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Airplane gauge exemplifying personal reputation's complexity

In the Spotlight - Personal Reputation Management

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               Reputation is a long-term commitment to oneself and the world around. It helps to build, strengthen and consolidate relations at all levels. Although it is often elusive, it can be found everywhere. It supports individual decision making when it comes to interactions, purchases, commitments and many more. From a personal reputation management point of view, it is key to continue to craft one’s reputation, not only from a legal point of view (not to get in trouble with the law) but from a societal and moral perspective. Whether at work, in a volunteer capacity, a public environment or in personal relations, This seems to be a heavyweight to be carried, it certainly raises questions such as “What if it is ok in today’s society but it is not tomorrow? (vice-versa)”. Yet, it is a personal experience that everyone faces to different degrees, it shapes and evolves along every individual.

               In the grand scheme of things, the often-easiest way to determine if an action or activity is net reputation positive, is to ask oneself: “How would I feel if I saw myself or someone else on the news because of this activity?” and “If I were to explain it to my loved ones, how would they react?”. This, of course, does not take into account damages to reputation due to slanders, misrepresentations and more that may be out of one’s control.

Examples of Personal Reputations to Manage:

               It is a common misconception to believe that only organizations require reputation management. Although it is true that an organization’s outreach may often be wider in scope, individuals continue to have similar types of reputations to manage as they face their day-to-day activities.

Base Culture

               Drives the principles that one perceives to be important and aims to strive towards. Failure to live to its perceived culture or to build a culture that at least partially aligns with its surroundings can lead to reputation loss which subsequently impacts expected outcomes.

               Base culture serves as the guiding hand to one’s personal principles and beliefs. It oftentimes guides one’s attitude to its surrounding, relations and many more. Failure to follow through with one’s principles will often lead to discrepancies in attitudes and activities, potentially leading to personal dissatisfaction and most of the time, impact all the other types of reputation. It does not mean that individuals can’t change their base culture – for better or worse – it simply emphasizes that it can have a real impact on personal reputation.

Social Media Presence

               Social media presence may range from employment-oriented networks such as LinkedIn to socially oriented ones such as Twitter and Facebook. It has grown exponentially, with monthly active users on Facebook alone moving from 100 million in 2008 to 2.38 billion by 2019. It serves as a platform to share a profile, ideas, thoughts, experiences and beliefs.

                With the advent of technology, social media presence has increasingly gained importance in the life of an average person. This has led to a variety of opportunities and challenges when it comes to personal reputation. For instance, social media can be used by some as a means to gain attention towards valued-added activities for the betterment of society and the individual, innocuous sharing of ideas and experiences or it can also be used to drive animosity and strife. A positive example is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that began as an attempt to raise awareness towards amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and quickly became viral in social media outlets helping to raise over $220M to the ALS cause.

               On another note, it can be used to slander and blackmail individuals, causing undue individual and social pressure. Sometimes, individuals will partake in activities that are deemed immoral or wrong. When such individuals are identified, the activity may result in negative outcomes that can lead to vast changes in personal reputation that may cause issues such as family disputes or the loss of a job. A survey estimated that 34% of employers have reprimanded or fired an employee due to online content. It may be the case that society will become more lenient to some activities that are caught on camera, while others may be further scrutinized via the use of cancel culture and others.

               The power of social media to influence offline events and outcomes will likely continue to grow, this will further increase the number of actors eager to exploit the system’s vulnerabilities to their benefits. Users and platform owners will need to tread a careful balance between tackling real challenges and manufactured ones. The lines of truth and falsehood may become thinner, it will be in the hands of every individual to tread lightly and be mindful that their online activities can have a real impact on individuals the same way that social media can have an impact on oneself.

Emergency Response

              Throughout a life, dangers brought forth by internal and external factors may require immediate attention and responses. Actions taken in the past, throughout the emergency and its aftermath can be major drivers of other people’s perception, impacting individual or organizational reputation.

               Everyone will face emergencies in their lives, whether from natural causes or otherwise. The actions and activities taken before, at the moment of and after an emergency can have major impacts in one’s reputation across the board. For example, firefighters will often experience a positive see a rise in reputation when fighting fires. Throughout a flood, individuals who go beyond their way to support less fortunate ones can see spikes in reputation, while others that decide to use it as an opportunity to steal may see their reputation diminish.

               It may be worth noting that one should not be actively looking for emergencies so they can jump in and become heroes. Inorganic reputation creation based on emergencies can appear less legitimate to the average person, potentially leading to major reputation losses. It is also worth noting that changes in reputation due to emergencies can follow different trajectories due to a variety of factors, below is a graphical representation of 3 potential paths.

Example of changes to personal reputation due to emergencies

Spike (Orange) – Sam began with a neutral reputation, as the emergency transpired (Time=0), she took multiple steps to help individuals in their community. This did not go unnoticed as she received some accolades and appreciation. Once life in the community normalized, her reputation began to gradually stabilize at a higher rate than before the emergency.

Normal (Blue) – George also began with a neutral reputation in the community. Once the emergency occurred, he acted as needed to support weather the storm, this led to a slight uptick in reputation, but it then stabilized.

Negative (Gray) – Person C began with a slightly negative reputation within their community. Once the emergency hit, the same individual used this opportunity for personal gain at the cost of others (e.g. theft). Once found out, the person was sent to prison, causing a major downward tick on their reputation. It remained lower for a longer period of time due to a combination of criminal record and social stigma.

    Customer Experience

                   Is a transactional type of reputation, mostly found in organizational environments. It relates to the end-to-end experience that customers face throughout their journey of discovery to acquisition and utilization of said product or service. It can often drive changes to reputation via word-of-mouth, online reviews and more.

                   To many, a clearer example is of a store clerk providing support throughout the purchasing process of a buyer. However, customers can be seen everywhere, in fact, even in non-transactional relationships. There are always times in which one has to deal with another person in one way or another. For example, bringing a guest over for dinner will oftentimes involve being a good host, showing the person the ropes and providing a pleasant overall experience. The experience the guest goes through will partially impact their perspectives towards the host. This can have an impact on short to long-term relationships and certain aspects of the relationship can parallel that of client/ customer.

                   Others may find the transactional nature of building relationships in a school or work environment as a part of building a customer experience that leads to a positive or negative reputation. The reputations built in whichever environment from an active or a passive relationship can have a major impact in one’s lives.

    Financial Reputation or Credit Score

                   As the saying goes “Cash is King”, this motto drives the importance of fiscal health to organizations and individuals. In most cases, failure to maintain a certain level of financial reputation can impact a financial institution perception of a borrower, limiting their ability to finance or leverage their activities. It can also, in some cases, impact the value perception of stakeholders and relationships.

                   Credit is everywhere, whether one looks at a credit card, line of credit, mortgage and more. It has become endemic in most households, helping to finance expenditures, whether capital or discretionary. However, the provision of credit doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Lenders may use a variety of methods, including credit score, to determine the level of risk that they are about to take when lending someone money.

                   A credit score serves as a financial reputation badge that lets lenders determine the likelihood that the lent money will be paid back. Failure to pay will often times decrease credit score, potentially leading to higher interest rates, closure of credit account, limitation in credit availability, asset forfeiture and more. Building and maintaining a good financial reputation can have a direct impact on one’s capacity to achieve their personal goals, whether it is to purchase a TV, a house or start a business.

    Supplier Relations

                   Anyone that is dependent on suppliers to deliver a product or service that supports their activity will oftentimes find the importance that is to maintain good supplier relations. Depending on the industry, information regarding bad reputation outcomes such as delivery failure, late delivery, and payment default will oftentimes travel fast. Managing said reputation can be instrumental to long-term success.

                   A supplier is often someone or an organization that provides good and services needed to fulfil one’s goals or needs. A positive relationship with suppliers can be very powerful in the long run. An extreme example of bad supplier relations would be a store (e.g. supplier of groceries) that deems your attitude unfit for their business due to unethical practices (or ‘n’ other reasons), leading to the refusal of services. Others may find some suppliers will give them discounts or financing if they deem your reputation to be high. Prior reputation can serve as a positive reinforcement to relations or a deterrent to the servicing of goods and services. Maintaining good relations with suppliers can be very valuable, whether you are a representative to a larger organization or you are representing yourself.

    Online Reputation System

                   Is a reputation system, mostly found in e-commerce, that aims to give buyers and sellers a tool to review each other in areas that the platform deems important for safe and continuous operations.

                   E-commerce such as Airbnb and Uber will have online reputation systems to help both buyers and sellers gain further historical knowledge and understanding of their counterparts. Users with a higher reputation from a quantitative and qualitative perspective, (especially sellers) will often find it easier to increase sales to new buyers. In some cases, reputation gain can help drive new sales opportunity in areas outside their current market vertical. E-commerce has grown exponentially in the past decade and its growth has been further consolidated by the shift from brick & mortar to online purchases reinforced by COVID-19.

                   Online reputation systems have become a centerpiece in the average customer’s purchase habits and sellers. Whether it is a vacation rental such an Airbnb, vehicle for hiring like Uber or an online retailer like Amazon, one thing is certain: building a strong online reputation has never been more important.

    Societal Culture

                   Society cultural trends and expectations are ever-evolving and as the availability of electronics such as cellphones grows, the activities that individuals partake in public and even in private life has become more intertwined.

                   Beliefs, behaviors and other factors are key tenets to the creation and advancement of society’s shared values. Individuals that fail to uphold to what society perceives to be important, may often find themselves ostracized or faced with punishments. It is worth noting that a society’s culture is ever evolving and that in many cases, some individuals have been ostracized by their society at the time, only to pave way to further acceptance at a later date. The process of balancing societal norms and beliefs with personal beliefs and self-determination is a continuous struggle that has existed for millennia and will continue for the foreseeable future.

    Legitimacy and Trustworthiness

                   Trust can be everything in relations and transactional deals. Failure to uphold the values and trustworthiness that others expect can have a detrimental impact on one’s reputation.

                   Has there ever been a case where information asymmetry or lack of knowledge has led you to trust someone because of their logic or justification (legitimacy) or your perception that they are honest or truthful (trustworthiness)? Most likely than not, the answer is yes. Such behaviour can be observed the moment one was born, allowing their caretaker to support and guide them through the early stages of one’s life.

                   The importance of legitimacy and trustworthiness remain at the epicenter of people’s lives and the perception that others have of them. Loss or gain of both can have a direct impact on one’s reputation from an individual, groups or society as a whole. Understanding its value as it pertains to personal reputation management is key to facilitate better short and long-term results in all types listed in the article.

    Final Thoughts

                   Management of various types of personal reputation helps to shape the way society perceives and interacts with an individual. What is valued to one group may not be considered beneficial to another. It is often the case that reputation parameters can diverge from one environment to another and there is no clear quantifiable way to asses one’s personal reputation without taking into account the myriad of different social groups, personal beliefs and more. Becoming aware of key sources of reputation is the first step to determine how one intends to relate to its surrounding. As technology continues to evolve and become more pervasive, the actions done in what is perceived to be personal settings can quickly become public knowledge. Personal reputation management is a continuous individual effort, both at the giving and receiving end.

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