Does Reputation Matter?

I was trying to explain South by Southwest to a less-techy friend: “The day after the party hosted by Chris Brogan you just walk down the hall, and there’s Charlene Li just sitting there with her laptop. She’s actually shorter than I expected”. She looked at me blankly, not knowing who I was talking about.

“Charlene Li? She was co-author of one of the most important books about social media.. she used to work at Forrester…”. My blathering was met with a blank stare.

Reputation isn’t actually about a particular individual: it’s about the perceiver, the perceived, AND a particular context. No wonder we’re not yet sure how to measure this stuff…

Photo by Peter Kim

Chris Brogan and Charlene Li at SXSW09
Photo by Peter Kim

Before I saw Charlene in the hallway, she’d taken the stage of the largest room in the conference center, to share her thoughts on “The Future of Social Networks”. Obviously a topic for someone with some significant insights to share. And what was one of the most salient takeaways? That she’s not just a “social technology thought leader”, she’s also a wife and mother. In those areas, however, she doesn’t necessarily consider herself such a leader.

When I tried to describe who I’d seen to a friend, I mentioned things that were relevant to me (but unfortunately not to her, or this example may have gone better). Seeing Charlene Li was significant to me given her position of authority in an arena that interests me.

While Wikipedia declares reputation to be “the opinion (more technically, a social evaluation) of the public toward a person, a group of people, or an organization“, I believe that this opinion is also impacted by context as well as the opinion-holders themselves. I may look to Charlene as a thought leader and reputable source with regards to social technology, but the tables may turn if the context were marathon running!

So if reputation is a combination of a number of factors that may be extremely personal, can we really expect to quantify it? Does reputation matter at all?

2 thoughts on “Does Reputation Matter?

  • As you said, reputation is all about reputation within a context and within that context reputation does matter. If you join a local forum that’s all about say restaurants in the area. And your first post is “Hey everyone, check out this great restaurant that just opened up down the street.” Participants are going to be very leery of your recommendation. What are you? Are you associated with this new restaurant? Do you have an exterior motive? But if you spent a few days watching the unwritten rules of the forum (every social group has unwritten rules), and joining in conversations where you are able to contribute relevantly to the conversation, then when you post about the new restaurant you just found, people are typically more open to what you have to say as you’ve established some sort of reputation in the community. Now if one of the original founders of the board that everyone knows has impeccable taste when choosing places to eat, would recommend the place instead of you, you know people would be even more likely to check it out.

    You see scenarios like this happen time and time again on message boards, forums, chats, blog posts, etc. You’re perceived reputation of the community you’re dealing with comes into play. How many people’s first post to a forum gets slammed by members of that community either accusing them of being stupid, associated with whatever they’re posting about, or there to ’cause trouble? Whereas the same or similar post by as established member of the community with a positive reputation would get an entirely different response.

    Using a reputation system can help communities self-police — giving more privileges to those who impact the community in a positive way, and keeping those with unknown or lower reputations on a shorter leash. So yes, I’d say reputation does matter. Is it relevant in all contexts? No.

    Okay maybe I should have written my own blog post as a response…

  • Everything is relative to the source and the user. I am familiar with Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, as both are influencers in the social media sector where I work and play, but I’ve never read their book. I own their book; a friend gave me a copy, but I have yet to sit down and read it. I don’t think I have to read it, for I know what it’s about.

    By the same token, my mother reads my blog and has a better-than-faint understanding of the things I write about. But if I mentioned “Groundswell” to her, she wouldn’t know either.

    Ari Herzog’s last blog post..Perception Relations: The New Customer Service?

    Follow me on twitter: ariherzog

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