Reputation Design is Bullshit

Back in February of this year, I coined a bullshit term: Reputation Design.

You’re free to use it as much as you’d like. I’m going to be using it quite a bit over the next year or so to prove a point. Here’s how I came up with the term.

Earlier this year I was writing marketing collateral for a startup in Chicago. They offered SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and DRM (Digital Reputation Management) services.

I’m going to assume, if you’re reading this, you know what SEO is. Basically, it’s making sure your stuff appears in the first two search results on Google for whatever term you’re building your business or brand around. Although, and I agree with this, I like populating the entire first page for Google and not just the first two positions, even though the majority of the traffic goes to the first position under the advertisements. For me, it’s a good branding exercise. If you’re going to search for “B.J. Mendelson”, I want to be the only B.J. Mendelson on that page. I don’t want my competition to get anywhere close to me.

DRM is a bit trickier to explain. It’s a more extreme form of SEO where you try to kill or bury anything even remotely negative that might come up concerning you or your brand. For example, I once worked on a campaign involving a video game company executive who was sensitive about their image, and it was my job to bury any negative comments or search results there were about that person. DRM is not just search engine optimization though, it includes a lot of social media work, and if you’re smart (or if the people you’re paying to do it are good at what they do), they’ll also include a lot of public relations and content marketing within the overall DRM campaign.

The thing is, there’s no good way to explain a service that includes ALL of that. (All of that being DRM, SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Public Relations, all the things you’d need to do in order to show people how cool you are and own those search results, while also suppressing any bad shit you might have done in the past that you don’t want people to see.) So instead of writing DRM + SEO over and over again on the company’s collateral, I decided to just call that work “Reputation Design.”

It’s a bullshit term. It’s just a new way to describe an old thing, which is something marketers are good at doing. But I realized that it’s one thing to call out marketers for doing stuff like this, and it’s another to prove the point by doing it yourself. So if you see me identified in the years to come as a “Reputation Design” expert — and you see guest posts appearing by me or others about the benefits of “Reputation Design” — I want you to know this is an active, deliberate campaign to spread the term. I want to demonstrate how easy it is to rebrand old crap in a new way and show how people cash in on doing things like that.

If you want to help the cause, feel free to use the term as much as you’d like. I just wanted to put something here to explain what the term meant and why I’m going to be using it. I thought it’d be kind of hilarious to do a presentation and Powerpoint on how I spread this bullshit term around the world when all is said and done, so if things go well, you can expect me to do that in the not too distant future.