The diametric opposite of what I do at The Reputation Manager is ruining your reputation.
I've put together a list of 20 things to absolutely avoid doing, to prevent you from committing what could be called 'reputation suicide'.
Of course, it's easy to make a mistake. Sometimes people get caught up in the moment and forget that there are certain rules to follow online. Or else...
Now you know the list, do them at your peril!
1. Being drunk in charge of an internet-enabled computer.
It's coming up to midnight and you've just had a jolly old time at a party. You come home and think it would be a great idea to share drink-addled thoughts about life, the universe and people you don't like. The next morning, you wake up with a hangover and dozens of messages wondering why you've written crazy things online.
2. Posting while angry.
There are people whose comments make our blood boil and issues that are like showing a red flag to angry bull. When you feel the white heat of rage building up inside you and steam shooting from your ears, take a moment and count to ten. It's the wrong time to put finger to keyboard.
3. Forwarding an email on instinct (and not checking the 'history').
Your best friend has sent you a hilarious and deliciously indiscreet joke. You immediately want to share it with your family, other friends (and potentially the rest of the world). After you've picked yourself up from the floor, you reread it and notice that it may potentially cause offence. You check the history and find that it came from a dubious source. This could lead to guilt by association.
4. Being outrageous for the sake of it.
'Accentuate the positive, kick up a little dust and ruffle a few feathers'. That's what we're advised to do by marketing gurus to get noticed on the 'net. The thing is, almost everyone has been given the same advice. This has led to a cacophony of noise and flashes of vivid imagery and elaborate gimmicks designed to catch the eye of an audience with a rapidly shortening attention span. This gurus' advice should come with a health warning,. Some many feel tempted to push the boundaries of taste and decency to get heard. Although it's possible to capture a few headlines, ultimately, how an outrageous comment or act is used is out of the hands of the originator. This exposure could ultimately backfire with irreparable damage to your reputation.
5. Uploading an embarrassing image of yourself to a social network.You had fun with your friends and took a picture of yourself downing alcohol from a beer bong on your snazzy new smartphone. Your friends think it's a hoot. There's no harm in it. After all, it's just a bit of fun, right? Wrong. Employers, prospective employers, clients and business partners will look into your online activities as a matter of routine. Once your image has been distributed among your network's networks, your escapades will be entertaining people for a long, long time.
6. Showing off.
You have mad skills in a certain area and you're proud of yourself and your achievements. You want people to know that you know your stuff. You're hot. You're amazing. You're incredible. You are the business. You're the bee's knees of business. However. 'I love me, who do you love', doesn't work online. Humility is much better, more human and more reputation friendly.
Some people can take tweeting and posting to Twitter and Facebook to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) levels. Unless your job involves working in a newsroom or providing information required by - or of specific interest to - your followers, there is such a thing as too much information. Do people really want or need updates on your daily routine every day? Apart from stopping to follow you or 'de-friending' you, imagine what they might be thinking about you. To manage the different streams of information on your social networks, set up separate personal and professional accounts.
8. A lack of consistency.
Constantly changing your words and actions is a reputation management 'no no'. Consistency builds trust and respect from people who share your views or those who are open minded enough to listen to them. It does not mean never admitting that you're wrong. It means that people can gain an insight into your thinking, vision, purpose and plans. Blowing hot and cold or jumping on every new fad, trend or bandwagon will leave you stuck with the label of being a 'flake'.
9. Getting into arguments.
Starting and engaging in a long term argument with someone - especially online - is rarely, if ever a win-win strategy. Once the disagreement is made public, it's no longer in your hands. Your supporters can be as vocal as the people backing your opponent, which can create a new series of arguments. After the dust has settled, you could find that alliances change and loyalties divide. A graceful retreat can be worth several victories. If you need to criticize, do it constructively - don't be a 'trol'. If you're criticized, accept it generously.
10. Bad grammar.
I have to confess that I'm pretty 'old school' when it comes to grammar. Despite the move towards 'text speak', I firmly believe that the way you use words in business communication is still very important. Most people would forgive the odd typing error, but may judge you harshly, if your messages are littered with incoherent sentences. Presenting yourself as an authority on a subject comes with a responsibility to communicate simply, but powerfully. Not doing so may lead to a perception that you're not quite up to par.
11. Being boring.
Not everyone can write with John Grisham-like pace or have you laughing like an audience member at a Chris Rock gig. You don't need to have these skills or qualities, but you have to at least try to engage the interest of people, whether they're reading a blog post or watching a video recording. Unless it's a specialist crowd, you need to write how you speak. Think tabloid, rather than broadsheet.
12. Believing the myth of privacy.
Thinking that your social media conversations are private is...er...naive. If you have the time, read the densely worded legal documentation that you've agreed to when you joined the various social networks. In many cases, your words and images don't even belong to you. Your private thoughts should remain just that. Private. In the old fashioned sense of the word. In your head or between a small group of people.You can be anybody on the internet. That's why we've seen some of the most disgusting acts happening on social networks, most notably sexual predators pretending to be teenagers to groom real minors. On a more general level, the 'fake it 'til you make it', mantra can be embraced a little too enthusiastically by some, judging by their online profiles. Given the importance of trust, presenting an audience with false information can leave you exposed to hostility and condemned for lying. Although there are no guarantees that you can't reinvent yourself, there's always someone online (in fact, lots of 'someones') watching your every move.
13. Being fake.
14. Being pompous.
A healthy self-image is a good thing. What is not so good is adopting the position of a know-it-all. The web is home to the informal, personal, irreverent and the personal. There are also people who know a lot more than you. Very few people care about who you think you are, especially if you adopt the position as the font of all knowledge. Let them make the testimonials. To quote a tired old phrase: 'self praise is no recommendation'. Relax. It's just the internet.
15. Being patronizing.
Not everyone has the towering intellect of an Oxbridge or Ivy-league academic, the writing flair of Shakespeare, the oratorical power of Obama or the wealth of Bill Gates. It doesn't mean their voice shouldn't be heard. Making personal comments designed to undermine another person's right to engage in a legitimate debate can backfire on you. No matter how tough you think you are, the power of the internet masses is much, much greater.
16. Taking credit for others' work.
Cutting and pasting is one of the easiest things in the world. Outside the thriving black market in plagiarized books, social media networks are where the bulk of information is exchanged. A content creator could have spent hours, if not days, working on something, so give credit where it's due. Despite the notion, popularized by Steve Jobs (from a Pablo Picasso quote) that 'good artists borrow, great artists steal', don't be surprised if you get pulled up if you claimed that somebody's work is your own. There's plenty of stuff you can use for free under a Creative Commons license. Or create your own stuff.
17. Breaking promises.
There's an old African saying, 'A promise is a debt'. This is particularly true in reputation management. If people have taken out a chunk of their valuable time to visit your website, read your blog, listen to your podcast or watch your videos, you have a responsibility to make good any commitments you have made to them. There are obviously things that can get in the way of meeting an obligation, but make sure you let them know.
The internet has a way of exposing lies when they come to light. A lie, no matter what the reasons or justifications for it, can potentially follow you around like a bad smell for the rest of your professional life. It may be difficult having to admit to doing something embarrassing or just wrong, but this can be turned in your favour. If you've genuinely learned and grown from the experience, you'll find that this will be seen as a strength. Remember, the consequences of a cover-up often outweigh the penalty for the original 'crime'.
19. Being a hypocrite.
We've seen the stories: 'Married Anti-gay Pastor Confesses To Affair With Male Church Member', 'Minister Who Preached Austerity Condemned For Secret Swiss Bank Account', 'Football Coach Who Warned Students Against Drink Driving, Admits To Driving While Intoxicated'. You need to 'walk your talk', both on and offline. Removing the tag of 'hypocrite' is one of the toughest battles you could face when it comes to managing a reputation.
20. Pointing the finger.
Playing the blame game is a strategy regularly used by politicians to avoid taking responsibility for things going wrong when they're in power. I've also seen this used by other people: from rail companies blaming the 'wrong type of snow' to explain why trains weren't running on time, to online retailers blaming an 'unforeseen increase in orders' for the late delivery of your 'guaranteed' Christmas delivery. Only children will believe this hogwash. It's insulting to any intelligent person, breeds deep-seated resentment and will definitely harm your reputation.
Trying to hold back the tide of speculation and commentary on the internet after committing one of the 'reputation management sins' is like trying to push back the sea. There's just no point. It's impossible to take something back once it's out there in cyberspace.Recovering from a ruined reputation can be slow, painful and expensive...and long.
Some advice: before doing anything that can be seen or heard by another person, take a little time to consider how it could affect you, your job and the people who love you.
To borrow from a UK government road safety campaign: "Think!"
Thoughts on customer service, communication and, of course, reputation management.