How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset

LIVING ON THE GRID

Is your reputation ruined? Perhaps. And chances are great that if, indeed, insurance companies consider you uninsurable and potential employers consider you unemployable because of something in your digital “record,” you don’t even know it. Welcome to “The Reputation Economy,” the title of a new book by privacy experts Michael Fertik and David Thompson. The theme of The Reputation Economy is that soon, if not already, people know everything there is to know about you — and thus have enough “information” to define your reputation and take steps accordingly.

The Internet’s potential to hurt your reputation is not necessarily new. Clearly if your arrest makes the local newspaper, your name has been indelibly besmirched in hyperspace — but then it’s already been ruined in your community. What the digital age has changed in this example is the breadth of the impact — from your small town to, essentially, the world.

The future Reputation Economy, however, is not about general public information such as newspaper reports. Fertik and Thompson describe a 1984 world that watches every single move you make on the Internet. As they explain, “Massive digital dossiers are being developed on every individual, right down to the websites you visit and the links you click on. There is even a fast-growing underground economy of archives and data-storage sites that quietly collect records of trillions of online activities, often just waiting for someone to figure out a way to make use of all that data.”

And numerous websites are finding ways to make use of that data. Spokeo.com mines government records and address databases and makes them available. Klout goes even further, analyzing social media to determine a score on how much influence you might have. Despite some setbacks (notably Klout’s scoring Justin Bieber above Barack Obama), scoring sites are bound to become more numerous and more sophisticated.

The growth of all of these reputation scoring sites, the authors write, will inevitably culminate in “reputation engines.” “Instead of searching for Web pages with relevant information about a particular topic,” the authors write, “reputation engines will search the massive databases of personal information to return all of the relevant information about a person — or find a person who meets a set of criteria.”

It is impossible, according to the authors, to avoid becoming fodder for such reputation engines. “There’s no way to ‘live off the grid’ online,” the authors write. “The reputation engines of the future won’t have an easy opt-out mechanism, and we will all participate whether we like it or not.”

So, what to do? In essence, the authors recommend a “you can’t beat them, so join them” strategy. Don’t try to get off the grid. First, it’s nearly impossible. Even if you don’t have a Facebook page, your friends do and they’re posting pictures of you. And there will always be government records, and a variety of other digital trails of your existence.

Instead of trying to get off the grid, the authors write, it’s better to take charge of your reputation by carefully curating the information on the Internet. As with an art-exhibit curator who selects the pieces in the art show, curating your information on the Internet refers to selecting the “items” you want to highlight. For example, if there’s a picture of you and your sales team receiving an award for sales team of the month, post it. Curating also means avoiding the negative. For example, don’t use social media to insult others, the authors warn. You’ll be the one hurt in the long run. “By carefully curating and highlighting positive information — successes at work, trust among friends, a positive social life and more — you can flood the computers and scoring systems with the type of information you prefer.”

Fertik is the CEO and founder of Reputation.com. Thomas is the chief privacy officer of Reputation.com. In short, the authors of The Reputation Economy are in the business of privacy. For the majority of the reading public, who may be only dimly aware of the breadth and depth of intrusion allowed by the Internet of today — and even less aware of what awaits on the horizon, The Reputation Economy offers vital advice on how to protect yourself from harm. And even better, according to the authors, anyone can turn the threats of the reputation economy into opportunities.

The Art of Social Media

HOW TO LEVERAGE SOCIAL MEDIA

Perhaps in a few years, as the leadership of companies is taken over by a generation that grew up with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the myriad of other current and future social media channels, there may be less need for books such as Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users. Kawasaki, the former chief evangelist for Apple and author of the highly popular book on entrepreneurship, The Art of the Start, joins forces with co-author Peg Fitzpatrick, a social media strategist, to produce a short yet surprisingly exhaustive primer on the vast variety of tools and processes that individuals and companies can use to leverage their social media efforts.

Feeding the Content Monster

“The biggest daily challenge of social media is finding enough content to share,” Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick write. “We call this ‘feeding the Content Monster.’”

There are two ways to feed the content monster, according to the authors: content creation and content curation. Content creation is the traditional approach: writing copy, taking pictures and/or creating videos, and posting them. The problem is that such creation takes time, making it difficult to add more than two pieces of content per week to the page. Not enough, write the authors. The better approach, therefore, is content curation, which consists of finding high quality content from other people’s social media, then summarizing and sharing it on your page. The authors offer a list of 14 of their favorite curation and aggregation services that make it easy to find good content to curate. They do warn against too much straight sharing, which, they note, will “dull your personal voice and perspective.”

Moving from general to the specific, subsequent chapters range from how to perfect your posts, how to get more followers and how to respond to comments, to how to socialize events, how to run Google+ Hangouts on Air and how to rock a twitter chat.

One of the great strengths of this book is the succinctness of the advice offered. A chapter on “how to perfect your posts” exemplifies the authors’ cut-to-the-chase approach. One section, entitled “be visual,” argues that every single post should have a picture, graphic or video. You can be visual, the authors explain, by including a link to the original story or creating your own graphics, using a company called Canva. Taking a screenshot or “save as” picture from the source and adding it manually to your post is another option but could be legally tricky. The authors refer their readers to a University of Minnesota checklist to see if they are not breaking fair-use laws.

Opt for the E-Book Version

The Art of Social Media is available both as an e-book and in print. However, the University of Minnesota tip exemplifies the problem with the print book. There is no explanation of where to find the University of Minnesota checklist; instead, the words “the University of Minnesota provides a checklist” are underlined in the text, which signifies that it is a hyperlink in the e-book text. The book is crammed with such hyperlinks that will leave print readers frustrated, as these links substitute for examples.

The Art of Social Media is both comprehensive and succinct in its explanations of the myriad possibilities of social media. However, it is recommended to skip the print version and read the e-book.

How Companies Must Adapt to Survive

THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF SOCIAL MEDIA

In A World Gone Social, social media entrepreneurs Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt lay out the growing impact of social media on our lives and our businesses.

They begin by exploring how social media has shifted the power away from corporations and into the hands of their customers and their frontline employees. The power that social media has given customers is fast becoming legendary, as stories spread of how one unhappy customer is able to bring a corporation to its knees — well, at least send it scurrying for cover — by creating a maelstrom of discontent and bad publicity.

For example, the ill-advised Bank of America fees for services typically offered for free — such as having a debit card — created a social media-based firestorm of protest from customers, causing the financial services giant to reverse its position. The authors note that BoA’s initial reluctance to respond made the situation much worse than it had to be. The authors describe, in contrast, the response of Verizon, which made a similar ill-advised decision to put in a small fee on a traditionally free service. Unlike BoA, however, Verizon retreated as soon as resistance began to build.

Empowered Employees

Social media has also empowered employees. The authors tell the story of a minimum-wage Target worker who resisted a call to work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Her respectful open letter on social media to Target’s CEO went viral, and Target was put on the defensive. The retail giant crafted a careful response, noting that rather than resistance to the holiday work, there were more volunteers than shifts open for those who wanted to work on Thanksgiving. However, the response also stated that there was no corporate mandate to work on Thanksgiving, which clearly left open the opportunity for local Target managers to make Thanksgiving mandatory.

Another damaging threat comes from insulting or insensitive comments on social media from high-ranking employees, leading to what the authors call a “virtual lynch mob.” In one case described by the authors, one manager tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!” before boarding a plane to Africa. When the manager got off the plane, she learned that she had been fired — and that her dismissal had been publicly announced.

The transparency of social media puts the spotlight on corporations in ways that had never been possible, and corporations must respond accordingly, the authors write. For example, employee engagement is more vital than ever. An unhappy workforce has myriad options for venting their disapproval. (In one example, employees described in bloody detail — through the company’s own communications channel — the massive layoffs sweeping through the company and the impact on those who were being laid off. The marketing director finally became aware of the posts and eliminated them from the platforms, but the damage had been done.)

Going Flat

Social media presents challenges for corporations, but it also presents new opportunities, the authors write — although perhaps not necessarily or exclusively for corporations. In fact, one of the first rules of the social media age, according to the authors, is “the death of large.” Large, rigid corporations don’t have the agility to compete in today’s dynamic marketplaces.

Companies must go flat, the authors write. It’s time to lose the layers of middle managers. Communication must be direct, open and easy — which means it’s time to lose the old useless meetings that, according to the authors, “serve only the grandstanders and bureaucrats.” Going flat also means greater accountability from everyone. A case study of America’s largest tomato processing company shows that going flat is possible in even the most traditional industries far removed from the “knowledge” economy.

The effectiveness of crowdsourcing for solutions, the top priority that must be given to the customer experience and the requirement for leaders to be “social” — to know how to be a true and engaging presence on social media (tweets “from” the CEO actually created by PR employees don’t count) — are some of the other topics covered in this wake-up call to companies and leaders who are slow to embrace social.

How to Create Strong Relationships with Consumers

Romancing the Brand. It sounds like the sequel to Romancing the Stone, the movie. But actually it’s a new book by author Tim Halloran. Here is how he begins the book.

“It wasn’t a particularly dramatic moment. The eight women sat around the overflowing table of colored cans and bottles of soft drinks. They has just completed what we call a ‘sorting’ exercise, in which participants arranged soft drink brands in groups based on some organizing principle that they were to develop themselves. I don’t remember how they organized the forty-plus brands that day, but what happened next stuck with me. A petite woman in her late twenties, picked up one of the cans and said to the focus group moderator, ‘I drink eight of these a day. It is always with me, no matter what happens. I was there when my boss gave me my promotion last week. It was at my side two months ago when my cat died. It got me through it. I start and end my day with it. It’s never let me down. I can always count on it. To sum it up, it’s my boyfriend . . . Diet Coke.’”

Wouldn’t we all like to have this kind of loyalty from our customers? They are engaging in a rich, complex, ever-changing relationship, and they’ll stay loyal, resisting marketing gimmicks from competitors and influencing others to try the brand they love.

Halloran reveals what it takes to make consumers fall in love with your brand. Drawing on exclusive, in-depth interviews with managers of some of the world’s most iconic brands, he arms you with an arsenal of classic and emerging marketing tools—such as benefit laddering and word-of-mouth marketing—that make best-in-class brands so successful.

We’ve invited Tim Halloran to join us on April 30th to reveal to us How to Create Strong Relationships with Consumers. This Soundview Live webinar with give you the chance to learn first-hand about these emerging marketing tools, and to ask your most challenging questions. Join us for the sequel and bring your popcorn.

The Importance of Relationships

Relationships are key to business success. On a personal level, who we know really does make a difference in our career and personal life. But on the business level relationships are becoming more critical as well. Companies and brands are being built and destroyed through the power of word of mouth, especially via social media. So our relationship to our customers must be nourished just like our personal connections.

In the coming week we will have the privilege of hosting two webinars with experts in the area of personal and business relationships.

Transforming Your Business Contacts into Success with David Nour

David Nour has been a recognized strategist and thought leader on the topic of business relationships for more than 25 years. He delivers over fifty keynotes annually at leading industry associations, universities and Fortune 500 companies, has several top selling books and pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off-balance sheet asset any organization possesses. He shares strategies and insight on The Nour Group’s blog, e-mail newsletters and social media assets reaching hundreds of thousands of executives and entrepreneurs across a broad base of industries and geographic markets.

In this Soundview Live webinar David Nour will take you beyond just getting and giving business cards, working a room, or getting the most out of a conference. His focus is how to strategically invest in relationships as your most valuable asset for an extraordinary return. Nour will introduce new concepts in relationship management, including the exchange of Relationship Currency, the accumulation of Reputation Capital, and the building of Professional Net Worth. These are the fundamental measures of business relationship, and once you understand them, you’ll be able to turn your contacts into better executions, performance, and results.

Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth with Paul Rand

Paul M. Rand is the founder, president and CEO of Zócalo Group — a leading digital, social media and word-of-mouth marketing agency focused on making its client’s brands the most discovered, talked about and recommended in their category.  In addition to his role at Zócalo Group, Paul serves on the national board of directors for the Council of the Better Business Bureau is a past president and board member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and Vice Chairman of the Dean’s Advisory Board for DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business and Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.

In this Soundview Live webinar, Paul Rand, the founder of one of today’s most successful digital and social marketing firms, will reveal how customer recommendations in the digital space have radically transformed the way people buy–which means you need to come up with new methods to reach customers and improve your products. Apply the lessons of one of the pioneers of word of mouth marketing to ensure that your brand is Highly Recommended.

Please join us for these two excellent events, and if you can’t make the particular dates, register anyway and you can watch the replay whenever you want. Put the power of recommendations to work in your career and business.