Reputations live and die online

Reputation has been a hot topic in the world of Canadian journalism lately.

First, radio talk-show host Jian Ghomeshi is let go from the CBC. Then Leslie Roberts resigns as news anchor from Global as a result of an investigation into conflict of interest. And most recently, business editor Amanda Lang has come under scrutiny for conflict of interest, leading our national public network to change its policy on paid appearances by on-air journalists.

The knives are definitely out.

But although they’re handy — and highly visible — targets, it’s not just journalists whose reputations are being flogged in the court of public opinion. It’s all of us. Like it or not, we’re all visible and we’re all targets for scandal.

It’s the world we live in. Sadly, social media has become an ideal platform for finger-pointing, whistle-blowing and reputation-bashing.

According to Tony Wilson, a lawyer and SFU professor specializing in social media and reputation, it’s more important than ever to think long and hard about one’s reputation, and the risks to that reputation, before hitting the ‘send’ button. Here’s the link to a recent article on the subject.

Consider this: According to Business Insider, there were an estimated 4+ billion mobile phone users in 2012 globally, and the number is expected to increase to over 5 billion by 2017. That’s a lot of photos, a lot of videos, a lot of texts, a lot of opinions and a lot of potential for missteps.

Intimidating as it is, that’s not really the point. The point is that here we have a technology platform that increasingly is being used to ‘out’ people. We’re imperfect beings, and in some weird way, technology is conspiring against us to show us just how broken some of us are.

As a PR person, I’ve seen how personal and corporate reputations can be ruined on social media. I saw it before the advent of social media, at company get-togethers, corporate retreats, and off-site meetings. But with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, the risks have become magnified a thousand-fold.

On the positive side, I’ve also seen how reputations can be enhanced. And that’s really the point I want to emphasize, not the sleazy underside of human behaviour. Instead of tattle-telling on each other, it’s time to grow up and get the most out social. Leverage it for all it’s worth — to build community, improve customer experience, engage employees and strengthen relationships.

So make this the year we all get smarter, lead with our heads, and take the high road.



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