Are You Building Brand Instead of Reputation?


brand vs reputation

I woke up a little cranky today. My alarm went off (which is actually my Blackberry, thank you) and I immediately checked Twitter to see what everyone was talking about. And again, someone had said something stupid and the mob was lining up to throw things, cause a ruckus and show how smart they were for knowing better. I’m not going to lie, some mornings the drama and personal brands of the industry affect me more than others. Today was one of those mornings.

I love Twitter. And I love taking stands and drawing lines. But I also see the ridiculousness of it all. The truth is that what happens on Twitter doesn’t matter unless you’re finding ways to bring it off and back to your own site or business. The brand you create online means nothing without the reputation that you grow off it.

Social media has, to some degree, ruined a lot of things. Because it’s given people “fame” for what they say they do instead of what they actually do. It encourages people to get by doing less. And somewhere along the way it’s allowed people to think that Brand and Reputation are one and the same. And while they maybe should be, they’re not. The two are built very differently.

Building your brand: You build your brand by saying all the right things. You build it with blog posts (holla) and Twitter updates (double holla!) and by gaining social proof that you’re someone who knows what the hell you’re talking about. It’s the marketing rep who reaches out to you when your laptop explodes, when your sandwich comes with funny mayo or when they’ve dropped the ball in some other way. It’s public relations in the social media age. Your brand is how people feel when they talk about you.

Building your reputation: You build reputation by silently doing, proving and acting on everything you said you were going to do while building your brand. If your brand is the theory that you know what the hell you’re talking about, your reputation is the proof that you do.

We all know that personal brands are super hot right now. We’ve all heard about how we need one, the best way to build it and who’s doing it “right” and who’s doing it “wrong”. But the majority of these brands are going away. You know they are. They’re going away because most are built on bullshit smoke and mirrors. Scripts build followers and fame wars build RSS subscribers. It’s manufactured and artificial and strictly for the cameras. And you can only fool people for so long. Then they come with the pitchforks, hungry for blood.

At some point, you need to actually DO something and provide people with something of value. I think it’s a concept a lot of the new gen and Internet famous have forgotten.

As is often the case, Comcast is again a good example.

Comcast has used social media to build itself a brand based on redemption and customer service. You tweet that you haven’t had cable for three weeks and you’re going to get an immediate response asking for more information. Comcast has mastered social media protocol.

  1. Listen for complaints
  2. Respond with sympathy
  3. Promise to do better

They’ve built an online brand based on the idea that they’re listening and helpful. However, the Comcast reputation is still that the service sucks. Because it does and because while the car’s on the road, no one’s at the wheel. The brand you create doesn’t matter when your reputation is still that your customers hate you.

You should be building your brand but you should be focused on building one that will sustain. Because when everyone else who built their brands on chest pumping falls away, you want to be the brand left standing. You still need to have something to offer people when the cameras go away.   There’s a difference between being recognized and being reputable. It’s the difference between who’s take the next two weeks off and who will be pushing through. In 2010, no one is going to be concerned with the brand you think you created. Your brand may open the door but you’re being judged on your reputation.

The missing link between brand and reputation has always been your ability to do exactly what you say you’re going to do. The trick is to get your Brand and Reputation to align. That’s the zappos or the sweet spot where company culture and results meet. Don’t forget that in your pursuit for attention. I hope that 2009 has put Outspoken Media on a path to build both.  I think we’re off to a pretty good start.

Are you building a brand that’s based on reputation and that will stand the test of time? Or are you just making your company Twitter famous? Do you know?

Your Comments

  • David Spinks

    On the definition of reputation vs brand, I’m sure there are a lot of different perspectives and the people that don’t want to address the actual issue brought up on this post will probably focus on that, rather than the actual point.

    The point is, actually doing. That’s why I’ve written about my problem with personal branding. That’s why many more are writing about it today. People are realizing that the focus of “personal branding”, as Dan Schawbel leads the way, is no longer doing, but talking. Talking is fine, only when it’s supported by doing.

    There are literally people online who I see going to every conference, and are considered “big shots”, who literally do nothing.

    It’s unrealistic. It’s unsustainable.

    If you’re going to make a name for yourself in the long run, you better not be relying on web notoriety. Twitter followers won’t mean squat in a few years.

    In a sea of people being recognized for being recognized… DO, and be recognized for real.

    David Spinks
    Community Manager,

    • Lisa Barone

      Not much more I can say other than, “amen, David”.

      The personal branding craze has made a lot of people Paris Hilton famous. But that only last so long. At some point you’re going to have to make good on your claims and your promises and if you have nothing to back that up other than good Twittering….well, then you’re in for a rude awakening when you’re phased out. Brands of unicorns and puppies are great. I want proof of what you’ve done.

    • Ari Herzog

      Twitter followers mean squat today, in the age of lists and RSS feeds of users. I don’t have to “follow you” to read you or even reply/retweet you. Ditto with companies; I don’t need to buy a dongle to see the dongle in action.

  • cory huff

    but it’s so easy to gain a bunch of followers and start talking like a big shot!

    In all seriousness, it can be really frustrating to see so many people having (apparently) the time of their lives building a profitable business when you know that they aren’t providing any real value, and in fact they are going to hurt the industry because they are going to leave so many people with a bad taste in their mouth.

  • Caitlin

    I like that your post points to a rampant problem for companies using social media – you can’t just sit on Twitter all day looking smart you have to do something with your online channels.
    At the end of the day you have to back up your clever tweets and posts with the proof that you’re building something true about your brand.
    Good post!

  • Dan Schawbel

    A great discussion and I do agree that if you’re all talk and no action, that you won’t be successful. You may get revenue from blogging and speaking, but the consulting part of your business won’t be successful, which will then cause everything else to fall apart as well.

    I believe reputation and a personal band differ slightly. A reputation is what you’ve done in the past and a personal brand is a promise for the future.

  • Data Entry Services

    Thanks Lisa. Given me something to think about even in my small business way.

  • Nick Gowdy

    “In 2010, no one is going to be concerned with the brand you think you created. Your brand may open the door but you’re being judged on your reputation.”

    I have to disagree when it comes to larger brands like Comcast. A small personal brand might not have the resources to patch reputation holes with brand caulk, but a large enough online brand has the power to gag just about any bad reputation. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think that’s going to change in 2010. The sustainability of this power comes down to how (un)critical of an audience you have, and how good you are at mitigating the reputation hit caused by your more vocal detractors. If these detractors become more sophisticated, more united in 2010, so to will the counter-measures.

    Getting back to Comcast — they’ve got it down to a science. They built their brand offline for decades with a combination of misdirection and an ultimate eye for the bottom-line. They’re just carrying those same practices over into a Carebear Twitter account and a few other goodies to smokescreen their bad online rep with feigned or ineffectual interest. If they can keep their audience appeased or apathetic, they can keep raking in revenue hand-over-fist without actually fixing any expensive problems. To them, that’s a victory. Calling them out on this, unfortunately, only really exposes them to people who either already know or simply don’t care enough to do anything other than maybe mumble under their breath or shake their fist in the air… moments before they sign up for the service anyway.

    This month alone, Comcast has upped their dividends 40% while at the same time picking up 51% of NBC — so either they’re batshit insane, or what they’re doing (unfortunately) seems to be working for them in the bigger picture. Some companies can better afford to be a shade of evil.

  • Andrea Costantine

    I’m always questioning whether someone’s updates are a bunch of social media fluff or the real truth. This is a great post and hope that people understand the difference. Since I always teach about alignment – talking a bunch of fluff that isn’t true, won’t bring you more customers, it’ll just keep you out of alignment and falling down the rabbit hole!

  • Louis Durocher

    First comment here. Excellent article. I like the subtle/not-so-subtle distinction between brand and reputation.

    At the individual level, it’s also true that suddenly a lot of people seem to build strong online brands, doing nothing… except being online building their brand.

    The brand is the seed but the reputation is the tree.

  • george

    ShoeMoney is probably the best example of someone who understands both reputation and brand and unlike many experts he has built multimillionaire dollar companies

  • Elliot Travers

    The comcastcares twitter account is a great example, you’re right. Essentially it is important to have both these days. A successful brand along with a good reputation. They go hand in hand.