Saturday, 12 March 2011

Metropolitan elite stage fight back against internet

What is the first thing most of us do when we want to know something about somone? Things have moved on from the days when we'd reach for the latest edition of Who's Who, now we fire up Google, type in a name and see what appears.

With Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and LinkedIn plus the digital content of newspapers and blogs, it is pretty easy to build up a good picture of an individual or corporation. This is their digital reputation footprint and is as important as the first impression given when meeting someone for the first time.

I know we have all done it, I did 20 seconds ago, Google yourself and what comes up? For me first up is this blog, then my Twitter account, followed by a popular article I wrote for Conservative Home  last year, my LinkedIn account, then other articles I've written and my business site. The overall impression is pretty good; the themes that come through are communications, reputation management and campaigning so you get a good sense of who I am and what I do.

Once an individual or business is much higher profile then the wealth of information available about them grows; as does the level of comment and opinion. This is a huge challenge of the internet. While the democratic nature of the internet has been rightly championed, the old adage attributed to Mark Twain that "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes" has never been truer.

With the power of social media, lies and fabrications, as well as honest mistakes and misquotations (and indeed the truth) can be zipped around the world and become fact quicker than ever. It is one of my great bugbears that so many in the public eye have no real idea just how important their reputation is - or indeed how to protect it. So it was with great interest that I was made aware of a relatively new website set up to "set the record straight". Icorrect says of itself "the likes of Wikipedia and Google searches consist entirely of hearsays. ICorrect uniquely provides “words from the horses mouth”."

I have a number of issues with this site, although Wikipedia has had its problems and does rely on its democratic principles to get things right, Google is based on the most complex of algorithms which very accurately moves the most important or popular pieces of information up its rankings. Therefore to say it consists entirely of "hearsays" is actually incorrect.

A further point is that with so much content now produced trying to right wrongs via one website seems terribly naive. Perhaps it is the modern day version of just saying "no comment" which is a fast route to a PR disaster. Unless Icorrect becomes the go-to source for fact checking, used by all journalists and opinion formers, then those who subscribe to this service will never successfully protect their reputation. It is like throwing a pebble into an ocean.

The third critique is the cost. To become a corrector it is necessary to sign up on-line for $1,000 as an individual or $5,000 for corporates. This seems an extraordinary amount of money just to secure the right to write a correction to something written on the internet. This seems a poor investment that will see little or no return.

The list of people who have currently made corrections on the site reads like the reservation book at one of Richard Caring's restaurants and includes Sir David Tang, Bianca Jagger, Anouska Hempel, Cherie Blair, Niall Ferguson, Jonathan Powell, David Linley, Tom Parker Bowles, Stephen Fry, Kevin Spacey, Tracey Emin, Sienna Miller, Michael Caine, Dasha Zhukova and Kate Moss.

All people with reputations built on more than one website, all subjects of hundreds or thousands of online conversations daily. What these people need is a properly thought through reputation management strategy. So next time an article is written about you, Sir David, Kevin or Kate, and you're not happy, give me a call and I'll do more than write a comment on a website that no one reads.

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