Do you consider your personal brand?
Do you manage your company’s reputation?
Why is it important to manage your reputation?
Lida Citroen, an expert in the field of reputation management, has a resource to anyone who wants tips to build a reputation that can withstand negative influences and becomes stronger over time. In CONTROL THE NARRATIVE: The Executive’s Guide to Building, Pivoting and Repairing Your Reputation, she instructs us not to leave our reputation to chance and instead encourages all of us to take a proactive stance.
I recently spoke with her about her research.
Why is reputation management so important today?
If you consider that how somebody feels about you directly drives their desire to want to endorse you, refer you, and offer you opportunities, then managing that reputation and perception is critical. Reputation is how you’re known. Your ability to drive that reputation and be strategic and intentional about the way people perceive you is why reputation management becomes so important.
I find so many professionals, artists, executives, athletes, entrepreneurs, and others simply believe that if they do good work and show up as a decent person, then the people they care about will understand the value what they offer. They believe that just doing good work means they will have a reputation that is ideal in their mind. But rarely is it the case. Instead, when we are clear, confident, and strategic about how we want to be known and then we measure and monitor our actions, relationships, and communication against that, then we can manage our reputation in a way that serves us and allows us to serve others.
How has it evolved in the last several years?
Consider how reputation worked before the advent of social media, telephones, and other communication devices: if someone thought highly of someone else and they wanted to offer a referral, they did it in person. Do you need an accountant? I know a great one! Do you like pizza? I know the best place to go! Today with a stroke on a keyboard we can build and destroy reputations quickly. We are known by who knows us, and how they feel about us. And that’s where the power – and the risk – lies.
Controlling the narrative and driving that story is what matters most today.
“Control” is a strong word. Is it possible to control the narrative?
I love the word control. Often, we think of it as a negative, as in someone is “too controlling.” But control means intentionally driving ideal opportunities, and then deciding clearly which opportunities serve us best. Controlling the narrative means you’re in charge of the story that you tell others about what you stand for, how you want to serve, and the impact you want to be remembered for. It also means you are clear about who you want to serve. Being able to control your own narrative means you are clear about the audiences and communities you want to have the greatest impact with. Shouldn’t we all want to be in control of our own story and not leave it up to others to define us?
What are some of the hallmarks of an authentic personal brand?
A strong and sustainable personal brand must be authentic at its roots. Somebody’s motivation must be genuine, their goals must be realistic, and the timeline must be manageable. For example, if somebody wants to be seen as personable and easy to relate to, yet they’re standoffish and shy around others, their motivation might be to be seen as outgoing because they think that’s what others want from them, but it may not be genuine to who they really are. Authentic personal brands must be grounded in reality. Sometimes the hardest conversation I must have with a client is when they say they want something that’s not realistic for them.
Authentic personal brands have almost a magical quality to them. They seem effortless. The person building the brand feels that it should be harder than it is. And those around them find that it is natural and easy to refer them and endorse them. That’s what an authentic personal brand is all about – being strategic and making the opportunities come to you – easily!
If someone lacks a personal brand strategy, what do you notice?
One of the first things I notice when someone doesn’t have a strategy in place for how they want to be known and valued is there isn’t any consistency to how they act or make decisions. Their job history, skill set, and the people they surround themselves with all seem random. I don’t know what they can offer me or how I can help them. And, when I ask about this, the individual is not able to clearly communicate how they all tie together. This is what it means to not have a controlled narrative. In this situation, the individual is likely missing opportunities to be promoted or to get additional resources. They might not be included in important conversations, and they can’t figure out why everything seems to be so hard.
What are some of the best practices for sustaining a brand?
Great question! Sustaining a brand is first about recognizing that brands are fluid, not static. A brand isn’t something you build once and then it endures in the same form over time. Brands evolve and mature and grow just as we do. Sustaining a brand then means having good filters for evaluating opportunities, a good sense of what the end goal looks like (desired brand) and a good system in place to hold yourself personally accountable to making sure you live true to the legacy that you’re building.
One tool that I use with clients is called a personal branding agreement. It’s a contract you set with yourself to stay focused on what’s most meaningful, to avoid temptation to do things that would conflict with your values, and so you can celebrate milestones that reinforce you’re moving in the direction of the legacy that you want.
Repairing someone’s reputation after it has been tarnished is an important part of your work. Would you share one story (I love the many stories in this book!) that illustrates some of these points?
Reputation repair is the hardest work that I do. It’s very sensitive work. Typically, the clients that I see have been emotionally, physically, spiritually, and professionally devastated. They aren’t sure what to do to get out of a challenging situation. We often think somebody ends up in a reputation crisis because they did something wrong – maybe they harassed a coworker, or they posted an obscene joke on social media, or they made an inappropriate comment in front of the CEO – something like that. But I see many examples were someone hasn’t done anything wrong, but they’re in the middle of a fire storm.
One example in the book involves a long-time, well-known children’s author we’ll call Michael. His stories are rich with positive lessons, love and childhood experiences that parents enjoy sharing with their children. Michael’s publisher was preparing for a high-profile publicity tour and media attention was growing.
When he called me, I could hear desperation in his voice, “They’re trying to ruin me!” he almost shouted into the phone. “They’ve taken over my reputation online and are destroying my credibility.” His website had been hacked and replaced with a pornography site. If you searched for “images” on Google under his name, you found graphic sexual images. He was clearly the target of an online attack.
It was definitely not an easy fix. After assessing options, our first steps included pulling Michael’s website offline for a while. We brought in web experts to install new firewalls and deterrents to prevent his current URL from being redirected to malicious sites, acquired numerous new URLs to redirect all entries to a new website for him and began the process of removing images from search results. Even the most seasoned experts I have in my database were baffled by the sophistication of the tagging and location of the images posted under his name on Google. They were almost untraceable, which made them difficult to remove. In this case, we were able to involve Google directly in removing the information. Google prides itself on the purity of its powerful search engine but is also not seeking to have anyone misrepresented.
On the other side of the spectrum, what advice do you have for those just starting a new profession and want to start building their brand? Where do you start?
I love speaking with young people as they start off their careers. Whether they are pursuing careers in art, business, entrepreneurship, or sports, to be at the beginning of building your professional brand is exciting. While the road ahead of them might feel extraordinarily long and daunting, I help them anchor their core values first: What do they want to stand for? What values do they hold dear and are non-negotiable? What beliefs are very personal to them that they would not compromise for anything?
Then, I ask them to think about what they’re passionate about. What people, causes, issues, and work could they talk about easily for days on end? That is where we start building brand. Next, I’ll ask them to think about the kind of people that they want to build relevancy with: Who do they want to find them interesting, memorable, compelling? That becomes their target audience.
When we then start talking about things like creating an elevator pitch, how to show up on social media, how they should present their image and body language, and the relationships that will help them build their reputation (and not hurt their image), we have a foundation to build off.
I remember a few years ago I was hired by a sorority at a large university to speak about reputation risk in social media. I remember the feeling as I looked out at the audience of several hundred sorority members, and they were paying close attention to my guidance about how to build social capital online… and what could land them in a reputation crisis. As a parent who raised two kids myself, I was excited to see that the next generation of professionals and leaders was taking reputation seriously.
Photo Credit: Markus Winkler