater numbers.  Only in the last two days a post by Henry Blodgett on Silicon Alley Insider about possible AOL layoffs unleashed a stream of anonymous posts from employees and former employees (146 in a little over two days, so far) not only about the company, but about current AOL executives that these anonymous individuals believe should be fired.  Names are named.   And then other anonymous people jump on the bandwagon.  And like a car wreck you see on the other side of the guardrail, I knew that I couldn’t believe anything on the page and that I should look away, but I didn’t.  One post names 27 executives that deserve to be “whack[ed].”  We also learn that at least one of AOL’s senior executives has questionable and discriminatory motives.  How are these executives to respond?  How will you respond in the future when it’s your turn? 

I am responding by doing exactly what I’ve been doing for companies for the last twenty years – that is, advising brands on how to get their messaging out in an authentic and successful way.  But this time you and I are the brands, and we need to work just as hard to make sure that what’s out there in the world is a true representation of who we are.  Not only do we deserve that, but the people who look for information about us on the Internet deserve that, too. 

This is the first of several posts I’ll be writing on the topic of online reputation management – that is, your reputation.  Stay tuned.


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