We need to get used to the fact that these days there is no fixed mark on reputation. Along with the Buzzfeed generation comes the hint that the old media traditions fail, with short form memes feeding the wires, and less emphasis on the elongated and researched story. Brands and individuals must become comfortable with their imperfections and vulnerabilities because we have a crowd and a ‘can know anything’ psyche, where reputations are savaged in an instant and often with no grounding in reality. The emotion of the crowd gathers momentum and careers along gathering falsehoods before the accused has even woken up to the storm.
Last week, as a prime example, Cliff Richard had his reputation blasted across the globe shockingly aided by both the police and the BBC, without giving him any chance to refute the action – a basic human right after all. The police are now briefing the media as a means to seed an idea although in this instance of course, the police underestimated what Cliff means to a section of the British imagination and plenty struck out in his staunch defense and trampling of his basic rights. But trial by media and particularly Twitter remains a regular meme.
In the face of it all as a business or individual, the best thing to do is remain resolute. But you can only do that if your roots are seeded in authenticity, and many reputation debacles illustrate that the basic problem has its origins in strategy decisions gone wrong. In the Now Economy transparency has become a real thing (as opposed to a buzz word people are fond of adding to mission statements).
So a critical friend is vital at times of crisis. One who can identify vulnerabilities and set boundaries for the story and the responses. It is certainly possible to come back from a point of critical reputation exposure, driving what appears to be a hopeless case into a new space for growth. Kate Moss did. Jonathan Ross has. With clever tactics it is a case of re-focusing what people thought (or believed they thought anyway!)
We all have the tools for comment so perhaps it’s time for us all to make a stand. Not by attacking what’s there. But by making it irrelevant. Refusing to buy the stuff it sells and the fear it promotes because arguably the production and consumption of news isn’t in long credible reportage. The ups and downs of the media swirl is owned by those who can synthesise popular ideas and rise above the tipping point.