Mud-slinging and reputations

Treacherous waters by Jon Stow

Muddy waters

Two people I am acquainted with (and you will find no clue here as to who they are) have had really bad things posted about them on other people’s websites. One has suffered mainly innuendo about his business activities. The other has had an outright accusation that he is dishonest and a liar.

The guy who is a victim of innuendo has an unusual name. He looked much worse when Googled a few years ago because he had no other on-line representation as a distraction. Now he has had positive things written about him and some of the really unpleasant stuff is behind a requirement to register as a user of the website, so Google cannot see his name directly in connection with the negative comments any more.

So in the innuendo case, we have someone who has built or had built for him a really positive on-line reputation and at the same time a lot of the nasty material has been hidden from Google, luckily for him.

The other person, yes, another guy, has a common name. He has no on-line presence other than a direct and easily-found accusation when his name is entered in a search engine together with that of the company of which he is a serving director. The comment about him would certainly be actionable if untrue. As he has not had it removed, the casual researcher might assume it was true, but of course litigation is expensive and maybe he cannot afford it or has chosen to take a view that not many people will check on him. That would be an incorrect assumption I would have thought. I don’t know the truth and would think twice about doing business with him.

How can all this be fixed if not through the courts?

Reputations on-line have to be built or re-built. Reputations off-line will follow. My acquaintance with the common name needs to be much more active.

  • He needs to be active on LinkedIn.
  • He needs to adopt and be active on a couple of other social networking sites.
  • He needs to post on Google+.
  • He needs a personal or business website where he is active in producing good content. A static site will not do.
  • He needs to get involved with positive initiatives in business so that the “Joe Bloggs” associated with the possible libellous comments towards his company are drowned out in the positive noise he generates elsewhere.

If he does all that then someone such as myself could take it into account in doing the proper due diligence before business.

Activity!

Yes, the key is activity. Being proactive.

Reputations are so precious. I haven’t had to deal with such a nasty problem, but if I did I would use the law early (and we should have insurance for this), and then I would drown out the bad stuff with lots of positive on-line output and demonstrate my value in deeds as well as words. That is what we strive for anyway, but we need to manage our reputations all the more carefully if there is someone or some people who are bearing a grudge.

Have you had mud slung at you professionally? What did you do?

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Guarding our precious reputations

I guess we can all think we know better than to say unwise things which can get us into trouble, but whether we are on-line or out in company, or even on the telephone we have to be so careful what we say.

Before Christmas we had the Vince Cable affair known on Twitter as #cablegate. Actually, without getting political, I quite like the man from the general impression he gives and his knowledge on a number of important issues, plus of course the way he is able to put his case. (For the sake of balance I could name a number of people from all three main political parties for whom I have respect).

Mr Cable made some very unguarded comments to some undercover reporters and whether you think he was duped by their pretending to be constituents of his, nevertheless, genuine constituents could have reported his remarks to the press. Had the Coalition not been so fragile I feel he would have had to resign rather than suffer the humiliation of having responsibilities taken from him. To suggest to the reporters that he had prejudged a matter on which he was the final arbiter without listening to recommendations gave an impression (no doubt a wrong one) of a distinct lack of integrity.

In the end when we speak in a public arena we must guard our words carefully. We must be careful what we say to our fellow networkers. We must be careful what we say to our colleagues. We must be careful what we say on-line. A careless word can give a totally wrong impression of what we are like, especially if it is just bravado and vanity, and few would realise it is not what we really believe. A clumsy retort can damage our businesses and our reputations very badly.

I feel sorry for Mr Cable. Do you? I think that there but for fortune go you or I. Which last sentence reminds me of a song…

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Online reputations again

Do not speak ill of the dead or the living

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Do not speak ill of the dead or the living

A black and white icon of a teacher in front o...
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My Old Boys’ Magazine for my school, which is now also an Old Girls’ magazine, recently asked for memories of a former teacher who spent his entire working life there. Apparently his daughter had asked for some reminiscences as she did not know much about what her father had done at work. Recently the magazine has published various stories and anecdotes which are generally pretty favourable.

I have nothing but bad memories of my interactions with this man, who died a long time ago. He was very unkind to me and quite a few others, and had a sharp tongue. He also beat me a couple of times for absolutely no reason other than not performing well in his class; it was not for misbehaviour.

I could have sent in my rather chilling memories but what good would it have served? I would have been seen as mean-spirited by the family and probably anyone who did not know the man personally. Even those who were never treated badly by him would have seen his cruel streak exhibited, but they must already have remembered those occasions and kept quiet as I did. The point is that anyone telling all the truth would have damaged his own reputation (I don’t think the teacher or master would have ever taught girls) much more than the departed. I am sure the guy had many good points even if I never saw them.

It doesn’t much help to criticise the living either, especially in print or on-line. I guess we all have a duty to warn our friends about a bad or disastrous customer experience, such as ours a few years ago when we had a new bathroom fitted.

Generally in business, unless we are dealing with our immediate network and can have a quiet word, we should not advise as to whether someone should do business with someone else. I believe we should mind our own business in view of libel laws and our own reputation unless we have knowledge or strong suspicion of dishonesty. In the latter case it is then our duty to go to the appropriate authorities. Otherwise we should keep quiet, hope that the “caveat emptor” rule is being applied, and mind our own business and reputation.

Do you agree? Should we speak up or keep quiet?

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Online reputations again

Imagine you have spent a long time building your on-line reputation. You have spent years talking to people, befriending them, helping them and building trust. Your network has become a source of advocacy for your character and your business. You are held in the highest esteem.

Then one day, in respect of a relatively trivial matter you lose your temper, you rant, you criticize people and institutions that others in your network greatly respect. In doing so, you cause people in your network to see you in a different light, as an unbalanced, prejudiced crazy person lacking in judgment and sensibility.

Such a thing is inconceivable, an anathema, isn’t it? Yet only yesterday I saw that someone in one of the well-known on-line networks, a member of many of its business groups, had flown into a rage in a discussion on one of the hobby forums. He lambasted his Government’s leaders and its institutions and saw Government complicity and conspiracy in many of the tragedies that had befallen his country. He seemed completely paranoid and unbalanced, so much so that another member of the forum posted that he would never do business with him and would never enter into a discussion with him on any topic. I felt the same way myself as no doubt did many others.

Our reputations are precious things and they can take a long time to build on-line. They are so easily destroyed by careless words. I am not saying we shouldn’t be ourselves on-line. We should not appear false, and we should all endeavor to give what we can. If we do have any unsubstantiated prejudices, though, we really should keep them to ourselves out of respect for our friends, and because we could destroy years of work and ruin our reputations for ever.

© Jon Stow 2010

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On-line reputations and why we should avoid politics

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How I tailor my business purchases and strategies to my needs

An alternative title to this post might be “How I run an introverted business in an extroverted way” since the two are inter-linked.

My business is for the most part involved in dealing with tax issues. There is some flair required, but no artistic ability. That means that in terms of hardware, I have what I need, and invest in the literal sense in what is required. In my case that means a Windows-based network to run the specialist software I need to buy. There is no equivalent for say Mac or indeed for a Linux system, so I use Windows and on the whole it is reliable. Yes, I could use a Windows emulator but it would be an additional risk to data.

I do like gadgets. If I had the resources and I thought it made sense I would have a Mac, an iPhone, and iPad, an iPod and every new toy possible, but maybe I am a bit conservative. Though I could claim most of them for business expense purposes, in reality it would not wash with my conscience. I content myself with having loaded Ubuntu on two old machines both over eight years old which are not worth a bean now but are much happier with the lighter requirements of Linux. They can still function well though they would not manage with their old Windows systems in the modern world.

My point is that I do not invest more money than I think I need to to take the business forward. I try not to invest too little either.

However, I do think it well worth targeting on-line presence with some investment, both financially and in terms of time. My websites and indeed my blogs will be undergoing a makeover very soon which is where the financial investment is coming in. I need to be noticed as we all do.

So I am active in social media,and of course it is fun interacting with people who were already friends, who have become friends on-line, and in looking for more amongst those whom I am following and who are following me. I invest a few hours a week, and it is after all no chore talking to friends as well as commenting on their blogs and mentioning my own.

It is important not to try to do too much. Just as in off-line networking one can go to too many events organized by too many different people and end up not having time to follow-up so it is with on-line networking. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Ecademy and FriendFeed. If you want to you can find me on Facebook. I think any more would spread my attention too thin to have conversations with people, and that is what it is about, even for an introvert like me with a necessary but not very showy business.

I am registered on foursquare because I was invited, but I do not have a clever phone yet, not being convinced I need one. Convince me, and I will join you all there.

In the meantime I will continue my on-line stuff as it is and will attempt anything else I think will be useful, as social media evolves and never stays still. I will keep blogging and picking up blogging tips. Chris Brogan recommended Technorati for helping blog reading figures – thank you Chris – and here is a code for the Technorati people : G4W22KBUX42W

We have to be out there talking and being seen, and for some of us it was a skill we had to learn. However, just as we need to preserve our cash flow and tailor our expenses to our needs, we have to follow the same philosophy with our social media too. That way it will be fun and will not overwhelm us.

What do you think? Do you see things differently, and why? I would love to know.

© Jon Stow 2010

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On-line reputations and why we should avoid politics

In Britain we are fast coming up on a General Election. This is leading to some people getting animated about policy, criticizing politicians they don’t like, and generally displaying their views on-line for all to see. Frankly some of us would rather not see it, especially in the more instant stuff such as Twitter.

In my view it is very unwise to flaunt one’s politics in public. I will admit freely that my business, taxation, is highly political, but if I do talk about the political element it is in the context of the reason for introducing a measure and not about the political philosophy.

It is very easy to get upset about someone’s political views. It may happen that we respect someone and that person’s skills and abilities and would trust them to do a job, so theoretically we should be willing to refer business. However, we are human beings who are sometimes influenced more by emotion than by logic. If we don’t like someone’s politics we may not refer him or her.

In the height of the last US Presidential campaign I un-followed on Twitter quite a number of the more strident individuals whom I thought had it wrong or whose views I found simply distasteful.

Some of you may know that I am a licensed radio amateur, a radio ham if you like. One thing we were all taught when we were studying for our Radio Amateur’s Examination (RAE), was that we should never talk on-air about religion or politics. I think that the on-line business environment is very similar. Those two subjects can upset people more than any other and falling out with our friends over these subjects can do no one any good..

I would recommend that if business people care about their on-line reputations they stay away from politics and do not make provocative comments about politicians, past or present. That way they keep on-side with their network. If they respect our privacy by not inflicting their politics on us, we can respect their private right to their views without anyone getting upset.

© Jon Stow 2010

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Managing our online reputation – a personal view

This is a popular subject for bloggers, and we know that our online reputation is important, but somehow human nature seems to mean that many of us are as casual about it as with our offline reputation.

Most of us away from our computers do not say unpleasant things about others and whilst there is always gossip and tittle-tattle, by the time it is passed on, if it is, it is often taken with a pinch of salt. The recipient of the information often clouds the issue in their mind by thinking about the teller’s motives for passing on the information and anyway much of what is said soon fades in the memory. Gossip and even things we have witnessed are forgotten in time and in the light of later events.

However, our online behaviour is there for all to see. Everything we say may be taken down and used in evidence against us. Of course we manage our professional websites, but our blogs and other web material can be seen by anyone at any time. A comment I make to someone on Twitter about our weekend plans is in my Google Alerts, sometimes within a couple of hours, so quite apart from giving information to my followers, anyone can find out anything I have divulged at any time. I cannot retract remarks I have made on Twitter, and if I delete anything from my blog, it could still be seen through Google cache for sometime to come, and anyway it might have been re-blogged or copied somewhere else.

At this point one might say that “what you see is what you should get” but really we do not want to reveal all our foibles even through Facebook, because if we are careless, we could give away a lot of information people do not need to have. We could even become victims of identity fraud or simple impersonation, further damaging our reputations. Whilst we may want to be as open with our friends as we would in an off-line environment we do not know who is watching with evil intent, or who might simple misconstrue a remark taken out of context.

When I am going to meet anyone new in a business context, including a new client, I do a web search. I am sure most other people do too. That is not to pry, but often because we need to make our new acquaintances feel we are interested and to be prepared for our meeting and for what issues might be raised. It is simple due diligence, but who knows what impression an ill thought-out remark might give in the wrong virtual ears or hands?

I try to show enough of my personality online to give readers an idea of my interests, of what I do for a living and for recreation and of course family. Those readers need something to which to relate, so I have pretty much stopped the boring stuff like Twitter advertising, or promoting myself directly through my blogs. Of course many may still think I am boring. Someone more or less told me so before “un-following” me on Twitter. However, I think I would rather be boring than have every cuss word I might have thought broadcast on Twitter, or every detail of our family life known to the world.

What is your approach? I would love to hear your views.

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