Reputation is a tricky thing.  Ben Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it”.  It’s at once your most valuable possession, but one of the most fragile as well.

Online, we all build a digital footprint that now encompasses more and more of what was once private.  I regularly see tweets and Facebook updates in my Google alerts- everything is being indexed and it makes you accountable for everything you say or do, on or off the record.  This means your reputation includes not only your business persona, but your personal life, your hobbies, everything.  And if you choose to put it online, you will be accountable for it.

Now, before I have a meeting or call with someone I don’t know, I spend a few minutes checking them out online- I read their blog, look for pictures online, and maybe even text a mutual friend to see what I might expect.  I assume others do the same about me.  I do this, no to act like a private investigator, but because it lets me get to know someone a bit before we meet.  It’s like doing homework- it tells me something about what to expect, and usually, people are flattered I’ve made an effort beforehand.  It could turn out I have been “judging a book by its cover”but based on the information available online, you get a pretty good sampling of the text between the covers as well.

All this information means there’s no hiding anymore- it’s very hard to be anonymous.  I have to teach my kids about their digital footprint early, and help them understand how the little stuff may be cute, but may come back to haunt them later on.

A few months ago, I spoke to a local group about social media and the job search.  Many people were really worried about what was online, and that they had no privacy.  But the information can cut both ways- someone might not like your political affiliation, but may decide because you share a hobby, you’re okay after all.  The information is all just additional datapoints in figuring out who you are- but you have to decide who that is, and what you make available to the outside world.

This means I save rant-like blog posts for a day before I post them, or ask friends to read it beforehand- letting time take its course and let things cool off.  In the light of day, sometimes you realize that the anger or annoyance was perhaps a little over the top, and maybe that was something you should save for a journal, not a blog.   While we all want to get information out there as soon as possible, patience is also a virtue for a reason.

All of this is to say that if you want to be known as someone who is  (insert qualities you most admire or aspire to here), you need to cultivate that reputation by being that person in all aspects of your life.  Yeah, we all have our dark and moody side, and that’s part of the whole package, but remember, you’re accountable for the good and the bad- the whole thing, not just the pretty parts.