The reputation management process usually starts with taking an honest look inward. Since your reputation is a measurement of how you are portrayed online, it is also a reflection of who you are as a person or brand. Every strong reputation starts with an even stronger character.

But how closely are your character and reputation really connected? Is one more important than the other? Let’s look at what character and reputation are individually, and how they can work together to bring you success.

  • Your character and your reputation should align with one another
  • Reputation is an outward expression of your character
  • Character is the foundation of your reputation
  • Both are necessary to maintain a positive online reputation

What is reputation?

Reputation is the subjective qualitative belief a person has regarding a brand, person, company, product, or service. It impacts nearly every aspect of your life, such as whether someone will want to make a connection with you, buy something from your business, or refer you to friends. It’s incredibly important, yet fragile.

Since your reputation is a measurement of public opinion, it can change quickly for better or for worse. That is why reputation management can require so much work over long periods of time. People tend to react to negative news and bad publicity. If you find yourself on the receiving end of that, it can be difficult to recover.

Even the best brands and most honest people are susceptible to reputation scandals. All it takes is one angry person with a Twitter account to start publishing negative things online. People and brands that already have a positive online reputation and reputation management plan in place are better equipped to handle these types of situations.

What is character?

Character is the distinct moral qualities of an individual. It’s a depiction of your internal characteristics, which means that you are basically in full control of your character. Whereas your reputation is often a fragile depiction of who you are that is at the mercy of ever-shifting public opinion, your character can only be changed by you. It is also the foundation for your reputation.

Everybody makes mistakes. Just because you have a lapse in judgment or make a poor decision or two doesn’t mean that you don’t have good character. Granted, some mistakes are less reversible than others, but if your heart is in the right place, then your character can remain strong.

How does character affect reputation?

While it is possible to build a good reputation on top of bad character, there is much that can go wrong in this situation. Even if you depict yourself as a stand-up citizen, your true character, or that of your business, will likely surface sooner or later. And when it does, you might be in an even worse position.

Some businesses or political parties will try to build a good reputation on top of questionable character, and do it in a heavy-handed way. This is often borne out in “astroturfing” campaigns – essentially a fake grassroots movement intended to sway public opinion.

The best way to facilitate lasting change in your online reputation is to do good. Start by working on your own character because the stronger your character is, the easier your reputation work will be. Once your character and reputation are aligned with one another, you can start to reap all the benefits of a positive online reputation.

Benefits of a positive online reputation include:

  • Higher trust. People trust a brand or person with a good reputation more.
  • Increased profits. Companies with high star-ratings and reviews get more business.
  • Better talent. Brands with a positive reputation earn better employees.
  • Less risk. People move with crowds. Call it the “broken window theory” of reputation management.
  • Gentler treatment. Companies that share the same core values as their clientele are likely to overcome a reputation scandal easier than one without. Think Apple Computer vs. Monsanto.

Final thoughts

We often refer to reputation as the key to success. And it is, but what’s the key to reputation? That would be character. Your reputation is, and can only ever be, as good as your character. A strong reputation with a weak character is just a façade that will most likely eventually fade.