Controlling digital reputation is vital

When it comes to building a strong corporate, product, or personal brand, the Internet has become the Holy Grail for connecting with customers, friends, and coworkers. In this digital age, you must decide which face you want to show to the world. Every action you take can be heard and seen, and damage your brand in an instant. You can treat the Internet as a personal prison or a world of everlasting opportunities.

When it comes to building a strong corporate, product, or personal brand, the Internet has become the Holy Grail for connecting with customers, friends, and coworkers. In this digital age, you must decide which face you want to show to the world. Every action you take can be heard and seen, and damage your brand in an instant. You can treat the Internet as a personal prison or a world of everlasting opportunities.

Companies, as well as people, have actually lost control of their respective brands, as blogs, podcasts, and social networks gave permission for the masses to start the conversations, whether positive or negative. A quarter of Internet users visit social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn (TNS, June '08) and there will be 145 million people reading blogs by 2012 (eMarketer, May '08).

The new state of the Web calls for lightening fast messages, which were first popularized by the Twitter microblogging service. Despite the growth in messaging, you can keep track of your reputation on Twitter with TweetScan.com, and you can set up Technorati and Google RSS feeds for you or your company's name. This labor-intensive method can be scaled with online reputation management providers.

To make matters worse - and to raise your anxiety - livecasting and life streaming video Web sites are starting to become mainstream. Yes, even Hollywood producers like Steven Spielberg have broadcasted online. What started out as Justin.tv, which entitles anyone to broadcast their life, has given rise to other services, such as UStream, Seesmic, Qik, Utterz, and Kyte.

Now from your mobile phone, you can take a picture or record a video and have it streamed to a branded Web page seamlessly. These live feeds don't enable you to freely edit or copy and paste. Any action you take now can appear live on the Internet or be recorded for distribution. AT&T now offers JuiceCaster, which allows you to accomplish this same feature for a small fee.

With the power of embedded video, that single clip can be moved and mashed up and appear on 1,000 different sites in a day. By 2012, there will be 975 million mobile users (Computerworld, May '08) and 30% of European social network users access them through a phone (Telecom Paper, June '08).

You cannot escape these conversations. You have to see them as an opportunity to face the truth, be honest, and monitor your reputation constantly. The days of corporate marketing spin are coming to a close. Your name, picture, and logo are all you have now.

Stop what you're doing right this moment. Conduct a search on your name. What do you find? Is what you discover factual or inaccurate? Develop a strategy to monitor your reputation, communicate with the people who write about you, and always be true to your personal or corporate values.

Dan Schawbel is a social media specialist at EMC Corporation. He blogs at personalbrandingblog.com.

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