Social media is becoming so deeply integrated in our lives that soon it might be impossible to imagine a single service or utility that doesn’t have some kind of “social” connection — be it through customer reviews, providing feedback, or logging and sharing usage patterns.
Furthermore, social media today has become more akin to a blank canvas, and even its creators have no idea of how people will ultimately end up using it. Take a look at these examples to see what I mean:
Prison Reform: Prisoners who are facing bad treatment in prisons and are afraid to raise their voices openly are reportedly now using Yelp to raise awareness about their situations. This Washington Post article talks about the different issues that have come to light and the benefit of using outlets such as Yelp to raise awareness.
Law Enforcement: After the Boston bombings, six residents of Boston created a new website named EvidenceUpload.org through which everyone who has any pictures or videos that could contribute to the investigation of a crime could share them with the FBI. In addition to allowing people to upload image files, the website also offers the ability to import photos from a number of social networks and online sources all the way from Facebook to Dropbox. So far, over 300 photos have been uploaded to this website.
Education Reform: Recently a video of a Duncanville High student reprimanding his teacher for her teaching methods went viral. Of course, this video was taken without the knowledge of the teacher, and it doesn’t sound like a concerted attempt at reforming anything at Duncanville High. What it does highlight, though, in a big way is the need for schools to have open social channels of communication with their students and staff. A school might not want to take to Facebook or Twitter for discussing internal issues, but a more proactive approach towards engaging its key audiences would go a long way in preventing such retaliatory responses from students (or even teachers in the future!) whenever there is a complaint to be made.
Defeating a Bill: SOPA, PIPA, and now CISPA. Never before have people through social media — and the Internet in general — been so involved or successful in changing the minds of the government on proposed legislation. Something tells me that this isn’t the end of that influence either. As more people begin to see the effectiveness of social media in bringing society together, more and more issues of common interest are going to be raised and debated over these channels.
In fact, the common underlying thread in each of these cases is that people aren’t passive consumers of information anymore. The question is not whether your audience will talk about you online; it most certainly will. But when it does, will it have good things to say about you? That’s where reputation management comes in.