Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you probably heard about the Tiger Woods scandal. Up until this point, Tiger Woods’ reputation has been relatively impeccable. Why? In part, it’s because many of us assumed that because he was an upstanding athlete, he must be an upstanding husband and father, too. That perception probably had something to do with the amazing PR team supporting Tiger.
In many ways, personal branding is like pubic relations. Both are about the structure of information we put forth to manage others’ perceptions of us. Many think personal branding is about spinning the truth to make yourself appear bigger or better than you are; but, this isn’t what strong personal branding is about at all. Rather, it is about making sure two key elements are congruent with one another: who you really are and how others perceive who you really are. When dissonance exists between these two pieces, you’ve got a branding problem.
In the case of Tiger Woods, the scandal created dissonance. People perceived Tiger as a talented athlete and a generally upstanding guy. Now, many feel like they got the wool pulled over their eyes. To some degree, Tiger’s “brand” now feels like a lie.
Whether his private life should be in the public at all is a different post entirely. But, this post is about learning from Tiger’s mistakes and using this unfortunate scandal to inform our thinking about what it means to manage our own reputations.
Here are the three key mistakes Tiger made when it came to managing his own reputation, and what we can learn from them:
1.) He stayed quiet.
For the first day or so, Tiger didn’t say anything. As a result, rumors began stirring in the media, escalating to such a point that Tiger had to address them.
When you don’t take ownership of the stream of information coming out about you, you are leaving your reputation in the hands of everyone else. Staying quiet doesn’t really work, particularly when you’ve made a mistake and people are highly interested in figuring out the truth.
Great example: If you forgot to finish a paper for class when it was due, do you really think the professor won’t notice? Of course he or she will. And, if you don’t go up to the professor immediately to address the fact that you missed a deadline, you’ll only be making the situation worse. On top of being late, your professor may also come to view you as irresponsible, thoughtless, and sneaky.
Always address the issues. Don’t wait to talk about important situations or mistakes. If you do, they will often turn into bigger problems than they already are.
2.) …And then he told an incongruent story.
When Tiger finally did make a statement, it didn’t match up with the facts that everyone else had at that point. He made it seem like he was just driving out for a gallon of milk and accidentally ran into a tree and fire hydrant that just appeared out of no where. But when the accident happened, it was 2 a.m., Tiger wasn’t fully clothed, he did not have shoes on, the rear window was smashed, and his wife had a golf club on her.
I wasn’t there- and if you are reading this article, you probably weren’t there either. So, the actual reason for the crash is just speculation. But, given the few facts that the public does know, they don’t match up with Tiger’s innocent single car crash story.
Most people aren’t dumb. When you lie or stretch the truth, the only person you’ll really be fooling is yourself. We are all human, and therefore, we all make mistakes. But, when you make one, own up to it. If you neglect to finish your paper on time, don’t go up to your professor and say your dog ate it or there was a family emergency. How many times do you think your professor has gotten those excuses? He or she will see right through them. Be honest, and tell the professor you forgot to finish the paper or ran out of time because you planned your schedule poorly. Then, sincerely apologize. When you take responsibility and own up to your mistakes, you may have to face the consequences- like a grade reduction- but at least you’ll keep part of your reputation as an honest and caring student in tact.
3.) He forgot it was the 21st century.
Tiger, did you really think you were going to get away with it?! Once the news spread online, one mistress turned into two, which turned into three, and so on. The jury is still out on whether these other women are lying about having relationships with Tiger Woods. But to be honest, that isn’t the point. The point is that, due to the increasing prevalence and popularity of online news and social media, rumors spread and grow at a faster rate than ever before.
The result? It adds an extra layer of complexity to reputation management.
It is imperative that you manage your reputation online, as well as off. The bigger your online presence, the more there will be to manage. If you have a blog, you have to manage the comments that people post to your site. If you have a Facebook page, manage the comments that people leave you or the pictures you get tagged in. On Twitter, look at how people are re-tweeting your posts or making comments about you or a project you are working on. And, on LinkedIn, you have to watch what people are saying in their recommendations about you.
Always be aware of what people are saying. If any of the comments are negative, assess whether they are worth addressing. Usually, if there is no foundation or sound argument for someone else’s negative comments, don’t worry about it- the truth catches up to people, and that works in both directions. But, if it is a negative comment about a mistake you made in a blog post, or a comment you made that unintentionally offended someone on Facebook, send a direct message to that person and try to rectify the situation. In the long run, your responsiveness will help you put your best brand forward and even building a stronger network by clarifying or apologizing to others when necessary.
Everyone makes mistakes. When you make one that defies the personal brand you wish to convey to others, put forth a concerted effort to own up to your mistake, clarify the situation, and apologize to those who were impacted by your thoughts and actions.
Melissa is the Editor-in-Chief of studentbranding.com. She is also an Assistant Brand Manager at Time Inc. Home Entertainment, where she manages brand extension projects for numerous publications including: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, People, and Entertainment Weekly. Melissa majored in Psychology at Hamilton College and currently resides in New York City. To find out more, read her blog, follow her on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.