Social Networks and Reputation

Social Networks and Reputation

Chances are, if you're reading this, you probably already know the story. Last week, I received an email invitation from one of my favorite Paraguayos to yet another social networking site I'd never heard of. Against what turns out to have been my better judgment, I joined, casually skipping the now ubiquitous "invite your friends" bit, deciding after about 30 seconds of poking around that there really wasn't much to get excited about and I'd rather just email said favorite Paraguayo, and logged off. End of story, right? Wrong! Within hours I was wading through a flood of emails--the rectal surgeon from the UK I'd done a logo for, my visiting teaching companion from 3 years ago, the landlord I fought tooth and nail over a deposit with--they were all joining this network. Turns out the sneaky buggers had "invited" all my "friends" for me...multiple times.

Over an over, from my sister-in-law to my print broker to a faculty member I'd been working with on a newsletter with, confused, frustrated acquaintances said the same thing; "I just figured since it was from you..." Even more concluded relieved responses to my attempted reparations with the similar sentiments; "I was skeptical, but I was about to join, just because it was from you." One friend went even further; "I figured it must be really important because you're not usually so persistent unless it really matters to you."

As the responses have continued to trickle in, the magnitute of what these sneaky marketers have tapped in to has begun to crystalize. Granted, as far as I know, no actual money was exchanged in this fiasco, but they effectively "sold" their product using my reputation. It's lead me to a couple of conclusions:

  • Most of us probably have more influence than we think.
  • Testimonials, even indirect ones, are truly powerful marketing tools [for whatever it is you might be "selling"]
  • Endorsing/promoting/contributing to any kind of mediated effort [social networks, distance programs, open education resources, etc.] requires a person to engage/risk their reputation more than I realized--and there is an element of stewardship [on my part] there I had not considered.

So, while I have stopped deluding myself that the debacle is over [I'll probably be hearing about repercussions for months], at least I can say I've learned from the mistake.

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