November 17, 2009

Shapeshifting; Using Social Media to Maintain Online Reputation

Posted in Best practices, Criminal activity, Employee issues, Facebook, LinkedIn, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter, Uncategorized, Web 2.0, Web 3.0 tagged at 1:42 am by bizlawblog

If you like science fiction movies, you may have seen alien entities, which can change their physical appearance, sometimes mimicking other creatures. If you’re more down to earth, perhaps you’ve heard the expression “Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. In either case, you might need a vet.

In the case of maintenance of one’s online reputation, social media can be either the tool you use to achieve your goal, or the jaws of your destruction. Aliza Sherman’s article, Don’t Ruin Your Social Media Reputation, points out one of the problems of social media, in the context of vetting information:

One of the continuing perils on the Internet– that is even greater now that anyone has the ability to publish online– is not knowing what information is credible or not. Misinformation can spread like wildfire across Twitter, Facebook and the like, and the last thing you want to do is get the reputation of being a conduit for misinformation. Take care when repeating what you hear from others in social media circles.

Sherman also gives us five things to avoid. As she puts it:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way some people abuse the online tools that many of us are trying to use for good things. Whether you are using the Internet and social media for business or for personal use, there are good ways to use these tools, but there are also ways that can get you into trouble that you might not anticipate.

Sherman’s list includes five ways she frequently sees people damaging their online reputations:

  1. Social media spam, consisting of “irrelevant unsolicited sales pitches for strange and unneeded products,” spammy endorsements and other messages sent out automatically or unwittingly;
  2. Indiscriminate “friendliness,” by those whose sole goal seems to be collecting as many “friends” or “followers” as possible, but for the purpose of treating them as cattle to be used;
  3. Autopilot networking, with the help of increasingly efficient tools which end up giving the impression the interaction is canned rather than truly “social;”
  4. Missing the appointment with the Vet, by failing to check information before passing it on as a thoughtless repost or retweet; and
  5. Playing the undercover hired gun, where those with whom you interact online later feel betrayed or conned when they learn you’ve endorsed a product for pay, or otherwise played a deceitful role.

Lawyers like myself are known to love to say cute little Latin phrases like caveat emptor or “let the buyer beware.” A similar warning is perhaps in order for social media. A paradigm shift is occurring in our online communications. In the old ARPANET days, communications were between individuals and institutions where there was generally a high level of trust and respect. These days, using information obtained through social media channels may be closer to buying a watch from a street corner vendor.

Companies, which fail to recognize this shift in the reliability of information, are certainly at risk. A post on the Social Media Reputation blog makes the point as follows:

Having been a consultant regarding online media for over a decade, I am constantly growing very weary of informational white-paper companies that are charging top dollar for “analysis” of an industry that is forever changing. In my previous life working at a Fortune 50 company on interactive projects, I can tell you that far too many “big boy” companies are absolutely relying on the wrong informational sources to make huge decisions. This old-school system is leading more and more companies down the path of digital suicide.

Granted, many might be more likely to be cautious of a post on the Pissed Customer blog or Ripoff Report, than one found on Forbes or the Wall Street Journal, but how is one to really know? Typically, the longer a publication has existed without substantial challenge to the veracity of its reports, the more trusted it becomes. Recent U.S. political campaigns, however, have cast substantial doubt on the impartiality and credibility of many such long-standing main stream media reputations, and the economy continues to take its toll on others.

Queue Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels as the heirs apparent. As the paperless paper box becomes one of the next anachronistic surprises of our decade, we find data flowing at us from all directions at an increasing velocity. The volume of data confronting us is likewise increasing, leaving us with exactly the task Microsoft predicted in its book, Taming the Information Tsunami. Regardless of the techniques used to survive this digital perfect storm, the time in which we have the ability to vet the data barrage will continue to shrink.

The Web is full of hideous examples of damage to corporate reputations, whether deserved or not. We do, however, have the ability to take some steps to perform maintenance on our online reputations. A few simple tactics are outlined in an article by Lawrence Perry:

  1. Always publish meaningful content- when you publish meaningful content, you can expect people who follow you to truly believe what you have to say in the future.   If you send spam and post useless information in your accounts, people will not learn to trust you.
  2. Be transparent- you do not have to be too personal or reveal too much information in your Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts but it would really help if you remained as truthful as possible in your interactions with clients.
  3. Post your picture and your website in your profile- it would really help a lot if you use your own photo and if you link to your website and provide more information to your followers. These will help them establish a better connection with you because they really know who you are, what business you are promoting, etc.
  4. Try to communicate in a personal level- do not use bots or send standard pre-written messages through DM.  On Twitter, make sure you send personal direct messages.  This may take a lot of time but don’t think of that as wasted time but an investment on your target market.

I’ll talk more in a later post about methods to monitor and protect both personal and company reputations online. For now, however, I wonder if there is some new twist coming down the pike to fill the need I think we all have, to more easily increase the level of trust we have for data received online. Where there is a need, there usually is a solution vendor.

We all know there have been innumerable snake oil vendors in the software industry, but VeriSign and PayPal seem to have become standards, through trust, in being acceptable allies in managing our risk with online transactions. Now all we need is a “veracity meter” attached to all social media output.

Some companies are struggling with methods to “pre-prove” the expertise of those who engage in online community discussions, such as LinkedIn. As a member of a variety of networks, one can gain “expert” points by being the “winning” responder to an online inquiry from another member of the group. This is a quality argument in favor of the member giving the best answer, but there are also quantity point in some networks, where part of one’s rating as an expert is based upon the number of posts accomplished during a period of time. Surely, there must be a more efficient way to increase our trust of online data.

I’ve come across those who say they can detect the aura of others, and tell if a person is good or bad, honest or dishonest. While I may question exactly what it is they are seeing, wouldn’t it be nice if you had a method to easily detect and read the aura of online communications. Perhaps such communications will, in our Web 3.0 or 4.0 world, come with a thoroughly vetted avatar emitting an aura of credibility. Could it be that the devious spammer’s message will someday come with a universal avatar bearing some sort of aura which looks like horns, while those honest and well vetted posts by yours truly will be embraced by my avatar, wearing an easily detectable halo of honesty?

Stories, like Dick Pelletier’s, Avatars will help us navigate tomorrow’s electronic maze, make it seem like they’re right around the corner. Others say they might work their own paradigm shift.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.

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