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Reputation Management And Social Media

by David Brock on December 14th, 2013

I always hate starting a post with an apology or disclaimer, but I must.  I’m going to gore some professional colleagues and some close friends.  It’s not intended to be malicious, but perhaps it shows that all of us can get caught up in things which, ultimately, adversely impact our reputations and credibility.

Building great reputations, creating some level of trust across extended networks takes time and consistency of purpose.  Betray that in little ways and it’s like chipping pieces from a stone.  Over time you diminish your credibility and reputation, you erode trust.

Social media present powerful tools and capabilities.  We can extend our reach and visibility.  Building relationships that would have been difficult in the past.  We can amplify our visibility and our point of view.  Personally, or business wise, it’s powerful in marketing our selves or companies and “building our brand.”

But the real power of this is less the volume or noise we create — perhaps measured in followers, likes, ReTweets, Klout scores and the like, but in building trusted relationships through being knowledgeable, credible, and consistent across those relationships and over time.

All of us get distracted–or perhaps a better word is seduced.  It is a rush to see my stuff tweeted and retweeted.  It is a exciting to see subscribers and followers grow, building my network, expanding my reach.  We want to grow our lists, reach, and prospects.  We, like everyone else, leverage these tools as a critical part of our marketing to increase our visibility, expand our reach, engage new people in interesting discussions, and generate new business.

In that rush to build visibility and market ourselves and our companies, we start getting into dangerous territory.  There are tools that automate this whole process.  These tools serve as surrogates for us (and our reputations) expanding our visibility, presence, and voice.  So while I’m whiling away my time on a bike ride, or trapped on a long plane flight, or just doing my job; if I used these tools, they would “work for me.”  They would be tweeting stuff, liking stuff, managing my interactions and engagement, without my attention or involvement.

You can start to see where I’m going.

So the other day, by accident, I made a terrible mistake–the regulars among you know what I’m talking about.

I had an idea for a new post.  I was rushing to a meeting, so I quickly created a “draft,” jotted some notes about what I wanted to talk about, so I’d remember it later.  I thought I hit the “Save,” button, instead, I hit the “Publish” button and the post was published to all of you.  I was unaware of the mistake until a few hours later when I checked email and tweets and saw many of you saying “What’s up?”  Some, said, “This piece of crap isn’t up to your normal standards!”  They were right.

For some of you who missed it, I’ve published the entire “draft,” mistakes included below:  (If you wan to see what I finally wrote:  Using What We Have.)

Using w aht We have

t sales process, trining, tools, experience.

Sinhy new toy—we look for something new rather than mastinering/exploiting what we have

Using what we have also makes it easier to use what we get–new tools, skills, etc

 It’s a few random words, lots of spelling errors, meaningless drivel to anyone except me.  They were great prompts to write the finished post, but clearly garbage to everyone else.

But here’s what happened.  Within a couple of hours, there were dozens of tweets.  Some by close colleagues or friends, some by people I don’t know.  All of them tweeted “Using w aht We have” via @davidabrock….” with a link.

The question is, “Why did they send their followers to read a piece of garbage?”  But then we go further, “What happens to their reputations and the trust established with their followers if the repeatedly send people to garbage, bad content, or content that is inconsistent with their ‘brand.'”

The answer, I think, is it erodes our credibility, and betrays the trust we are trying to establish with our followers.  Rather than carefully curating stuff that is meaningful and impactful, too many people are misusing tools to drive up the volume.  In the end, it’s SPAM, even if it isn’t something about Cheap V$iag$ra.

Too many are falling into the trap of volume over purposefulness, consistency, and quality.  Too many are eroding their credibility and betraying the trust of their followers.  Too many are leveraging automation and other tools as surrogates, but which adversely impact their reputations.

There are many thoughtful people I no longer follow.  Initially, I followed them because they pointed me to interesting stuff, engaged me well, and helped me learn.  But as many of them sought volume and followers over quality, they leverage these tools.  I started seeing content that was inconsistent with their brand.  It was because the tools automatically selected things and sent it out under their names.  With many, the proportion of good stuff, consistent with their brand, is the minority of what they push out.  So they’ve lost me.  They’ve betrayed the trust.  I used to think they cared, but now know they don’t.

As another brief example.  The other day I published a post Content Will Save Us.  Anyone who actually read the post would see the point I was making was exactly the opposite of what I stated in the title.  But someone I don’t know, but who wants to be a big influencer in Digital Marketing, tweeted the post with the comment, “I couldn’t agree more.  Content is the future of digital marketing.”  Clearly the person is a fool.  He didn’t read the article, he didn’t get the point I was making, and in that comment adversely impacted his reputation.

Reputations are fragile.  They have to be carefully developed and nurtured.  We have to be consistent, credible, and build trust.  When we abandon that, seeking volume and creating noise, we betray our audience and lose credibility.

So I don’t mean to be malicious or to gore friends, colleagues, and others.  I am tremendously flattered that many of you have read enough of my stuff that you put it on “autopilot,” tweeting or liking everything without even looking at it.  But I’d be even more flattered, if you didn’t.  I’d really appreciate it you read my stuff.  Forward that which is consistent with your brand.  Ignore–or even criticize the garbage.  Maybe even comment on the post and start a discussion.

I’d have far more respect if you passed stuff on that’s consistent with your brand and what you are trying to build with your followers, rather than surrendering your reputation to “Bots.”

I think we serve our communities, followers, and ourselves far better by being less efficient, less concerned about volume, and more concerned about quality, what we communicate and how we engage others.

In reality, I don’t expect a lot of backlash from these folks.  After all, they’ve put their reputations on autopilot, they will never see it, but they will promote it.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.



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  1. Well, I’m tempted to say something like “Yes, social media is the key to reputation management and here are some great tools to help you automate the process.”

    Dave, I couldn’t agree more. In a world where marginal costs of more RTs and emails and G+’s is zero; where we have gone metrics-mad just because we can; and where “clout” is almost always defined by quantity more than quality – we have gotten way too seduced by the idea that somehow connection and quality don’t matter.

    They always have and they always will. Getting caught automating relationships, or quality content, is merely the outward indicator of a lapsed inner sense of quality.

    It’s time for the backlash; metrics for metrics’ sake and automation for the sake of sheer volume is quality-void, relationship-void, and trust-void. We all need to stop doing it.

    • Charlie, this is my comment autoresponder replying……

      Thanks so much Charlie. Somehow, in the pursuit of efficiency, we’ve lost the pursuit of effectiveness.

  2. Mike Kunkle permalink

    Well, Dave, it finally happened. I found something we disagree on. I also couldn’t pass up commenting after reading the line, “In reality, I don’t expect a lot of backlash from these folks. After all, they’ve put their reputations on autopilot, they will never see it, but they will promote it.” So, here I am.

    My name is Mike Kunkle, and I’m an auto-poster. 😉

    Back-peddaling somewhat, I can’t say I disagree with everything you’ve written here, of course, Dave, but I guess we all have different reasons and goals for being on social media and what we’re trying to accomplish.

    Years ago, before I heard the phrase content marketing or worked for a sales consulting firm, I was experimenting on social media and decided to start sharing content I enjoyed or felt others should see. Mostly I did this because I liked the content myself and I got a kick out of making people feel good when I shared their stuff. But even then I didn’t always agree wholeheartedly with it… sometimes I just felt they had an interesting point and felt people could make up their own minds about it. I didn’t intend this when I started, but I morphed into a “content channel” of sorts for sales, training, technology and social media topics.

    As time went on, and as social channels grew and I came across more blogs, I quickly found there were a lot of great sources of information out there. I couldn’t keep up. Then, I ran across RSS automation, which allowed me to take content from blogs and auto-post it to Twitter and LinkedIn, among other networks.

    Fast-forward to today, and I am sharing a lot of content this way. I’ve had to adjust my strategy recently, working for a sales consulting firm myself, but I still automate a lot of content in my areas of interest.

    In doing this over the past 5 years or so, I can remember only twice where I deleted something I shared, where I felt someone went over the top, for my taste. But again, I don’t typically feel I have to agree with everything I share. Nor do I think I need to. I think my audience is smart enough to figure out what they like and what works for them. I’m providing a channel.

    Perhaps I should step back and reconsider this in 2014, given how far SoMe has come and how thing have changed, Dave. I’ll give that some thought. And maybe I’ll be proven wrong some day, too, but right now I find it hard to believe my reputation is going to be damaged by auto-sharing content from Bob Terson, Charlie Green, Anthony Iannarino, Tim Ohai, Nancy Nardin, Tamara Schenk, and others like them. (The weird “wrong button” blip that happened to you, is not going to hurt your reputation one iota, either.)

    Having said all this, I do try to read a lot of what I publish from these sources, but I don’t pretend I read it all. (I do get this blog in email and rarely miss reading one, even if it’s far after the post date.) But I can’t keep up with everything. But when I do spot check or read things I have “curated,” in my own social streams (yes, I go back and look at the stuff I publish… another reason I started doing this), I rarely find something I’m in violent disagreement with, perhaps because I vetted my sources well in the first place.

    Know the other plus from this, for me? In the limited time I do have to be out in the social sphere personally… I spend it replying, engaging, commenting, emailing, following up offline, or sometimes sharing things that I’ve come across on my own or were shared by those I follow, that I don’t auto-share (and probably won’t ever) but found interesting or valuable.

    I’ll add that while I do offer people +K’s on Klout (helps them, if they’re into it), and thank them if they do the same for me, I don’t really give a rat’s patootie what my score is. I’m still amazed that over 8K people follow me on Twitter and that I have thousands of LinkedIn connections. Never saw that coming. I also never expected people to write to me and thank me for creating the channel and for what I choose to share, yet they do.

    I am struggling to see how I am caught up in things which, ultimately, will adversely impact my reputation and credibility.

    What am I missing?

    • Mike: Thanks for the thoughtful perspective. We’ll probably agree to disagree. I struggle with the “bot” approach to social media. Maybe I’m a little old fashioned, but I don’t get the purpose of it. It seems to serve more about volume than it does quality. When we read data that says 80% + of the links ReTweeted on Twitter are never read, it seems like insanity. We, the community, are taking a great tools to extend our outreach, and diluting it’s effectiveness with ever escalating volumes.

      While I tweet many of the folks you highlight–they all put out quality stuff. I read each one before I tweet it–it’s just my thing. There’s some stuff even they produce, while good, is not consistent with what I am trying to put out to my community. Likewise, there’s some stuff I produce–while I hope it’s good quality, may be very inconsistent with the experience they are trying to create for their followers.

      I think I owe my community at least the time to make sure I’m creating a consistent experience. Perhaps, I also think that if I can’t take the time to read it, then why should I expect them to take the time to read it.

      There are some I know we each follow and tweet frequently, where I’ve seen recipes, family announcements, promotional stuff that I would never want to inflict on my followers. Some, I think is just plain wrong, and by this I don’t mean that I agree or disagree–much of what I tweet, I don’t agree with, but there are thoughtful perspectives. But there are many, where I think they are just wrong and presenting a point of view that I cannot support or inflict on my community. By looking at it and not automatically retweeting it, I feel I am serving my community and reinforcing my reputation.

      I worry that so many of the tools that we employ seem focused first on volume, then on quality (if at all). I ask myself why? Why is volume so important? I go back to the data, and it makes me think it isn’t important.

      As I mentioned in my post, there are many people that I used to follow (and I know you do), that I no longer follow. The quality of their stuff–not their own, but the stuff they have retweeting, is so bad, it’s not worth my time. While it’s not irreparable, it’s damaged their credibility with me. It causes me to think twice about what them.

      More importantly, it’s the people who we don’t know or don’t know us. As we want to expand our reach, we want to make sure we create quality for them. If we don’t pay attention, then we lose an opportunity. The digital marketer I referenced in the article is a great example. I look at people who tweet my stuff, determining whether I may want to follow and engage. Unfortunately, this person lost the chance–just through doing what everyone else does–making a content that ended up disproving his point, not supporting it. Both his current followers and new potential followers like me look at that and say, WTF?

      So perhaps, at least for the time being we’ll agree to disagree. Maybe I’ll change my views, but for the time being, I think I have to be responsible for the content I promote. The only way I know how to do it is to read everything first. It doesn’t seem to be too much of a burden.

      Thanks for the great discussion Mike.

      • Mike Kunkle permalink

        Thanks for an equally thoughtful response, Dave.

        I’m 100% okay with agreeing to disagree, but also like that we’re both willing to take a stand for something and yet stay open to considering options.

        I am mulling through this now, because of the thoughts you shared. Right now, I keep coming down on the side of carefully selected automation, as you do on responsible screening, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change.

        I get your point about volume. I do struggle with that, because it’s not sheer volume I seek. But if the amount of quality information I can find and share happens to produce volume, I also don’t have a problem with that. If someone doesn’t like it, they can change the channel. In the past 5 years, similar to the two times I deleted something I auto-posted, I’ve had two complaints, about the amount I publish. Conversely, I literally get a thank you every week or two, from someone.

        I like Gary’s point about trust. That’s one of the principles that fuels my decision with the blogs I choose to share on auto-pilot. And that’s why I consider it safe to share what I do without reading it first. (For me, at least, and perhaps it’s because of my choices – I simply can’t read it all first. It is too much of a burden for me, at least now, although I do read as much as I can and have periods when I try to catch up.)

        It seems like the point of difference between you and me (and perhaps even Gary and me, on this), is the implied endorsement or agreement with everything that gets posted. I’m an opinionated cuss. I don’t agree with everything I read and I don’t believe I need to, to share it. But unless it is offensive in some way (also completely a personal judgment), it becomes part of the channel. You feel the responsibility to pre-screen your “channel” each time. I do it in the beginning and then “spot check” when I read. If I had been burned dozens of times, or even one dozen, I would have changed my evil ways by now. 😉 But 2 deletions in 5 years… and 2 complaints, I can live with that (btw, one complainer wrote to tell me he muted me on LinkedIn, but the other was new on Twitter, didn’t follow a lot of people yet, and just said “wow, you share a lot!”, so I’m not sure that’s even really a complaint – still follows and RTs what I share, years later).

        Anyway, really fascinating to see our different perspectives on this. Thanks for making me think, as always. This is why your blog is one of the small handful that shows up in my burgeoning Inbox. Even though you’re occasionally dead wrong. (LOL, sorry, couldn’t resist, j/k ;-). Have a great week, Dave.

        • First, I may be wrong, but right/wrong isn’t important, it’s really about sharing perspectives and learning.

          Without meaning to be nasty, but still pointing out an irony, if it’s too much of a burden for you to read everything because your too busy, then why doesn’t it become a burden to those who are reading your stream, when they are just as busy? Why do we assume we can burden them with more crap–I mean good content, then we can bear to read and think about.

          I don’t want to screen content that only agrees with my point of view, I love presenting content that presents a different point of view. But I want to make sure, whatever point of view it represents is meaningful and relevant to my audience and community. I think I have less problem with posts from people like you in my community–though I don’t tweet every post you write, because some of it is not relevant to the interest of my community–since you write on such a broad variety of topics.

          But if I were, likewise, to blindly RT something you tweet, I could be doing my audience a disservice. You tweet a huge variety of content, not all of it is relevant to my community, but if I don’t curate it, then I’m putting the burden on them. How is that being responsible for my community. In this case, it is less the automation, but the absence of curating content.

          In our corporations, we carefully score and profile the communicaton, subject, and other preferences of each of our customers. We don’t send executive technical manuals, because we know it is irrelevant to them and they would tune out. We are careful to make sure everything (to the best of our judgement) is relevant, meaningful and impactful to our audience. Why shouldn’t we apply the same principles to all the content we provide?

          Again, Mike, while we may disagree, I am learning from this discussion.

          • Mike Kunkle permalink

            I LOL’d and smiled when I typed the “wrong” thing, and hope you know I agree it’s about sharing perspectives. As I look back, though, it seems more like we’re each trying to be right, so I’m going to quit on that. What I do is right for me. I don’t need it to be right for you.

            I did, however, take a moment to reflect on what we *agree* on, even though we have chosen different paths to get there.

            * Sharing quality content (you select one-by-one; I pre-approve sources I’ve come to trust)

            * Trying to engage, when people do read, share, or actually interact with us

            * Taking it offline (I know you do this because we did it; I do it frequently and have met some wonderful people that way, including you)

            * Caring about our audience (you take them so seriously that you read every thing you share and perhaps have a more targeted following than I whom you don’t want to disappoint; I care enough to provide a content channel in my areas of interest, to let followers choose what they read (or don’t) – all carefully selected upfront, but not screened each time).

            In the end, our methods vary and I think we have different reasons for being on social media, but I like to think we’re both adding value to those who follow us. I know you do. I believe I do, based on what I hear from the people who reach out, at least. In either case, we’ll see where it all leads. That’s half the fun.

            Happy holidays, Dave!


  3. Dave,
    Balancing automation is a high wire act. The essence and mechanism of SoMe is automation. Reading an article and sharing it manually does not eliminate automation. Unlike sales and marketing tools with categorization for segmenting our audience, SoMe delivers all of our content to everyone. In my opinion, this is a greater pitfall than automating content from trusted sources without reading it first, which brings me to my perspective on automating contenting.

    I trust fifty or so high quality content creators including you, the above authors and those mentioned by our good friend Mike Kunkle. Is it wrong to trust them? Let me put another way, if I did not trust them, I would not publish anything of theirs regardless of how incredible a particular post may be. Posting content puts a stamp of approval on more than that single post. Sharing the content of an individual or organization endorses them as well. Trusting and respecting authors and their organization is the decision-maker for me. I’m sure Charlie agrees with this thinking.

    Reading an article before sharing it does not guarantee my audience will not think its crap or not up to par. Pre-reading a post does not guarantee my audience will agree with me on opinion, value, or relevance. Trusting and respecting the people and organizations authoring the content is significantly more important than any one article, which leads into my thoughts on automatic posting.

    My purpose for automating is for the benefit of my connections, not for growing an enormous following. The fifty or so authors’ whose content I share rarely write an unworthy post. My connections regularly thank me for sharing high value content. On the flipside, I can count on one hand the complaints I’ve received over the years.

    I’m unable to read everyone’s posts. You happen to be an author I read regularly simply because your writing resonates with me on a personal level more than other writers. Even when I fall behind on reading during very busy times, like this past month or two, I catch up on your articles. This does not diminish the value of other writers I choose to share without reading. And I do not post their stuff blindly.

    Triberr is an excellent service that allows one to choose each post one by one and shares it to only the social networks specified – semi-automation. It’s an excellent tool that aggregates the content of my favorite writers who us Triberr in one place. If I dislike the title or the preview paragraph, or do not feel it is relevant to my audience, I do not share it. If I’m unsure about a particular post or inspired to read it, I can open it right inside the app.

    CMS; whether WordPress, Joomla or another system is automation too. We all use automation of some type or another. Automating content delivery has its flaws, like accidentally publishing the idea for a post instead of saving it as a draft. In my opinion, selecting the right automation, developing intelligent guidelines and good practices is the critical issue. And the next time you post dribble, you’re off my top fifty list! (Sorry I couldn’t resist)
    Thanks for creating an excellent conversation Dave. You’re still one of my favorite sales writers whom I am proud to share manually or automated even when you screw up.

    Happy Holidays,

    • Gary: I think you may be misinterpreting some of my comments. There are a large number of people I trust greatly. That said, not everything they write is consistent with content I think will resonate with my audience. If I were to automate, blindly, the posts of people I trust, then I would be forsaking my responsibility for the communications I think are of value to my community. While, I’m exaggerating slightly, I’m saying, “While we built a relationship on content/communications you value, I am surrendering control of that to a tool because I just don’t have the time or care enough to make sure these communications are consistent with how we started. But trust me, these guys are good guys and write good stuff, though I can’t guarantee everything they write is consistent with the relationship I am trying to establish with you.”

      Take it a step further, we RT stuff we never read. Some of that comes from people with whom we have no relationship, have no idea what they are communicating, but we trust the person who we are ReTweeting. Data says that 80%+ of the links that are tweeted and retweeted are never read. That’s really too bad. But it’s probably a reflection of people’s experience in seeing bad content, so they don’t bother to read, or they are just caught up in the ever escalating noise level. I actually want people to read the content I tweet. I carefully curate it, making sure it is consistent with things my community indicates are of value. I don’t want to ever betray that relationship.

      We take responsibility for what we communicate to our communities. They may not like it, if they don’t like it frequently enough, they stop following us–but that’s because of what we did consciously.

  4. All,

    It’s unfortunate that a mistake had to happen in order for this to become a topic on your blog Dave, but I’m really glad it did. I personally have decided to take a step back from automating your RSS feed, along with the other 30 or so whom I’ve autoflogged for the past two years. Like everyone else, I only get 24 hours out of each day and automatically retweeting content from people who consistently post great stuff seemed like a logical way to accomplish three things: give some props to some great thinkers, save some time, and provide great content to my followers on Twitter. I’m a regular reader of all these blogs, most of the time, but I don’t always make the time. I’ve already had some followers tell me that they no longer follow me on Twitter because of auto-retweeting, and then when your post went out in an obviously unread manner, it gave me pause. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s social media back.

    I believe what’s really important here, as you all point out, is that we are true to our goals in our activity on social media, whatever those might be. My goals have changed as my understanding of humanity, business, friendship, group dynamics, etc has changed. I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you for accidentally publishing your rough draft. It’s made me realize that I have gotten a bit off base with my social media channels. Certainly I will continue to use some level of automation, but that this kind of thing can happen has opened my eyes to my own shallow approach to social media, which is inconsistent with my goals.

    Understand that I’m not condemning anyone for using social media automation, at whatever level that they choose. I’m simply thankful for you making me aware of my own departure from how I want to be branded online.


    Don F Perkins

    • Don: Thanks for the very thoughtful comment. I’m not sure if automating our communication, tweets, etc is right or wrong. I certainly automate a lot of things like my newsletter, knowing that if I don’t provide quality content, people will unsubscribe. So I take care to provide content that I think is impactful (I still get unsubscribes). Likewise with Twitter and other social media channels. Maybe I don’t understand things, but if we Tweet stuff we don’t read, others RT that without reading, what are we achieving other than producing volume?

      The data shows 80% + of links in Twitter aren’t read. That would indicate that Twitter is really an ineffective channel for communicating and connecting. We see the same thing with so virtually every other channel. In the rush to drive volume, we sacrifice quality. The produces lower response rates, so we drive more volume, etc. Soon all we have is a lot of traffic and no communications.

      The thing that is gratifying, is that everyone commenting here stands for quality, engaged communications. But we have very differing opinions, so I’m really confused.

      Thanks for the thoughtful, honest reflections.

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