When you talk to the Internet, it talks back. Modern communication consists of two distinct halves: what we say and how it’s perceived/digested/interpreted. We can control the first part, but how much can we mitigate society’s ultimate reaction?
This dichotomy is the essential difference between personal branding and reputation management. Branding is what we project to the world and reputation management is the process of shaping how that world accepts our intended brand. To dissect this dynamic further, let’s delve into each individual concept to avoid the perils of conflating them irrevocably.
THE CALL: PERSONAL BRANDING
The good news: you live in empowering times. You have access to the largest interconnected system of media networks ever devised. The bad news: your frienemies also have access to these aforementioned networks. But let’s not dwell on them just yet, because we’re about to build our personal brand.
You control your own image on social media every microsecond. From the business lunch you strategically share on Instagram to the latest tech article you post on LinkedIn, you’re crafting an online persona. Co-workers and competitors alike get a sense of your personal philosophies and go-go work ethic.
These facets of your personal brand can either foster a spirit of differentiation or consistency. For example, if you want to project the stable image of an unflappable business professional to the world, then you might want to post the same content to all of your social networks simultaneously. No matter which app users consult, they’ll see the same Tweet, Pin and FB materials from you. Rock solid.
However, if you want to express the wondrous varietals of your personality, you could flip the script by maintaining different personas on each platform. You can be wildly political on Twitter, adorably domestic on Facebook, and a first-class foodie on Instagram. This is the personal brand of a Renaissance wo/man!
But what if The Renaissance isn’t in vogue these days? Don’t worry; the ‘net will let you know (heartily). That’s where reputation management comes into play.
THE RESPONSE: REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
At one point or another in our respective lives, we’ve all said something that we regret. But in the current tech age, that misspeak can be broadcast to the online audience and amplified to viral proportions. Your social media blunder effectively becomes your digital identity, and every ensuing search for your name will be shrouded in controversy (whether deserved or not) for years to come.
Such a scenario requires major reputation management. Specialized firms scour the web for any and all mentions of your indiscretion and take action accordingly. This could consist of responding to negative reviews with a reality check. For example, when someone gives your restaurant a 1-star rating on Yelp, it might be worth pointing out that the diner in question was inebriated for the duration of his meal, so how could he really taste the awesome food?
Another way in which rep management firms up your online rankings is to solicit praise from loyal customers. Facebook ad campaigns can target hyper-local audiences and encourage patrons to “like” the page and post their own reviews. With enough 5-star responses, that lone 1-star review is effectively drowned out in the digital deluge.
The overall goal of reputation management is to minimize the impact of one unfortunate incident. In turn, said incident will then rank lower on ensuing search engine queries and improve your desired personal brand. You want people to think of you as a creative juggernaut rather than a knee-jerk troll. A reputation management team is like an intrepid pit crew tending to a battered racecar so it can get back on track and rocket past the finish line.
So, how can you avoid the pitfalls of a bad reputation? This brings us back to the topic of personal branding; planning ahead can prevent us from falling behind.
CONTROLLING THE CONVERSATION
You can be as loud as you’d like to be in cyberspace, but you should also prepare for the eventual blowback. Your personal brand should be crafted in such a way as to predict negative feedback and cauterize it like a wound before it inflicts major damage. Perform a SWOT [strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats] analysis of how you want to be perceived before you proceed.
If your personal brand is all about integrity, be sure that your posts are moralistically bulletproof. If intellectualism is your raison d’être, hire a grammar wizard to double and triple check your content before it goes live and potentially embarrasses your brand. If frugality is your vibe, don’t get caught making extravagant choices (especially if they don’t pay off). These are just three examples of how personal branding and reputation management are symbiotic partners, but one definitely precedes the other. If your personal brand is well defined from the outset, it lessens your need for extensive reputation management further down the road.
But the digital age is written in code, not in stone. Your online presence evolves with every refresh of the page. Even if you create a brilliant personal brand, it will inevitably require revisions and updates to avoid getting left in the virtual dust. Reputation management can serve as a reality check to see how your brand is weathering the proverbial storm. In that way, the two concepts often dovetail.
Define your personal brand carefully, but defend it regularly.