I am sitting here looking at a photo of my family taken on a recent vacation: everything looks great.
Of course the camera always lies! The moments leading up to this idyllic snap were the usual chaos … “stop fighting; sit still; can you all look at the camera at the same time; smile please… look happy; stop tapping; take another one just in case”. But the result is fine; my wife and I are smiling and our four kids all appear happy – a good, old-fashioned, nuclear family.
A famous Rabbi* once said, “There are three crowns: the crown of the [Law], the crown of the priests, and the crown of king; but the crown of a good name surpasses them all.”
Maybe the point is better expressed by Warren Buffet, who famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Today, my business colleagues think that I am having problems with my marriage and that we are all in family therapy. So if my personal life is actually fine, what has happened to my reputation? Let me tell you that story.
I recently received an email from a friend in London. The subject line read “Is everything ok?”. He did not write anything else, but he attached a screen grab of his LinkedIn news feed. As I read the attachment, I realised why he was worried: it said… “Jon Sumroy is now connected to Alan Davidson** Individual & Couple Therapist, and Family Mediator at Private Clinic.”
My heart raced while I was reading and registering what happened. Alan lives near me. We socialise and know each other quite well. I got his request to connect on LinkedIn and I said yes. I did not actually think about Alan’s job!
My business colleagues think that I am having problems with my marriage. Like many people, I am active on Facebook with family and friends and I keep my business networking for LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a business orientated social network that is mainly used for professional networking. Like many people, I am active on Facebook with family and friends and I keep my business networking for LinkedIn.
Three emotions ran through my head as I read the email (which ones do you empathise with?):
- Dread — that my 739 business connections on LinkedIn would think that I am actually having personal problems.
- Sadness — that only one of my 739 business connections on LinkedIn was concerned enough to reach out to me.
- Embarrassment — that I had been so careless.
You see, I spend my life advising companies, individuals and brands on how they should manage and influence their online reputation and how they should control their digital footprint. For me to make such an amateur mistake with my own online reputation is humiliating.
In the “good old days” before the internet, there was just television, radio and print. Bad news would disappear in the news cycle. Where I’m from in Leeds, England, you use yesterday’s news to wrap your fish ‘n chips. By the next day, everyone would be getting excited about something else.
The internet has changed everything. Today, everything is on the internet and it is there forever. Your dgital footprint is the impression someone gets when they search for you online. It is your online reputation. And today, everything starts with an internet search.
If someone wants to find out about you, your business or your brand, they will usually start with Google, and the results that Google chooses define the digital footprint. A strong digital footprint is where you control every result on the first page. When you control the results, you influence what they say about you and you can manage your reputation online. Any results controlled by someone else means they influence your reputation.
How strong is your digital footprint? Have a look, search for your name, your company, your brand: What is your online reputation? Who is influencing what people read about you? Are you managing your reputation and influence online?
Of course, you still need to be careful. Being able to influence your reputation is one thing; exposing inaccurate personal information to all your business contacts … that’s stupid!
* Rabbi Shimon in Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers) — a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis nearly 2 000 years ago — Chapter 4 verse 17
** Not his real name