Reputation management is the effort to influence what and how people think of a brand or person. Put another way, character is who you are. Reputation is whom other people think you are, and today it’s based mainly on what artificial intelligence systems and an unpredictable media environment portray about you rather than the first-person experience.
The goal of reputation management is to shape public perception about a person, though you may be surprised to learn just how little control an individual actually have over their reputations.
Recently I had the opportunity to work with several political candidates on their campaigns. Three of the candidates had what I would call “Damaged” reputations. My own family members had formed negative opinions about the candidates from sources they read or heard about online. It wasn’t until I took them to a few political events where they met the candidates in person did their opinions start to change.
Then COVID-19 hit, and everyone’s political playbook for the 2020 primary season went into the garbage. Online reputation management became the new norm, and for these three candidates it was too little, too late.
Reputation management is a long-term strategy if properly employed will combat the usual short-term, negative campaigning tactics of one’s opponent. Employed properly, a reputation management campaign can nullify the negative impacts of a biased media environment.
Here are some facts about reputation management.
- A majority of communication happens online. We meet friends, we solve disagreements, we discover new products, new companies, and we read the news online. We even spend our leisure time online. It’s inevitable, therefore, that reputation management happens mostly in the online space; in fact, the terms reputation management and online reputation management are now virtually synonymous.
- Reputation management empowers your campaign. Reputation management lives within your campaigning efforts, and thought it can be described as a “tactic,” it’s hardly negligible. In reality, reputation management is already the core component of your campaign; however, with online reputation management you now have the ability to manage your reputation 7 days a week, 365 days per year.
- Why manage your reputation everyday and not just during campaign season? Because what people think of you influences whether they are going to vote for you and not just your party affiliation. With good reputation management, you can clear the way for positive messages to have maximum effect. When people already believe in you and your mission, your content will combat the negative messaging of your opponent.
What do you control about your reputation?
In terms of your political reputation, you control your own actions. And it’s possible that even on that point, your control is limited. Running a campaign is obviously a large task with lots of moving parts. Campaigns have large numbers of volunteers, and each of whom has some degree of autonomy in how they function, and what they say and do in the online environment. You can control some things in running a campaign, but controlling everything is an impossible task.
When something goes awry, and you lose control of your messaging, the actions you undertake as a leader will shape your reputation and determine if you regain control and get your campaign back on track.
Can your reputation be managed?
Can your reputation be managed? It’s clear you cannot control what people think about your or your campaign. What you can control is what people see and hear, which affects how they perceive you and the reputation they form of you. So I can offer a qualified yes, reputation can be managed to a degree.
Here are some of the sources of reputation problems that reputation management does attempt to deal with:
- Negative news articles – News articles are often the first thing that people see when they Google your name. Even though people are aware that fake news exists, we still tend to believe what we read in the news.
- Negative online images – Politicians and ordinary citizens alike have been the subject of leaked photos. Thankfully, there are legal guidelines that stipulate when such images may be removed from search indexes.
- Blog posts – Anyone can write anything they want about anyone they want. The result is a riot of misinformation and confusion. This is another arena in which reputation management can and does exercise substantial impact.
- Social media – Social media has a shorter shelf life than anything else in this list, but it still matters. Social media is the method of choice for people spreading gossip, airing complaints and criticizing public figures.
Search results can linger for years. A single reputation blowup will fester in the search index and in people’s minds for such a long time that the false news ossifies into gospel truth. It lingers, that is, until something changes it. And that’s where the science of reputation management comes into play.
Reputation can be managed. The scope of management is limited since we can’t control what people think. But we can control what people see online to some extent, and that can go a long way toward preserving a positive reputation and keeping a campaign or political career alive.
Reputation management is more necessary today than it has been in the history of our country. With the proliferation of review sites, fake news media, biased news media, facebook, and twitter, information can spread in a matter of seconds and can linger for years.
If you do not participate in a proactive reputation management campaign you are at the risk for reputation damage. Tech-savy antagonists know how to create and distribute false information. All it takes is a fake-but-compromising Photoshopped image, edited video clipping, a malicious posting on facebook by a fake profile, or an email loaded with false information and you are all of a sudden facing a crisis that could destroy your campaign or career.