The Reputation of Reputations

TRoR



   Reputation is a well-known and widely used term within the English language and any other language for that matter, it is simply known by other pronunciations. It is thoroughly understood throughout the cultures of the world as an important facet of public life for individuals, as well as corporations, animals, and even the natural aspects of life (i.e., the sun is hot). The term reputation entity1 applies to anything that can have or hold a reputation, and the list is infinite and encompasses all persons, goods, information, parts, devices and so on.

   Reputation – n. what is generally said or believed about a person’s or thing’s character (has not justified his reputation; has a reputation for integrity; place has a bad reputation); state of being well reported of, credit, distinction, respectability, good report, (persons of reputation); the credit or discredit of doing or of being (has the reputation of swindling his customers, of being the best shot in England). [ME, f. L reputation (as foll.; see – ATION)].2

   While anything can have a reputation, for the purposes of this study the focus will be contained to personal and corporate reputations, specifically reputations held within the confines of the World Wide Web, the Internet, or also known as online. The idea of a reputation is so incredibly vast that specific information must be explained to embrace an understanding of it before the focus can be tightened on a specific area, namely personal and corporate online reputations and their maintenance.

An Understanding of Reputation
   It is important to note that reputations vary by communities, and for different purposes. Where a reputation of a person is concerned, there are often several social groups; these can be wide spread in many different forms. What is generally said or believed about a reputation entity in one group may not, and often does not, coincide with what is said or believed in another social group. In other words, a reputation entity may have more than one reputation. It is important to realize that membership within these social groups or reputation communities may overlap, and both influence and information may transcend from one reputation community to another. It is also possible for opinions and/or beliefs to circulate among members within a group without members of another group being privy to them.
   A characteristic of reputation not distinguished by its definition is the idea of what is said versus what is believed. A reputation entity may be affected by information concerning its reputation, even though said information is not believed. Within politics very often information is portrayed to affect one’s reputation even though the person or object disseminating the information holds no belief in it. This is even a sought-after characteristic of the mass media, titled non-bias or neutral journalism. In reality it is often a tactic used to attack or discredit a reputation entity. It is important at this point to outline human nature concerning how information pertaining to reputation operates. This is not only used within the confines of reputations but is highlighted herein as such for all information.
   Image and reputation are two distinct objects, for our purposes both are social in nature. They are integral properties of a reputation entity and its standing within a reputation community. We are assuming the reputation entity’s presumed desire is of an attitude of socially desirable behavior. However, these two notions operate at different levels. Image is a belief, namely, an evaluation. Reputation is a meta-belief, i.e., a belief about others evaluations of the reputation entity. To better understand the difference between image and reputation, the mental decisions based upon them must be analyzed at three levels.3 These levels are not to be confused with a process of steps, one leading to the next. Each can stand alone, with another, or all together:

   Epistemic - We must ask about the knowledge we gain: What is the knowledge? How was the knowledge acquired? To what extent is it possible for a given reputation entity to be known? Do we accept the beliefs that form either a given image or acknowledge a given reputation? Doing so implies a believed evaluation and gives rise to one's direct evaluation.

   Pragmatic-strategic – This is the use of knowledge, deciding whether and how to interact with the reputation entity. Once one has their own opinion (perhaps resulting from acceptance of others’ evaluations) about a reputation entity, they will use it to make decisions about their future actions concerning the dissemination of said knowledge. Therefore the strategic nature of the use of knowledge.

   Memetic is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, originating from the popularization of Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene.4 It purports to be an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer. This is to transmit “my” (or others) evaluative beliefs about a given reputation entity to others. Whether or not I act in conformity with a propagating evaluation, I may decide to spread the news to others. That, however, is just the beginning of memetics. A meme can be best understood much like a gene, conceived as a unit of culture (an idea, belief, pattern of behavior, etc.) which is "hosted" in one or more individual minds, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen – when adopting the intentional stance – as an idea replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of the host. In summary Memetics is notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs. Instead, it is interested in only their success.5

   Understanding what a reputation is at its fundamental level of basic information, how said information about a reputation entity is spread about from one reputation community to another, is the basis for understanding how to curb negative portrayals of individuals and corporations. The same way that negative information spreads should be the first and most obvious way to disseminate new, more positive information about a reputation entity. There are many categories that reputation entities must concern themselves with. These include, but are not wholly limited to, personality, the self, self-disclosure, social identity, group factors, social networks, impression management, ethical, legal, and politics. Another fundamental principal of reputation is that it is a simple matter of economics. The more a public (reputation community) is occupied with one person (reputation entity), the less it is occupied with another. 6

The many faces of Blogs
   The use of blogs in today’s society is multi-faceted, and can be used in the realm of reputation defense from all sides. An individual can use a blog to report on their own personal life, their side of the story, and their interpretation of what is news. Quite a few blogs that originated as personal blogs were quickly picked up and have become part of major news outlets. Bloggers are the eyes and ears of the world today. They are encroaching on what was once the role of journalists and watchdog organizations. They are citizen journalists, making sure what is important and news worthy isn’t being determined by media organizations, but by people in their local communities.7 As time passes blogs and bloggers are becoming more powerful. Through a practice known as syndication, which is hyperlinking webpages together, readers are able to quickly access multiple different lines of information much more quickly. This is both a positive and a negative. As information, especially pertaining to people and companies reputations, continues to be mass-produced, much of it happens with little to no fact-checking. The hyperlink gives an air of legitimacy to otherwise discredited information. One must be vigilant to not become to engrossed with Internet information, going deep down the rabbit hole without finding some legitimate sources to back it up.
   Even so, with the technologies that exist today to recreate one’s reputation online through Online Reputation Management (ORM) companies, it brings into question whether any information is legitimate. It is very easy, and to any reputation entity with deep pockets, that much easier, to have content created supporting any position. Even governments have been known to use such technologies to keep leaked secrets at bay. However, the information surrounding this incident was found on the Internet, so what legitimacy does it actually hold, and is it even worth citing? This makes a person’s own views distorted, because most of the information is distorted, therefore we all know very little.

Recommendations, a good offense is a strong defense
   With regards to corporate reputation entities, much is to be considered. To all communicators it should be understood that, during a crisis, the demand for information would increase at the exact moment they are firefighting the problem itself. If reputation entities are not actively working their reputation online prior to a reputation collapse, they are playing catch up right from the start of an event.8 It is recommended by companies that specialize in online reputation management to engage in lifelike reputation simulations, much like any other emergency response team would. One simulation widely used is referred to as Fireball. Fireball replicates the experience of being attacked by a reputation sniper who is posting to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in real time. A reputation sniper is an entity that for any number of reasons is going after your good name; in these cases the battlefield is the Internet and the casualties are your bottom line. A new media drill such as Fireball will put a reputation entity through its paces in a variety of mock crises, including a class action lawsuit, a case of executive misconduct, and release of damaging video, a production recall, a safety lapse and a leaked document.9
   A reputation entity must always assume that a reputation sniper will at some time bring about a reputation collapse. Saying it won’t happen and hoping for the best is arrogant and can be fatal, in a sense, to any person or corporation. Knowing how and when to respond is crucial to maintain through and after an event. Respond with high speed; the more preparation you have, the better prepared you will be to respond appropriately. In today’s high-speed hyperlinked world that is all connected online, no entity is above the effects of a damaged reputation. From the office clerk to the CEO, all are vulnerable. Understand it, and be prepared.

D B B. Reputation, image, and impression management. [serial online]. n.d.;Available from: OCLC: WorldCat.org, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 5, 2012. 1 Definition and usage.
H.W. Fowler, F.G. Fowler and J.B. Sykes, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Sixth Edition 1976page1image14904
Klewes J, Wreschniok R. Reputation Capital [Electronic Resource] : Building And Maintaining Trust In The 21St Century Joachim Klewes, Robert Wreschniok, Editors [e-book]. Heidelberg ; New York : Springer, c2009.; 2009.
Dawkins, Richard (1976). The Selfish Gene. New York City: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-286092-5. 
Burman, J. T. (2012). The misunderstanding of memes: Biography of an unscientific object, 1976–1999. Perspectives on Science, 20(1)
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8 MANAGING YOUR REPUTATION ONLINE. Strategic Communication Management [serial online]. April 2001;5(3):3. Available from: Communication & Mass Media Complete, Ipswich, MA.
9 Gaines-Ross L. Reputation Warfare. Harvard Business Review [serial online]. December 2010;88(12):70- 76. Available from: 
Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA.