Character vs. reputation - which is more important?

3 minute read

Character vs. reputation - which is more important?

What is more important? Who you are or who people think you are?

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.

“Sincerity - if you can fake that, you've got it made.”

― George Burns

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 judgement 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.

So what is more important?

The first thing people often learn about your brand, personal or professional, is your reputation.

Reputation is driven partly by character and partly by the whims of public opinion. For those who don't already know your brand, Google or Bing is where they'll learn about you. That makes search engines the deciders of reputation because they decide what people see.

You might have a sterling character, but if Google or some random person says you have a bad reputation, then that will frame how they perceive character. It's called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is our tendency to find, favor, and remember information that already confirms our existing beliefs. 

So, while both are important, reputation can be more powerful than character in a commercial setting.