How the internet rules who you are

How is reputation build? How do people become known as experts in what they do, how is credibility established and what role is the internet playing in all this now personal information is becoming so much more available due to social networks?

“Reputation of a social entity (a person, a group of people, an organization) is an opinion about that entity, typically a result of social evaluation on a set of criteria. It is important in education, business, and online communities. Reputation may be considered as a component of identity as defined by others.” (wikipedia)

In general you can say that reputation is based on what you say you know versus what others say, and content you’ve published shows you know. That isn’t new, recommendations and background searches have always been a strong factor for people when deciding on someone’s expertise. The difference now is that internet is taking it a step further. It is providing us with many more channels of information and it is giving us all this information we never had before. Forcing us to change the way we weigh opinions on reputations as it is coming less and less from our own (trusted) social circles and more and more from external networks and sources.

Four ways the internet is used to determine your reputation:

  • gifted/attributed reputation: What others say about your knowledge or expertise (linkedIn recommendations & expertise vouching, tagging, commenting, etc)
  • digital output reputation: what people can find about you online in the form of contributions, blogs and anything else you throw out there (linkedin, personal blogs, Google search results)
  • reputation by association: who do you interact with and what is their reputation? Who reads and responds to your content? It’s not just about how many times it is tweeted, liked and recommended that counts but by whom too!
  • system attributed reputation: reputation assigned to you by digital systems based on interaction, submissions and topics you respond to or talk about (Klout, Peerindex and Kred, but also suggested reads, ‘people of interest’, etc).

The first three are not that astonishing. They more or less are what people have always done to determine someones reputation: get information and recommendations from people and sources we trust and form an opinion based on that. The only difference there is that we have more sources and they are much easier to access.

So where the first three merely give back what others have said or done and leave it up to you to interpret that, the fourth one takes it a step further and does the interpretation for you. By using algorithms and complex computations they try to determine someone’s expertise and knowledge areas. The problem is though it does so indiscriminately and without taking into account any of the cultural or social elements that could factor in and without weighing the topics for relevance.

“…Klout declared me influential in ‘Bollywood dancing’…”

It’s scary to see what digital systems nowadays know about us. It’s even scarier to see how they interpret that knowledge. A good example for me was when Klout declared me influential in ‘Bollywood dancing’….. I can tell you I have no relation with Bollywood dancing, know next to nothing about it, have never practiced it or ever expressed any knowledge about it but still Klout was telling the world I was an expert on it. I could not determine how it came to that conclusion nor could I really influence that other than by having my Klout account removed.

So how do I control my reputation?!?
The thing is, you don’t. Your reputation is not something you determine yourself. It’s being determined for you and you’ll have to life with that as it’s very hard to get rid of. There are however things you can influence. One of which is your online profile. And as your online profile is becoming more and more important in determining your reputation, finding ways to influence it becomes more important too.

So what can you do to build your online profile in a way that helps your reputation?

  • Your name“: Hardly anyone is unique but some are more so then others (I pity all John Smiths out there). So before ‘going social’ research your name (Google it!) and try to come up with a social handle (twitter name, etc) that makes you recognizable. Not just to other people but to automatic systems too. Once you do, use it everywhere and stay consistent. That is your key to being recognizable and unique. It’s your trademark in a sea of ‘John Smiths’ so to speak.
  • Company affiliation“: Try not to affiliate your complete persona to a company name. Not seldom do you see people having a twitter handle or personal blog domain mentioning or linked directly to a company name. Realizing you’re losing your job is bad enough without having to realize that your whole digital profile is tied to the company that just kicked you out. Like someone told me recently: “your work might be owned by your boss, your digital reputation is yours, guard it!”.
“…You would be amazed how much influence you can have on what Google shows…”
  • “Be visible“: Determine your visibility and monitor what people find if they search for you. Keep your profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc) up to date and go through the first 20 Google hits for your name / handle regularly to check what people will find. Is it still current?  If not, can you influence it (e.g. post blogs, respond to hot topics in popular sites, etc)? You would be amazed how much influence you can have on what Google shows.
  • Project your vision“: Envision what it is that you want to project with your online profile. Do you want them to find you work related stuff or is it fine with you that they will hit all the other stuff you do too? There is nothing wrong with being a prolific contributor on all kinds of topics or someone with a wide area of interest but if you want to set a professional image you might have to think of ways to highlight those areas that you want people to notice. Balancing your output or using different aliases to distinguish professional and private life and keeping different networks for your business and private stuff can also help in setting your profile vision.
  • Be connected” Build a network of people around you who do what you want to be associated with. Not just so your profile gets associated with them but also because by being in their vicinity you learn and get alerted to relevant information and posts. Interact with these people, provide feedback and ask (and respect!) their opinion on your content. When done sincerely most people are more then willing to help you on your way.
“…Don’t let your online profile make you look like a ‘corporate robot’…..”
  • Be human” There is a lot to be said for keeping certain areas of your life private but at the same time social media and social business is also all about connecting on a human level. Don’t let your online profile make you look like a ‘corporate robot’ by being all business and no pleasure. In a social age this could actually look suspicious. Don’t be afraid to be human just do it in a balanced way. And for goodness sake use a recognizable and consistent profile picture on all your public profiles. Interacting with a persona that has a smiling kitten as a profile pic really doesn’t help build you a professional reputation.
  • Be culturally aware” Realize that the internet is taking away borders and that your content (tweets, posts, blogs, etc), although perhaps only directed at people directly around you can usually be read by anyone, anywhere. Something that might be funny in your circle, country or culture might actually be offending to someone else. Some things can’t be helped, like being named “Dick de Cock” (and yes, that is an actual name in The Netherlands) but others can. So be sensitive for that. In general a good thing to keep in mind is what my mum told me when I was going off to university: “Never talk about sex, religion or politics in public or with anyone who at any moment in your life could become your boss or customer”. Well that makes for almost anyone.
“…people tend to forget the positive very quickly and remember the negative much longer…”
  • Voice opinions, not frustrations” There is nothing wrong with not always being a ‘happy bunny’ but be careful not to come across too negative. Remember that people tend to forget the positive very quickly and remember the negative much longer so be careful when voicing frustrations and try not to be resentful when others scorn you. Taking the moral high ground might not be easy but almost always is best.

There are so many more things you can do but in short it all comes down to this: be truthful, be sincere, be aware and most importantly: be vigilant about what your online profile is saying about you.

It’s your introduction to the world, make sure it fits you

 

10 comments

  1. Theo Heselmans

    Since you tell us it’s positive for my reputation to respond to blogposts, I might just do that :-)
    Thanks for sharing this nugget. Everything makes sense, but seeing it written (on paper/screen) makes it more real. We often do/say things we might regret.
    I’ll definitely spread the word to read this post, before hurting ones reputation!

    • Femke Goedhart

      Thanks Theo, I had been thinking on this one for a while but couldn’t find the inspiration to put it to paper. Happy to find it is filling a need. Like you said, it’s all just common sense, I just wrote it down

  2. Jelan Heidelberg

    Nice post, Femke! I’m glad I happened to sign on to Twitter today and found this. Lots of excellent advice.

  3. Henry Jaffe

    Excellent post. Reputation seems increasingly about being a very big fish in a smaller, longtail pond rather than a somewhat largish fish in a big pond, at least for most of us. When will professional reputation be predicated on action vs words and comments, i.e. in the completion and participation in broader business processes and contribution to the furtherance of professional mastery in a specific knowledge domain? The extent to which reputation is an authentic reflection of deeds vs the mask of a manufactured, gamed persona will be interesting to follow. Interested in where you see it going.

    • Femke Goedhart

      Hello Henry,
      Good point, yes there will be some people who will be gaming the system to further themselves but the internet is also calling us out. It’s hard to hide in the wide open space that is the internet and better search options as well as automated interpretation systems are unearthing so much about us that it will be hard to fake it without getting caught at some point. Furthermore, I don’t see the human element disappearing any time soon. The importance attributed to peer recognition has grown significantly over the last few years and will continue I think. It will remain important as so much of what we do is never seen online. Don’t forget that Social media and connectedness apart from offering us ways to ‘game the system’ is also allowing us to widen our circle of people to ask for recommendations

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