Us and Them: The Double Standard of Online Reputation

While consumers demand transparency from corporations, a new online reputation study conducted by Fabric uncovered a double standard when it comes to managing their personal reputation. So, what accounts for this discrepancy? We dug deep to discover the truth.

Research Objective

To understand how the notion of online reputation has impacted consumer behavior on two axes: how they consume content related to reputation, and how they think about their own reputation.

Target Audience

National US sample

17 states, 27 cities

Ages 18-53

Even Male/Female ratio

Mix of ethnicities

Mix of socio-economic backgrounds

We Learned

Consumers expect transparency from corporations, but their behaviors show that they hold themselves to a different bar of “honesty.”

My expectations: Corporate brands:

  • A complete disclosure of all reviews and opinions
  • Transparent, honest “voice”
  • Open access

My behaviors: “My” brands

  • A post of positive/“liked” comments only
  • A constant censoring of “voice” for reputation management
  • Controlled access

Three emerging consumer “recognitions” have led to this double standard

  • They acknowledge the permanence of their online actions.
  • They increasingly realize their brand reputations can be tracked as carefully as corporate brands.
  • They know they can now take active steps to “manage” their personal brands online.
I find myself censoring a lot of the things that I would normally just say… and I’ll take photos down if they don’t get enough likes.And then on the side of buying things online, I rely on the reputation of a company solely by the reviews. If they have a bad review, it reflects really badly.

~ Mariana

When I think about online reputation on a personal level, I know that I am far more aware of what I put out there because potential employers and clients can see what I’m saying and I prefer their first impression to be positive.When it comes to where I go, it’s rare that I go somewhere without having checked on Twitter to see if they suck.

~ Taylor S.

I don’t want others to meet me a minute in person and then go try to look me up online to try to learn more about me and find all of these crazy, bad, wild stories about me!

~ Laura H.

Current Perspectives Regarding Their Online Reputations Higher level of consciousness about the permanence of their actions online.

  • Consumers admit that they have changed their behaviors over the last 2 to 3 years.
  • Concern about permanence of online reputation sometimes at paranoia intensity.
  • Boomers especially aware and fearful for the “younger” generation.
Yes, I have changed my behavior on the Internet over the past two to three years. I tend to watch what I say and what I post on social media because you don’t want that as a permanent record which people can Google and then attribute to you.For example, you don’t want potential employers finding dirt on you.

~ Don V

have become more aware that people know what I do on the Internet. So I have to make sure that all the things that I put do not hang over my head, so no one can use it against me.

~ Bianca M

I think, being a parent, I have to be aware of what I put up there and that I am not giving the wrong signals to my children, their friends, their friends’ parents, etc. I worry that the teens and 20-somethings have no idea how much this is going to come back to haunt them for years.I think it’s very important that people be aware that once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.

~ Laurie P

Increasingly realize personal online reputation may be tracked as easily as corporate reputations

  • Consumers now realize that the freedom of speech originally enabled by the Internet may not be so “free”
  • As the early social media users mature, they realize the shift in their audience from friends to employers
  • Consumer sense a greater use of “monitoring” tools in use by corporate employers
I try to think twice before I tweet something or post something on Facebook or Instagram…because it not only affects the amount of followers I have, but it also affects my Klout score or my online reputation scores which in turn dictates how much of an authority I have on certain topics on Twitter.

~ Aman B.

I started on Facebook in 2004 when I was still in school and that’s just sort of what it was for at the time. Now, everyone is on and it’s very easy for employees or just my company in general to see what I’m posting online.

~ Amanda W.

Potential employers are now screening social media and doing background checks based on social networking sites. So definitely leaving a positive digital imprint on the Internet is important to me. There are actually tools out there for monitoring people so it’s becoming very easy now.

~ Tyler M.

Expecting complete transparency from corporate brand v.s. actively varnishing their own reputations.

  • Professional/employment concerns are often the rationalization
  • Some frequently Google themselves as a “brand check”
  • Others even go so far as to change their names or “delete themselves” entirely for peace of mind
I’ve noticed that a lot of employers start looking online now to see how you react towards others’ posts and to see if you’re respectful toward others’ opinions. I’ve tried to show how I would work well with others in an organization by showing what I like…posting about places I’ve visited.

~ Nefra I..

Reputation online has changed my behavior because for instance, like on a Facebook forum, I will say more stuff on secret groups than I would on my timeline or my personal page.

~ Shelton Y.

When I was looking for a job, I had to change my last name on Facebook so that I wouldn’t be found. Even though I’m very good about what I post publicly, I just know that there’s a trail everywhere and everyone will always be able to find it no matter what I do… even if I delete it.

~ Melissa P.

Consumers still place a high value on honest corporate reputation content and expect complete transparency

I’ve become a lot more aggressive and diligent in finding different reviews to research…to find why somebody says this or that about a product. I try to be as honest as I can when commenting and I would hope that organizations themselves would do the same.

~ Craig A.

I think it’s very important for organizations to have a strong online reputation. It’s important to have a good reputation on websites like Glassdoor. You can now easily do a Google search for a company name and see the complaints…see what kind of online reputation they have.

~ Jennifer S.

04. But when it comes to their online reputation, consumers, like corporations, recognize the importance of a positive “brand standing” to their overall success, with honesty and transparency a much lower priority.

Online my reputation will definitely change because it’s important to be able to get along with people that I normally wouldn’t have liked or even tried to do business with. It helps to be able to hide behind that online reputation and image.

~ Rob K.

I think that an online reputation is something that you have to take care of. You have to be very conscious when you go online and very careful of what you say and do.

~ Maria J.

Conclusions & Implications

  • A double standard is emerging as consumers actively sanitize their online reputation while expecting corporations to provide complete transparency
  • Oddly, individuals are starting to act like the corporations they historically have mistrusted by scrubbing anything that isn’t positive
  • As consumers become increasingly more serious about their online reputations, they are becoming more savvy in their investigations/ evaluations of corporate reputations as well.
  • Corporations must be mindful of the rising anxiety regarding “employer tracking” etc., as they strive to maintain healthy, positive relationships with their consumers
  • Social media brands must obviously strive to remain relevant, thriving destinations for the increasingly more guarded consumers as consumer sensitivities about privacy and security policies continue to increase
  • Corporate/social media forums should seek ways to provide consumers with both the “freedom” and “control” they desire
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