Saturday, June 4, 2011

Managing Your Online Reputation in the Era of Social Media

The ability of internet search engines to trawl the world wide web for information, and to present it collated and indexed, has effectively provided netizens with perfect information on almost anything. From major incidences to a person's past indiscretions, nothing is likely to remain hidden forever and once the spot-light is turned-on, everything related (both past and present) will be revealed and scrutinised.

In my earlier posting titled "not all websites are created equal", I argued that Public Relations Professionals needed to closely monitor the postings of influential websites. This was important as these websites have the power to sway public opinion and Wikipedia is one such website. In my opinion, Wikipedia's influence is based on three factors: (a) its high-ranking in search engines; (b) its massive "knowledge based" covering practically any topic under the sun; and (c) the perception that it is a credible source of information.

For example, on 24 Feb 2011, The Straits Times commenced its coverage of the High Court case between Dr Susan Lim and the Singapore Medical Council. The case revolves around Dr Lim's attempt to block the SMC from appointing a second disciplinary committee to investigate allegations by Singapore's Ministry of Health that she had abused the trust placed in her by the patient to overcharge them. In Dr Lim's case, a search of "Dr Susan Lim" on google returns a Wikipedia link on her within the top 10. Clicking on the link then brings us to a biography of Dr Lim. Interestingly, the biography ends with a paragraph stating that she was accused in Feb 2011 of overcharging her patient and that she had offered to "waive the entire bill if the patient's family would withdraw their complaint but the family did not agree to do."

From what I have read in the main stream media, this last statement has not been proven. Hence, to the casual reader, this statement in a "credible" source like Wikipedia would give the perception that it was true and that Dr Lim had indeed been guilty of overcharging.

My point to PR Professionals is this. The organisations and the CEOs you work for are likely to have Wikipedia pages just like Dr Lim's. Hence, it is essential during any crisis to ensure that the "facts" as reported on influential websites like Wikipedia is accurate and if it is not, to refute it.

In fact, understanding the influence, and managing the use of social media is no longer the domain of Public Relations Professional. Every individual with a Facebook, Twitter or even eBay account must be aware that anything posted online is archived indefinitely and, can be collated to develop a profile of you.

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