It's reputation, but not as you know it

Insight

In their 2017 book, The Reputation Game: The Art of Changing How People See You, David Waller and Rupert Younger suggest that we have three ‘dice’ in the reputation game: behaviour, networks and narratives.

On the face of it, this seems simple enough – our reputation is the sum of our actions, the way these actions are portrayed, and the company we keep.

Things get a little more interesting when you consider that the way we portray ourselves isn’t necessarily the way we’re perceived. And, that our actions impact different people and groups in various ways.

Our reputation isn’t necessarily who we are or what we do – it’s how we are perceived. And, how we are perceived depends on the interests, influences and influence of those who know us.

This was challenging to understand and manage when we received most of our information from newspapers, books, and television and radio broadcasts. When, with the exception of those who decided what got published and aired, the rest of us distributed our opinions to and through local networks. 

Not so today. Recent estimates suggest that the internet now connects more than four billion of us. That’s more than four billion people with different and changing influences, interests and influence.

The Yellow Social Media Report 2018 tells us that 80% of Australians now use social media. About 60% of us access social media every day and more than a third of us check our profiles more than five times a day. Most, if not all of us, publish.

We may still have three dice in this game, it’s just that the game has grown and we’re playing for higher stakes.

We can, of course, choose not to play. We can choose to not have a website or create any social media profiles. But then we’d be depriving ourselves of access to a world of opportunity; of valuable feedback about our brand, products and services; of opportunities to reach millions, if not billions; of opportunities to speak to our customers, clients and staff and to create real and robust relationships with them.

The vast and growing networks we’re a part of represent significant risks and opportunities and it’s our role as custodians of our brands to identify and understand both – to mitigate the former and make the most of the latter.

It helps to first acknowledge this changed and changing paradigm and to then understand its implications.

1. More data should lead to better relationships. We now have immediate access to vast amounts of data that tell us how our audiences are reacting to our content. This knowledge should inform the way we communicate and, more importantly, the way we behave. It should help us act and react to our audience to build better relationships.

Our challenge here is twofold: first, having access to a world of information counts for very little if we don’t know what to look for or how to find it. Acting on the wrong information can do more harm than good. Second, the right information is only useful if we’ve established the right processes, relationships and organisational culture to ensure that it’s acted on.

2. Actions and reactions are often separated by milliseconds. Warren Buffet was right when he told us that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. The difference today is that it takes less time to do both. Do the right thing, listen to your audience and prepare for if/when things go wrong. 

Digital and social media monitoring should be an indelible part of any communication and marketing strategy – we too often focus on the information we publish and not enough on the information we receive from those who matter to us. And, if the speed with which issues and crises can metastasize doesn’t compel you to plan for issues and crises, it should.

3. Authenticity and citizenship matter. In life as in business our best relationships are built on shared values and honest communication. Contrived partnerships and campaigns are quickly outed for exactly what they are and can alienate brands from their communities. Social media exist to enable communities and that’s worth remembering when we create content and speak to our followers. 

Making the most of these networks requires that our content and tone of voice truthfully depicts our brand. This goes for the causes we support and champion too. Building a strong reputation should begin with a clear sense of who we are.