The Coming Age of "Deep" Reputation

For a decade personal "reputation management" has mostly meant online reputation. People have been creating online content with the aim of appearing more visible in search engines like Google, usually with some success. I have written myself about this in posts like Five Simple Steps To Improve Your Online Reputation. But now changes in search technology mean that in a few years the text search as we know it, basically unchanged since the 1990s, will be replaced by alternatives that are less easy to manage, bringing n a new age of "deep" or "fundamental" reputation management.

You see this trend already when you search for famous people, companies and so on. Google puts an answer box on the right, next to the search results. Their aim is to give you the answer to your question, not just a list of possible sources. In part this shift is driven by technology -- it couldn't be done in 1998 when Google started -- and partly by the shift to mobile devices. With a smartphone, smartglasses or smartwatch you don't have the screen space for traditional Google result pages.

At the same time Google's secret search algorithm seems to be favoring more and more independent authority sites like Wikipedia -- already the number one for many topics -- newspapers and other independent organizations. Newer devices also embed technology like apple's Siri which is effectively a gatekeeper, choosing which responses to give you. Again these tools rely increasingly on sources that are based on recognized authority sources.

Traditional online reputation management relies mainly on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and websites where you create the content yourself. When independent authority sources become more important what will count more are the fundamentals -- not the number of profiles you created yourself, but the times you are mentioned in media, articles you have published, conferences you have spoken at, books you have written, patents in your name and so on.  All of this takes more effort and more time than creating and maintaining social profiles, so to be ready for this shift you should really be working on a long-term plan today.

What this means in practice is that instead of spending a few hours building sites and populating social profiles people will need to return to more traditional PR methods, either directly or with professional help. Once again your reputation will not be defined so much by your activity managing web properties you control yourself, but by media and other independent authorities. In this scenario what will be more useful is to have strong PR and influencing skills.

There will always be individuals and companies who try to game the system, and it is inevitable that they will approach this business, but emerging technology is going to make this increasingly difficult and expensive. The days of picking the low hanging fruit are already numbered.

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Related Posts on Reputation Management

Online Reputation: How to Deal With Five Difficult Cases
Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation
Why Having Accounts on Photo Sharing Sites is Good for Your Image


Natalia said…
That means that it is irrelevant whether you feed your blog often or not?
Thank you :-)
Andrew Hennigan said…
No. It might not affect search results as much as before but blogging can be an important part of thought leadership and lead to more coverage in traditional media. I have been contacted by journalists thanks to my blog posts about topics in the news.
James said…
This is a very interesting take on online reputation management, Andrew! So, you're saying social platforms won't have as much play on your brand's image in search results in the near future?

Currently, I still see those social platforms to be highly ranked in the SERPs, and they don't seem to be going anywhere soon either. Could you elaborate on this a little more?
Andrew Hennigan said…
I was thinking more about personal reputation management, rather than brands. What I mean is that the search page as we know it will get less relevant as people rely more on small screens and vocal interfaces. Google will try to give to a single answer to your question rather than just a list. The portfolio of sources for this answer could also include sites like LinkedIn, where to boost credibility they might start verifying profiles. But what is not going to work forever is creating many social accounts to fill the Google first page, just because there will not be a google first page.
James said…
Oh, okay. That makes sense. Yeah, I can see Google going down that road in the near future, too. Thanks for clarifying that!

I wonder if that will have an effect on brands, too? If Google's aim is to provide one answer, who will win the result when so many people compete for the same sense of authorship? Any thoughts on that?
Andrew Hennigan said…
I wrote first about personal reputation because there is an entire cottage industry built around online reputation management that is about to be disrupted.

But you are right that this will affect brands, too, though brands tend to rely on more solid techniques than just creating profiles. They can also create large-scale interactions, gain media coverage and other things that are beyond individuals except at the Lady Gaga level.

I will come back to this in a new post since I am working on a new lecture for a university course in December that addresses this topic.

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