Reputation vs. Character

10 minute read

Reputation vs. Character

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? How does one affect 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 the outward expression of your character or how people see you

  • Character is the foundation of your reputation and the choices you make

  • 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. In other words, it's how people see a person or company based on the public representation, information, trends and belief systems of the time.

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. Often it is a positive evolution of the public such as expecting honesty in advertising or the using of organic goods or positive business practices, which are things you can implement. This not only applies to people, but also to businesses and corporations.

Let's use journalism for an example. There was a time in the 1800s when it was a common practice for newspapers to print outlandish fiction stories and hoaxes as fact. Legendary American author Mark Twain got his start doing just this. Newspapers would sell countless copies based on the practice of printing these tall tales presented as fact and readers ate them up. Publications gained reputations (and circulation) as fabulous storytellers based on these fictional tales. However as time went on and society changed, this type of journalism became unacceptable to the public and eventually fact checking and truth became the yardstick for the news and what readers demanded of the media.

Times change and so does what the public expects. 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. They may only have a kernel of truth (or none whatsoever) or simply be one person's misinterpreted view, but it can become a wildfire and often by the time the real story gets out, it can be too late. The damage is done. 

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. The public that is familiar with the person or brand will often weigh the new information using what they already know and give them the benefit of the doubt or outright not believe accusations. Even if something is true and the person or organization is working to fix it, their supporters will often forgive them because they know the history of their reputation and believe efforts to rectify the situation are genuine.

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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. It's who you are and the choices you make based on what you believe.

Examples of positive characteristics:

  • Empathy
  • Friendliness
  • Honesty
  • Trustworthiness
  • Dependability

Examples of negative characteristics:

  • Selfishness
  • Impatience
  • Greed
  • Unreliability
  • Pessimism

Whereas your reputation is often a fragile depiction of who you are and at the mercy of ever-shifting public opinion, your character can only be changed by you. It is also the foundation for your reputation.

Everyone makes mistakes. Just because you have a lapse in judgment 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. Often how you respond to one of these mistakes says more about your character than the initial mistake.

You can definitely change. However just like good habits, bad characteristics can become harder to alter as they become more ingrained and woven into the choices you make. In order to change this, be aware of who you are and be self reflective. Be active in your choices and make thoughtful and careful decisions.

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. Especially in today's public world where every decision, post and choice is scrutinized and past decisions are often dug up and displayed to the world. And when they are, 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 or poor ethics, and do it in a heavy-handed way. This is often borne out in "astroturfing" campaigns - essentially fake grassroots movements intended to sway public opinion. When these types of approaches come to light it is usually part of a catastrophic tumble as the person or organization is laid bare and their true intentions and motivations are shown to the world. 

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, both in applicants and the work they do once hired.
  • Less risk. People move with crowds. Call it the "broken window theory" of reputation management: if it looks bad, they'll stay away. 
  • 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?

Often the first thing people learn about your brand, personal or professional, is your reputation. It might be from an online search, reviews or even word of mouth and this first impression can be near impossible to change.

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 Yelp is where they'll learn about you. That makes search engines the deciders of reputation because they decide what people see. Make sure you not only work to be authentic in your reputation, but that you monitor how you are being represented online. Remember, even if it's not true, it still affects your reputation.

You might have a sterling character, but if Google or some random person says you have a bad reputation, then that will frame how your character is perceived. 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, in a commercial setting, reputation can be more powerful than character. Yet don't forget, that the fuel behind an authentic good reputation is character. 

 

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

— Benjamin Franklin

 

FAQs

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 also affects how people speak of you and what they tell others in person or online.

What is character?

Character is the distinct moral qualities of an individual and the choices they make. It’s a depiction of your internal characteristics, which means that you are basically in full control of your character.

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.

What is confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is our tendency to find, favor and remember information that already confirms our existing beliefs.

What are the benefits of a positive online reputation?

Higher trust. Increased profits. Better talent. Gentler treatment. Less risk.

What is more important: character or reputation?

While both are very important and intertwined, in a commercial setting, reputation can have a far more reaching effect, positively and negatively.