Reputation, individual and organizational, is your most valuable asset. It also happens to be your most fragile.
People, especially those in high profile, used to protect their reputations by behaving impeccably in public and cloaking any behavioral lapses in secrecy. No longer. Even people with unblemished reputations can be brutally attacked in a public arena vaster than could previously ever be imagined. The accusations, even if unfounded, can cause permanent reputational damage. Secrecy is a thing of the past.
A recent Schumpeter piece in The Economist referred to a New Yorker Magazine cartoon depicting three monkeys in a row: one with a microphone (labelled "hear all evil"), one with a television camera ("see all evil") and one with a laptop ("post all evil").
The article goes on to say:
The digital revolution has dramatically shifted the balance of power from companies to their critics. Although big firms deploy armies of PR flacks, anyone with a smartphone and a socialmedia account now has the same power to reach a global audience...Anti-corporate campaigners have taken to the digital world like ducks to water... Opportunists have also joined the ducks in the water.
By contrast, companies have failed to adapt. The biggest of businesses with the slickest of publicity operations, from McDonald's to JPMorgan Chase, British Gas to Qantas, have found that when they tried engaging with tweeters on their home turf, they were drowned in a sea of sarcasm.
Corporations must develop both defensive and proactive strategies against on-line brand and character assassination. However the Post All Evil era demands a different approach as well. This is an era of hyper-transparency that deprives us of privacy (a negative consequence) and also rips away from us the convenient hiding places of bad behavior and offensive speech (a positive consequence). Corporations, and more importantly their leaders, need to acquire new disciplines of verbal risk management and reputational fortification.
Verbal Risk Management
Before communicating in writing -- and even verbally -- take a moment to weigh up the risks of what you are about to say. Get into the habit of assuming that what you are saying will be transmitted through the ether and that you will be quoted out of context. Remember that not everything you think should be said, not everything you say should be written, and not everything you write should be posted. In the moment before you open your mouth or press send wear your risk-management hat rather than your authenticity hat and filter carefully.
The way to fortify personal or corporate reputation is to communicate a sufficient number and quality of positive messages that a negative comment hurled at you will bear no credibility and will not stick. Be generous with the communication of recognition and gratitude. Congratulate people, teams and organizations on their accomplishments; do this even with competitors and where appropriate, do it publicly.
The digital world teaches a lesson that most of us have not fully grasped but one that impacts every area of our lives: Words endure. We tend to think that once we have got something off our chests, the words disappear into oblivion. This is not true. Every word we utter is retained in the conscious or subconscious memory of the people who hear or read it. Nothing is lost. Nothing we say is ever deleted. Sometimes our words are recalled verbatim, sometimes people only remember the feelings they caused. Maya Angelou's famous comment that "people don't always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel," applies for negative feelings too. Words generate and transmit energy -- positive and negative. The more you create an aura of positive energy around your personal and corporate identity, the less likelihood there is for the negativity of others to successfully attack your reputation. You can't control what others say or post, but you can neutralize their credibility by the consistency of your own reputation.
How much positive energy have I transmitted today? Consider making a daily check-in a habit.