The first port of call for investors, journalists or potential business partners wanting to learn about successful individuals is not the papers. It isn’t TV. It’s Google.
Throughout human history, advancements in media technology have allowed us to consume information at ever-increasing speeds. The story of mankind up to the modern-day is shaped by how we communicate. But it seems many successful families are still stuck in the dark ages in the way they view the modern media landscape.
If you want to take control of the narrative about you online, you can’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best. You need to take proactive, premeditated measures. Only then can you ensure what is communicated about you online is representative, fair and factual.
The story so far
So why are private clients still so quick to dismiss digital means to take control of their reputation?
The days where a family or individual’s reputation is made or broken in the papers are gone. Those searching for information about successful people will find it online. Their reputation is still affected by articles in the paper, of course, and opinions of them are still swayed by stories on TV. But this is no longer the full picture.
Before we talk about how the media has changed in recent years, it is key to understand how we got here in the first place. We can only understand the practical implications of online communications if we, first, understand how media revolutions disturbed and disrupted reputational management in history.
Mass media in its first instance came in the form of outdoor dramas performed in various ancient cultures. Direct speech was the only way to project a message. This changed with the invention of paper in China in 100 BC, then again with Gutenberg’s printing press in 1453. These revolutions meant that information could now be stored and mass-produced.
It took a century for books to become readily available to the public. It wasn’t until the 1800s that the first high-circulation newspapers emerged, where reputations were made and broken. “Four hostile newspapers are to be more feared than a thousand bayonets”, Napoleon Bonaparte is reputed to have said.
In the 20th century came film, radio and television. The public could now passively consume media instead of actively reading it. The power of the media to influence public opinion skyrocketed.
It reached its zenith with the arrival of the Internet in the 1990s. Private clients fail to recognise that the media is now a dialogue and not, as it was in the past, a monologue.
The importance of thinking digitally
Many successful families are still stuck in a Napoleonic mindset. They fear what the papers say about them too much and think about the image projected of them online too little. Rather than investing capital in being well-represented in traditional media, they need to ensure their digital profile is properly representative as well.
Many successful families have messy online profiles, comprised of out-of-date news coverage, old social media profiles and potentially damaging websites. This represents a reputational risk.
Simply having an up-to-date online profile is not enough. They need to proactively project information about themselves and their positive impact online, through existing family or business websites, as well as various profile websites. This gives them the power to communicate their message directly.
Successful individuals are often hesitant to do this. They worry about exposing themselves if they disclose more personal information online. But in our latest research, we found the public preferred reading about families in their own words. Sixty-seven percent of the public said they would read a family’s website, more than the number that would click through to news coverage.
The importance of online assets to communicate a message cannot be understated. The value gained from a piece of coverage in a national newspaper pales in comparison to a fully representative digital profile. Your digital profile has sticking power. It can be updated when needed and thus has permanent relevance.
Successful families and individuals have websites and digital profiles for their businesses but neglect the very same thing for personal communications. Ignoring the golden opportunity that having a professional digital profile offers you could prove costly.
This may result in missing out on important business partnerships or having inaccurate information online about you. The alternative is an organic profile, which may appear sloppy and disorganised, containing a mix of webpages of varying quality. Or worse – nothing at all.
Private clients need to get out of the mindset that the only way to project their message is to put it in the papers or on TV. The power the Internet has over traditional media is that every user has a voice. Successful families must learn to use theirs.