Monday, March 29, 2010

Reputation? What reputation?

In an online world, your reputation is based on feedback from many sources. A positive recommendation from a named contact on LinkedIn can be wiped out by a scathing attack by an anonymous commenter on a blog or Yelp, even though there is no way to substantiate the truth behind the words. The question from Michael Arrington on TechCrunch is whether we need to evolve to ignore the bad comments that we can do nothing about, since these anonymous sources of bitterness vented on the Web are only likely to become more common and pervasive.

As the article says, most normal people have skeletons in their closet (whether one person considers something a skeleton when another doesn't is part of the issue here), so if everybody's dirty laundry is aired online our common acceptance of being human and therefore imperfect is lowered to a level of reality and acceptance, rather than a more typical 'nose in the air' hypocrisy

So what will matter? Hard proof of being a bad person. Criminal records. Non-anonymous and clear statements of wrong doing that need to be addressed. Perhaps a picture of you actually committing a violent felony. That kind of thing.

But the nonsense we’re all worried about today? I just don’t think it will carry the same weight in a few years. Because if there are pictures of the person hiring you smoking pot in college online, and there are pictures of every other candidate smoking pot in college online, it just won’t be a big deal any more.

It sounds like its going to be a painful ride for anyone trying to defend a personal or corporate reputation. Your reputation needs to become more weighted towards your current actions and successes, than what you were doing half your life ago in college. We might even see political elections start to focus on candidate's abilities, rather than mudslinging around the realities of life. Although it has to be said that European politics and media has always been more forgiving of the occasional fling by a politician than the US system, especially if the story is more interesting than reality TV for a moment or two.

It seems that with the planned release of a new Yelp for people, that there may be no option but for us to accept that our reputations are going to be trashed and there is no point in fighting it:
And it’s about to get a lot worse. Next week a startup is launching that’s effectively Yelp for people (look for our coverage in a few days). If someone has something good or bad to say about you, they’ll be able to do it anonymously and with very little potential legal or social fallout.

But something tells me this new service, or some other one, might succeed where the others have failed. We’re primed and ready now and have lots of experience publishing all those random opinions about people and things on Twitter, Yelp and Facebook already. It’s time for a centralized, well organized place for anonymous mass defamation on the Internet. Scary? Yes. But it’s coming nonetheless.

The best defense? Offense! People and companies will need to leverage the power of social networks to ensure that they have built up enough good karma online, and keep it fresh and recent, to push the anonymous rants to the bottom of the Google searches. It won't go away, but keeping the bad stuff seemingly irrelevant in a mass of glowing, or even largely dull feedback, will become really important. And the good karma won't continue to come from paying PR agencies to generate more meaningless words about you: people and companies will need to actually do some good stuff for their communities and the world at large.

A post from the Improving It blog

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