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New Year's Resolutions: Digital Integrity vs. Digital Reputation

  |  January 6, 2012   |  Comments

Think of reputation as your digital shadow - the best way to influence your shadow is through your integrity, which is reflected in your digital footprint.

"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's words are appropriate this time of year when we try to reset our lives and formulate New Year's Resolutions. Some are surface-level resolutions like cutting back on soda or exercising more. Others are deeper in terms of donating more time to charitable work or spending more time with family. Whether our resolutions are major or minor, our digital world will influence our success or failure. Let's focus our attention on the deeper-level changes - those to our reputation or integrity. Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy does a great job of describing the difference between integrity and reputation in his book "Uncommon":

"Integrity is what you do when no one is watching; it's doing the right thing all the time, even when it may work to your disadvantage. Integrity is keeping your word. Integrity is that internal compass and rudder that directs you to where you know you should go when everything around you is pulling you in a different direction. Some people think reputation is the same thing as integrity, but they are different. Your reputation is the public perception of your integrity. Because it's other people's opinions of you, it may or may not be accurate. Others determine your reputation, but only you determine your integrity."

With our hyper-connected world, the amount of difference between your integrity and reputation becomes smaller and smaller. In the digital decades ahead, your integrity and reputation will be one and the same. Why is this the case? Let's take a quick look at Dungy's words: "Integrity is what you do when no one is watching." A key premise of my new book "Digital Leader" is that someone is in fact watching you all the time. These are the realities of our fully transparent world. People start to think twice about committing adultery when they see the ramifications with public figures like Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner, or Eliot Spitzer. Phones with high-definition video cameras that port to social media sites instantly are becoming more prevalent, not less.

As the lines between integrity and reputation blur, your reputation becomes more accurate. Think of reputation as your digital shadow (what others are saying and posting about you). The best way to influence these shadows is through your integrity, which is reflected in your digital footprint. The more you can simplify what you stand for in life, the easier it is not only on you, but on others that are contributing to your online reputation by developing your digital shadow. For example, someone posting photos of their kids at the church bake sale that later accidentally checked in via a geo-location tool during a KKK rally is sending mixed signals that will be discovered and revealed.

The easiest way to avoid digital blunders is to believe in your mission in life and stand by that mission. This concept of integrity and reputation isn't new; it's just even more important today as a result of more information being publicly posted. Most people's and companies' reputations will be more accurate than in any time in history. Being fully transparent and having integrity is the starting point to managing your online reputation, digital legacy, and leadership role.

"Integrity does not come in degrees - low, medium, or high. You either have integrity or you do not." - Tony Dungy

You can learn more about this and other factors that contribute to success and influence in my latest book "Digital Leader."


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Erik Qualman

Called a Digital Dale Carnegie, Erik Qualman is the author of best sellers Socialnomics (2009) and Digital Leader (2011). Socialnomics made the #1 Best Sellers List in seven countries and was a finalist for "Book of the Year." Fast Company Magazine lists Qualman as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He is a frequently requested international speaker and has visited 42 countries. He produced the world's most viewed social media video series and it has been used by NASA to the National Guard.

He has been fortunate to share the stage with Julie Andrews, Al Gore, Tony Hawk, Sarah Palin, Jose Socrates (Prime Minister of Portugal), Alan Mulally, and many others. For the past 17 years Qualman has helped grow the digital capabilities of many companies including Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo, and AT&T. He is also an MBA Professor at the Hult International Business School. Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas. He was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and recently gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. He lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.

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