Thursday, 12 November 2015

How To Resurrect Your Reputation: Five Steps To Success

So you've made a huge fool of yourself and the evidence is on the first page of the search results on your name. You can't show your face anywhere without running into jeering, pointing, and laughing. Now what? I have a few ideas.

I have actually been in such situations myself but they've never got as bad as some of the cases I've seen so it seems I have been very lucky. This doesn't stop me blushing with shame at the memory of those incidents. However, I learned a lot from them and am going to share my insights with you all today. Basically, if you follow these five simple steps you can stop things getting any worse and get your life back on track. This does not mean that all your problems will magically disappear and chances are you'll be dealing with the fallout for years. However, you'll at least have a fighting chance of resurrecting your reputation and moving on to a better tomorrow.

The rules:

1. Stop digging
2. Get out of there
3. Evaluate the situation and make a plan for what to do next
4. Develop your self-awareness
5. Make lemonade — and sell it

Okay, let's take a closer look at the rules.

1. Stop digging

Do you know why people on the internet tend to home in on and become fascinated by people caught up in an internet firestorm? Watch this video.

It's fun to watch Kitty chasing the dot, isn't it? Well people do that too, but instead of batting a bright point of light, they're trying to Make Them Behave and having no more success in getting what they want than Kitty does catching the dot. The greater the disconnect between the person's perception of themselves and their actual behaviour, the greater the delusion and the more popcorn gets popped and consumed.

If you are caught up in an internet firestorm and Everyone Is Being Mean, ask yourself this question: are you chasing the Make Them Behave dot like the cat in the video? Stop doing that and understand the most important thing in the world for you to understand right now at this moment in time:

You can only control yourself.

Got that? There is no point in trying to control other people or enforce your will on them. You can't. You can try. You can spend every penny you possess and make a full-time job of crowdfunding more money to spend on court costs, etc. but you will discover, sooner or later, that you can't control other people. So please stop trying to or the ridicule will continue. The moment you stop digging the hole will stop getting deeper.

2. Get out of there

I've never been able to think straight when I'm upset. It's hard; someone has offended me and is in need of a slap. And I've just GOT to get the last word in. Actually, no. I've just got to put some distance between myself and the situation so I can calm the hell down and go to the next step. It's hard, though, particularly when you've invested in the thing you're arguing over. The greater the investment, the more the emotional involvement, the harder it is to just walk away. Well you'd better or you won't see the end of this. Take a break, leave it alone, and let the dust settle, okay? Now off you go and have a nice cup of tea or something. When you've drunk it, go to the next step.

3. Evaluate the situation and make a plan for what to do next

Now that you've had your cuppa you can see the world a bit more clearly. Get a notepad and pen — or whatever works for you — and make a list of all the things you're angry about, including the statements being made about you, who is saying them and where they can be found. How do these things make you feel? What impact are these statements, etc., having on you?

Now get another pair of eyes on this. What we believe is the end of the world and permanent ignominy might not mean the same thing to other people. You may well find that your emotional involvement has caused you to see the situation as being more impacting than it is and that it is your own responses that are the actual problem. By over-dramatising and over-reacting to the situation you may well have stressed yourself and even become ill because of it. Now that you understand this what are you going to do? If the internet stuff has spilled over into real life, get professional advice. Stalking and harassment are crimes. Be careful, though. If it ends up in court your own conduct may be used as evidence against you. Is it really worth pursuing? Court documents can and do get published online. Anonymous comments can easily be dismissed as the rantings of idiots but a judge's opinion can and will be taken seriously.

4. Develop your self-awareness

One of the funniest things I've ever seen with regard to internet firestorm situations is the hilarious disconnect between what some people seem to think of themselves and how they actually behave. Abusing the DMCA process to get unflattering pictures of you offline is not on the same planet as "badass."

Take another look at the things you say about yourself and the things you actually do. If you see nothing wrong, take a look at the comments being made about your conduct. What are they saying? That you're kicking a hornets' nest over and complaining about being stung? Is your behaviour actually inviting ridicule? Who from? Be willing to say "Mea Culpa." Owning your behaiour and attitude is the part where things begin to turn around. NEVER make threats to go legal unless you have a solid basis to do so — and a real chance of winning. Either do it or don't do it but don't make threats you can't follow through on. Be aware that whatever is brought up in court can and will become a matter of public record. Is that what you want?

This exercise may help to build your self-awareness. Take a piece of paper and draw two lines down the middle. At the top of the first column write "How I see myself." At the top of the second, write: "How I wish to be seen," and at the top of the third, write "Search results on my name."

My results look like this:

I achieved this by making sure that what I want people to think of me matches my online conduct as closely as possible. That's why I'm careful of the online company I keep and make judicious use of the block and mute options on Twitter. It's better to block or mute than try to win an argument that might get out of control.

5. Make lemonade — and sell it

I have advised people to try to bury negative search results about themselves by blogging and chatting online using social media but it's often not that simple. If you've really messed up and can't just walk away from it and start again you're going to have to try to turn the negatives into positives. In Five Ways To Save Face In An Internet Firestorm I advised approaching the situation with:

  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Humanity
  • Decency
  • Reasonability

Sometimes the bad search results won't go away no matter what you do so you might as well accept that thing you're ashamed of and embrace it. Why? We're all human. People aren't going to bash you for making a stupid mistake but for pretending you didn't even though the evidence is everywhere. Imagine a certain finance worker at interview. That incident with his car one drunken night comes up. How do you respond to that? Well, if he's applied the Five Rules For Saving Face as listed above he is ready to go to the next stage:

1. Stop digging. Admit you did a stupid thing but you're moving on from that.
2. Get out of there. There is more to your life than shenanigans that got into the paper. Talk about those things instead.
3. Evaluate the situation and make a plan for what to do next. Is this a job you want to have anyway? Self-righteous, judgmental people are a nightmare to work with. If you want it you need to decide what you can offer them and how to give it to them.
4. Develop your self-awareness. If you know you're prone to lashing out when people say things you don't like, get up and walk away. Keep a record of trigger events so you know what you're reacting to and why. This may also act as a chronicle of how you're doing in terms of self-control. The more self-controlled you become, the more respect you will gain. Bear that in mind at all times.
5. Make lemonade — and sell it. Admit this is you, then explain how you learned your lesson and turned your life around. Talk about how the incident and the fallout have changed your perspective and what you are doing as a result. You could even say that your experience has provided you with insights that the company can benefit from in terms of reputation management and disaster recovery.

If your business is internet-based it's not as easy as that but you can at least carry out the first four of the next stage steps without making things any worse. Moving into a different area would then be the thing to do; the internet does forget, even though the search results remain. You could reference your old experiences and explain how you've learned from them if you wanted to but that would depend on the damage to your reputation and where you want to go from there. One thing you'll have to accept is you can't go back "there" again. It's over, move on.


This post is the result of my personal experiences and lessons learned from other peoples'. I'm not an expert but I do believe that if you do what I'm suggesting here you will be able to move on from whatever internet woes you're experiencing. One thing I know for sure is that however bad your online reputation is, you can recover if you work to create a better one than you have now.

It's up to you, not other people, to decide how to best represent yourself online. Now go and act accordingly.

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