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Friday, 12 August 2011

Defining behaviour

There will be quite a few people being hauled before the courts in the coming days off the back of their action during the riots and what they posted online. I’m sure many of them would appreciate some “online reputation management” to delete the story, their picture and details swiftly after the court appearance.

The internet is great for sharing info but also for finding out information too. Stuff hangs around. The easily googled providers of so called “online reputation management” may feel like the right choice for some of rioters.

However, these online reputation management solutions are nothing to do with reputation management and won’t improve a reputation. They seek to hide, confuse and potently deceive stakeholders about previous action and behaviour. Hiding what they did doesn’t make it go away. Consumers and companies are smarter at finding things out now and it gets easier to find too. So, the likelihood is that at some point the truth will come out and no efforts to confuse, deceive or smokescreen will prevent that.

Hindsight is a great thing but really people need more foresight to avoid disastrous reputation problems. These looters and rioters have done their reputations considerable damage. And they may not realise just how much yet.

There may well be the temptation to cover things up or bury bad news but the reality now more than ever is that your best attempts to conceal a bad story, poor business decision, embarrassing photo or whatever will backfire. The internet and social media has given disclosure tools to the masses. Celebrities seeking super injunctions have seen their attempts to hide their misdemeanours spectacularly backfire.

Reputation is built or destroyed based on behaviour and transparency. No amount of communications or hiding will change that unless there is tangible behaviour change too. Communications alone will not define a reputation. Equally, active efforts to conceal unsavoury or bad news or past events can actually cause more reputational damage than honesty in the first instance.

Obviously if something online is false or incorrect there are channels and routes to tackle that, though some are slow and costly, but they do allow for correcting false information. It’s always worth remembering what you do is what defines you or an organisation, not just what yo say.

By Ian O'Doherty, Director, ReputationInc

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