Online reputation does matter (no matter what Michael Arrington says)

Does it matter what people say about you online? Or that there are, say, illicit/nude/drunken pictures of you floating around the InterWebs?

Not to TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, who believes “reputation is dead.” His theory: Everyone’s reputation will ultimately become so polluted it will level the playing field. He writes:

“It’s time we all just give up on the small fights and become more accepting of the indiscretions of our fellow humans. Because the skeletons are coming out of the closet and onto the front porch… I firmly believe that we will simply become much more accepting of indiscretions over time. Employers just won’t care that ridiculous drunk college pictures pop up about you when they do a HR background search on you.”

I find it extremely rich that Arrington is so blase about online reputation. Remember, this is a guy who’s been called some extremely nasty names by a lot of people (I should know, I’m one of them), and he clearly doesn’t give a damn. And he’s someone who’s sufficiently wealthy that the odds of him ever having to interview for a job again are rather slim (though I think he’d make a fine greeter at Wal-Mart). So he’s not exactly the best person to ask.

Here’s the deal. Not all of us will have lousy online reputations or commit indiscretions that are unfortunately captured for posterity. So if the choice for a job comes down to two candidates, both of whom are equally qualified but one whose online portfolio includes photos of him snorting cocaine off the breasts of a prostitute, we all know who’s more likely to get the call. (Unless, of course, the job requires familiarity with drugs and working girls – like, say, US Senator or Governor of New York.)

My point: Of course your online reputation matters. That reputation is formed by a number of things, including what you say in your blog(s) or in comments, what you say and do on social networks and media sharing sites, and what other people say about you on sites like Unvarnished (which I’ve covered in numbing detail here and also here).

Jon Clay agrees with me. He’s CEO of Coworkers.com, a site that preceded Unvarnished and has a lot in common with it, but also differs in significant ways. Like Unvarnished, it exists to promote your professional reputation, and people may post anonymous reviews of you. Unlike Unvarnished, you control what others can and can’t see on your profile. So if somebody posts a nasty review of your work performance, you can choose to delete it, keep it but make it private, or show it to the world.

coworkers dot com

Why, I asked Clay, would anyone ever elect to show a negative review to anyone else? Because, he responded, it could be an excellent way to show how you’ve improved in a particular area over time. Last year, you may have gotten negative marks for your productivity, competence, or interpersonal skills; now your reviews are significantly better.

Another thing I like about Coworkers.com is nobody else can add you to its database. It’s up to you to add yourself. That keeps you from suddenly discovering, years down the road, that somebody has been spreading nasty lies about you on the site. (The downside? It tends to limit the number of people who actually participate -- searching the site for common names like "Smith" or "Jones" produces very few hits.)

In other words, it helps you manage your reputation as you see fit, which is how most of us try to operate in the real world. And that’s something we all will need to pay increasingly more attention to – no matter what Michael Arrington tells you.

When not defending his online reputation on Facebook, Twitter, et al, Dan Tynan is steadily destroying it with his geek humor site, eSarcasm.

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