First off, let me start out by saying I am in no way an expert at reputation management; nor have I spent hours researching the subject. With that said, there’s a chance that perhaps what I am about to say has been said before; if it has, then kudos to those whom blazed the trail before me. I am writing this based off of personal experience and observation. I’m not saying I’m right or wrong, just acknowledging what I’ve observed. If you feel the need to hear the gospel of reputation management from an expert, this is probably where you leave. For the rest of you, I hope you find some value in this as I know that I have.
When I think of reputation management the first thing that comes to mind is what others are saying about a person or their business. What clients are saying, what competitors are saying, and what other media sources are saying. But what most people probably don’t consider, is what it is they are saying about themselves online.
If you have friended or followed me on any of the various social profiles I manage, you probably know that I am a very candid person. I’m not sugar coated, I’m not filtered, and I don’t mind cracking jokes; even if they are at someone else’s expense. The fact of the matter is, I am who I am. I do this because even though I want people to see me as a professional, I also want them to see who I am as a person.
With social media becoming such a vital part of small business it’s important to properly represent yourself. You never know who may be looking at your business or profile; potential clients, potential partnerships, perhaps potential employees. If you portray yourself in your various social outlets as the serious sophisticated corporate type, yet you run your business in a casual mom and pop fashion you are already starting off your online relationships on the wrong foot. You are giving people a false sense of who it is they are dealing with. You would never market yourself as an orange salesman if you were selling apples, so why pretend to be what you’re not? Sure by showing your true colors you may scare off some of the higher end prospects, but in doing so you are capturing those who are most interested in what it is that you actually have to offer.
The value in this is that you in turn capture those who will work best with your business model and your personality. In my personal experience this has lead to some incredible collaborative efforts between me and my clients. Furthermore, it makes the overall process more comfortable for both parties. Your business relationships are much like your personal relationships, and if you can’t start out on a common ground there’s bound to be some bumps in the road.
In the end the most valuable take away from being yourself is that you know that the people you are interacting with are doing so because of who you are, not because of who you are pretending to be. By faking it you risk others seeing through your fake personality, and if you fall victim to your own faults, you risk tarnishing your online reputation and your business. Even more harmful would be exposing you’re a fraud in your face to face interactions. I know that I have developed opinions and ideas about certain people I interact with on social sites, and I know that I would be disappointed if at some point I met them in person and their online personality turned out to be nothing more than a façade.
One final thing to realize is that while being yourself you still need to keep a sense of professionalism. A lot of us use social media both professionally and personally, so there will be times when the two may cross paths and sometimes may even cross the line of appropriate. Rest assured this probably isn’t the end of the world. I have dropped my share of F-bombs and bad jokes on Twitter and Plurk and have still managed to maintain what online presence I do have. But it is still always something you need to be aware of.
Managing your reputation is an important aspect of running your business, but no one can destroy your reputation more than yourself. It doesn’t matter if all of your clients have given you high marks on their blogs and websites. If you misrepresent yourself their words are useless. People will take their personal experiences and opinions into consideration long before the ideas and opinions of others.