For six years I have done almost nothing professionally but study and speak on phenomenons that drive companies out of business or otherwise destroy their reputation. In the process, I have discovered what I consider to be an under-recognized and highly powerful maxim that remains relatively untapped both by people (especially leaders), and by businesses. We talk about it, but we rarely take an active role in improving it.
Reputation gets you what you want.
I know this because I have seen countless people’s reputation destroyed by identity theft (including mine when I was thought to be a criminal) and hundreds of businesses’ reputations wrecked because of data breach, social networking over-exposure or reputation hijacking. I know this because I’ve worked as a reputation management partner to companies that aggressively manage what the world thinks of them from an offensive perspective – they cultivate it long in advance of any attack.
Think of Apple – they have had a reputation of producing simple, functional, beautiful gadgets that WOW us. Now, even when they release the most modest of upgrades, we all jump to buy them because of Apple’s reputation. Apple works day and night to protect and project this reputation, but because of the nature of reputation (you can’t blow your own horn too loudly), it is a silent and subtle campaign that accumulates over time.
Reputation is everything. A strong reputation gives you job security even in a shaky economy. It can be your sales team’s best closing tool or worst enemy (imagine BP trying to close its next off-shore drilling deal). It’s a long term asset that is subject to short term manipulation. And in the age of social media and constant access to data, your reputation can be damaged in a minute.
Reputation has traditionally been a defensive art – we don’t think about it or act to improve it until we are attacked. We are reactive and take for granted something that not only defines who we are, but makes us our money. But acting after the attack is far more costly than building a solid reputation foundation that can withstand the occasional threat. Take Reputation Hijacking for example.
Steve Fezzik is widely recognized as one of the top sports gamblers in the business. He consistently beats the odds in Vegas, and has developed a highly profitable career based on his sterling reputation of winning when others can’t. And Steve Fezzik’s reputation is exactly why someone else purchased the URL of his name (www.SteveFezzik.com), put his picture and bio on the site, and proceeded to sell betting cards (odds on gambling opportunities) using his name and an anonymous PayPal account. Someone else is still cashing in on his reputation and trashing it as they go because they don’t have his skill set for picking winners. His story is sad and all too common. And he is essentially helpless to change the plot, as he would have had to play a bit of reputation offense to protect himself. In his case, the steps would have been rather straightforward:
- Trademark his name in relation to the gaming business so that he has a leg to stand on when someone else misuses his identity for financial gain.
- Purchase the most common URLs associated with his name and expertise early in the game, before others find a way to use them.
- Hire a pit bull of an intellectual property lawyer (in advance of needing them) to immediately and very publicly put a stop to reputation squatting using simple tools like Cease and Desist. I realize that most people don’t have to worry about this level of protection, but if your name is your business, or your brand is your reputation, your way of thinking in the Internet age will need to change.
- Offensively develop an online reputation stronghold that serves as a clearinghouse for your voice and reputation. We can learn a great deal from celebrities who develop a significant presence on Twitter, a Facebook Fan Page, a blog, a YouTube channel or another vehicle of digital reputation management to fill in the space where tabloids and Perez Hilton type chatter can easily fill in the void. Most celebrity press releases, for example, are now launched from Twitter, making any other source of breaking news a bit suspect.
In other words, in your absence, someone else will leverage your reputation, especially online, where it is an easy target. Your refusal to manage it in advance already makes your reputation worth less. Would Lady Gaga fail to insure her voice, own her URL namesake or trademark her marketing brilliance? But she’s a star, you say. In the world of social media, instant communication and lack of privacy, so are you. Just make sure you avoid the black hole of reputation inertia.
John Sileo’s keynote speeches train organizations to play aggressive information offense before the attack, including reputation hijacking, identity theft, data breach, cyber crime, social networking exposure and human fraud. Learn more about having a Reputation Management Partner at ThinkLikeASpy.com or call him directly on 800.258.8076.