What will become of the personal brand? As we’re learning of ways social media serves as a tool for building and developing personal brands, we also realize its downfall – always putting reputations on the line. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark offered his comments on a new site called Unvarnished, The idea offers hope for people looking out for each other. Could something like that work in this day and age?
First, let’s cover a quick review of Unvarnished. It’s a site allowing people to review and comment on individuals, just as you would a restaurant or plumbing service. How you work with others, what your strengths and weaknesses are – anything really, so long as it is about the person, usually in a business context.
While you can claim your profile, you cannot remove or delete comments. Sounds harsh, but the idea creates recommendations and reputation management tools for the benefit of managers looking to hire, or someone seeking a business partner.
Getting back to what’s going on in this day and age, you can see your online reputation readily translates to your regular life. Things you say on Facebook affect how you’re treated at school. A misguided tweet lands you in hot water at work. A mutual friend request with an ex sends your current lover into a tizzy. Depending on your industry and social standing, the worth of your reputation directly links to your online presence. Like it or not.
That online presence can be manipulated remotely and indirectly. Someone posts a compromising photo of you on their profile, and you can’t take it down. A comment you said as a joke offends someone, and the time/date stamp gives it legal standing as evidence of your state of mind.
Peter Kazanjy is the co-founder of Unvarnished and says negative reviews are out there already in comments and blog posts. He claims Unvarnished simply organizes those comments and helps refute the claims. But it doesn’t allow a person to delete a profile in their name, nor to delete negative posts. The administrators will track and remove posts that are suspicious, but the guidelines for that only weed out ones that are libelous or too anonymous – ones made from recently created Facebook profiles with no friends.
Even one damaging review with dozens of positive ones could still cause havoc to a reputation. Our subconscious is hardwired to focus on and amplify negative elements, so if someone who is willing to say they don’t like you and give reasons, whether or not they are true, you have no recourse against the site or making them change the post. You could take the person to court if the statement is libelous, but it will be on your dime.
As far as trust goes, there’s little way in which our ability to judge others will be altered just because there’s more information Impact our judgment. Others’ trust in you is tied to your digital reputation.
So, the quandary from a PR perspective is – do you request a profile for yourself and bravely stare the possibility of negative comments in the face, or fly under the radar as long as possible, waiting for others to request a profile be established so they can post negative comments about you? Would you recommend a client request a profile? Or more important, when would you tell them to do so? Would doing so at the beginning of a PR crisis be best – so you have some control over the situation, or would it add fuel to the flames?
So when Newmark pins his hopes on the good-hearted nature of people using Unvarnished for the right reasons, it sounds a bit idealistic. Actually, it sounds like a good soundbite for a man who knows a system bound to make waves and good return on investment.
But, in his fifteen years of dealing with customer service models, Newmark says there is a useful aspect to Unvarnished, especially as there are some controls offered to those claiming their profiles. Most others think a system such as Unvarnished is abuse waiting to happen. Yelp’s lawsuit for paid reviews as a tactic for charging businesses to pay for profile control shouts the possibility of foul play.
Yet either way you look at it, behavioral changes will occur as a result of online reputations. It’s already begun, with information posted on networking and media profiles. We’ve seen the legal destruction cyber-bullying accomplishes, and we’ve seen the manipulative effects of making monetary gains by offering someone the ability to control their reputation.
Not just on sites like Unvarnished, but through social media management of one’s personal brand. As a new industry has flourished through online and social media marketing, individuals learn their personal brand (as it appears on Facebook, etc.) is, in fact, their reputation. For years now, a sector of the world’s job force has realized the direct relationship between their personal and professional brands, and how they’re influenced by others in the online realm.
What we must consider now is whether or not systems should be designed to handle this in a manner proposed by Unvarnished.