A New Era of Reputation Management – What it Means to the C-Suite

Many of us have learned how to build a reputation for a brand or an organization the old-fashioned way.

  • Ensure our story is powerful and inspiring.
  • Prepare for any issues or crises far in advance.
  • Meet regularly with our key stakeholders to share updates.

You know the drill. It has worked for many years. And the principles of building a reputation in this manner are just as sound as they ever were.

The only problem is technology and media are changing so rapidly, what worked yesterday is now old school.

The rationale for us to shake up the model is clear when we look at how our world is changing.

Let’s outline just a few examples of what is different in 2024 and will continue to change in the years ahead.

  • The number one media platform in the world is Facebook. No major media outlet is remotely close.   
  • The next largest media platform is gaming, where brands and companies struggle to build relevant positioning.
  • Trust is being built at the individual level (e.g., Instagram, X influencers), in message platforms and gaming communities. Trust is not going down overall; it is simply transferring from public and private sector organizations to individuals and new communities.
  • Bad actors view our digital world as a new weapon to disinform, censor, steal and sell illegal goods and services. Society can be disinformed long-term to shape behavior or disrupted short term via a news cycle.  Algorithms can be taught or tweaked to do everything from shadow banning (decrease one’s reach to certain audiences) or outright censor us. Most of it is so subtle we can’t tell it is going on.

It can feel negative quite quickly, yet we have always known that the best defense is a good offense, which, by the way is a quote attributed to President George Washington, not a football coach as many of us think.

The answer, in part, is to go beyond analyzing reputation in the traditional manner and imagine what we can do with the advent of AI to not only protect our constituencies, but also further the goals of society. Sort of a new form of corporate social responsibility.

The headline is you can often achieve both goals with one application and model.

Here are just a few examples.

  • Imagine the government building a search engine that is dedicated to providing verified information on the next pandemic, so we know the information received is real and truthful.  The same model, repurposed, could become a specialized search engine for a rare disease, so that families could track developments worldwide and not miss any new information.
  • Imagine a CEO holding a town hall and their talk being instantly downloaded, translated, and turned into text, audio and video abstracts that match the topic in which you are interested. Now, imagine doing this during a crisis, so we can explain to each employee what we are doing and why, in real time, in their language of choice with just enough information to keep their interest.
  • Imagine building an inflection AI application, which is search-oriented technology that can remember what we have asked of it and build a better customer experience application for a hotel chain. Then, what if that same company built a version that could work as an online counselor for people battling depression who don’t want to call a crisis center or a friend but need help. One helps improve customer service for a hotel chain. The other use helps prevent suicide.
  • Imagine shifting from listening to intelligence and learning how software engineers are describing new concepts in alternative forums, then taking that same knowledge base to track alternative forums where white supremacist groups are trying to recruit military veterans.

Every innovation in the AI world has an opposite use that can be channeled to be used against us or to protect us.

If we team up our best thinking to improve our businesses via AI and, simultaneously, figure out how to repurpose the same innovative models to improve society, we will make it easier to know when information can be trusted in times of crisis, and we will decrease the impact of bad actors.

Reputation management is about to change. Right now, technology is way ahead of us and bad actors, who aren’t bound by any standards of fair play, are having their moment.

We can build a more trusting world, add value to our customers and shareholders and create win-wins once we all dig in and build the future applications that will make mis and disinformation a lessening concern.

By Bob Pearson

This blog is based on a keynote speech delivered by Bob Pearson at Ascendant Digital on April 10, 2024 in New York City.

Photo by Google DeepMind via Pexels