Beware the Sponge and Protect Your Reputation!

Are you happy with “The Cloud?” Do you even know what “The Cloud” is? And are you aware that even if you don’t know what “The Cloud ” is, you’re already drifting around inside it!

cloud

Love that cloud?

For those who like definitions, here’s one you can add to your personal dictionary:

The Cloud is a collection of data-storing computers scattered all over the globe and capable of collecting, sharing, and storing every piece of information that travels via the internet from one computer to another.

“The Cloud” is simply a simple phrase used to describe the notion of cloud computing. And cloud computing covers everything from Amazon downloads to Zynga games. So in truth, the internet is the cloud, and the cloud is the internet.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single computer user in possession of a good WiFi connection must be in want of the Cloud. Our world is now so connected that for many people the idea that you cannot send a message to someone almost instantaneously is unthinkable. Our “baby geniuses” who apparently,at the age of 2 months, can use an iPad to play Angry Birds, order a pizza with double pepperoni, and take down a foreign power all within 20 minutes, are destined to grow up in a world where the concept of “being alone” will be very different from what it used to be [1].

But here are two very, very important things to bear in mind about the cloud. First, it is public, in the sense that even if you have some “security” measures in place, the stuff that is out there is really “out there” and not written down on a single sheet of paper in a locked filing cabinet. Second, the cloud never forgets. Never! You might think an elephant has a phenomenal memory but the cloud is smarter that an entire herd of pachyderms and certainly contains a lot more shit.

In this sense, the cloud is not a cloud but a huge data sponge, soaking up every last drop of information that gets tweeted, posted, Facebooked, Instagrammed, blogged, plurked, googled, uploaded, pinterested, or simply emailed. And it’s a living sponge that grows and grows as new servers come on line on a daily basis, and as hard drives go from megabytes to terabytes and up to zettabytes and geopbytes [2]. Short of an apocalyptic destruction of all technology on the earth, the reality is that the sponge is here to stay and destined to be as much a part of our lives as electricity. Resistance is futile and we will be absorbed.

Image of a sponge

Beware the Sponge!

The world-wide web, as it was called back in the day, started life as a project to link documents via links, where you clicked on a word or phrase in a piece of text and that would whisk you away to another location – or even a different document! Although this seems transparent to use today, back in 1989 when Tim Berners-Lee and his pals created the first “web browser” at the CERN laboratories in Geneva, it was a breakthrough concept. It is, in fact, the most fundamental concept that underlies the entire cloud of today – hypertextual linking.

Since then, the web has become much more sophisticated and ubiquitous. For many of us in the Western world, information is literally at our fingertips as we tap our smart phones and type in “Which animal has the largest penis?” or “Show me a video of Gangnam style” and whoosh… we’re looking at a picture of a barnacle (its penis is 40 times as long as its body!) and Psy riding imaginary horses and slapping his booty while wearing a selection of clothes that look like they were stolen from a Vegas Elvis impersonator’s wardrobe [3].

On a more worrisome note, information from the cloud isn’t just restricted to well-hung sea-dwellers and Korean pop stars, but you and I are up there to. Really, we are. If you have never googled yourself before (and I can’t believe you haven’t) give it a try right now. Stop reading and type in your name.

If you are lucky, you’ll find links to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any of the social network sites to which you subscribe. If you are unlucky, you’ll find links to embarrassing YouTube videos you’d forgotten about or old posts that you regret making. But if you are extremely unlucky, you’ll find comments about you that are irritating, hurtful, and even not true. And as I said, this is all public.

So let’s look at some of the things you need to be aware of with regard to the cloud. According to the Swiss consultancy firm, KBSD, here are some statistics that make you think:

  • 48% of recruiters and employers check your personal website prior to making a hiring decision
  • 78% of recruiters use a search engine to check you out
  • 63% of recruiters check social media sites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • 8% of companies have fired employees for comments on social media

So here is the Speech Dudes 10 Step Plan for protecting your online reputation.

1. Think Before You Post – TBYP. This is the most powerful tool you have against “foot-in-mouth” syndrome. It doesn’t prevent others from posting misinformation about you but the majority of internet blunders are caused by human error – that human being you.

2. Avoid “Enthusiasm Spam.” We are all excited about what we do and want share that. However, there is a point at which you enthusiasm can become irritating and annoying. A conversation in social media that’s “buy my stuff” is not a conversation – it’s a monologue or a sales pitch. As with point 1, you can control yourself and must avoid becoming that “infomercial saleperson” that makes you change the channel!

3. Set up a Google Alert to automatically tell you when you are mentioned as a result of a Google search. You need to have a Google account (in the cloud!) but the service is free and you can sign up for it at Google Alerts.

4. Respond quickly to a new mention and, if necessary, correct errors. Give the critic a “PAT on the back” – Personalise the discussion; Apologise for errors or confusions; Take Action to fix what went wrong.

5. Tag images before posting. If you create an image, you can usually tag it in some way to include ownership details – a minimum of “Copyright Speech Dudes, 2012.”  In the case of a disputed image (where someone has used you graphic without permission) a simple “Properties” click on the file will reveal that it is yours.

6. Regularly change passwords to email and social media accounts. This can be tedious depending on how often you want “regular” to be, but it can avoid hijacking of your media channels. When was the last time you saw a tweet from a “friend” you follow with “Hey, I just found out how to make $10,000 at this address!!! http://www.spamspamspam.com.”

7. Avoid giving geographical information. Nothing says “come rob my house” better than “Mmh, loving this mojito in Aruba.” Your patterns of travel can be valuable information to marketeers who want to sell you place fares, but they an also tell less scrupulous people about your routines.

8. Learn to live with what “Freedom of Speech” really means or just stay out of the argument. For example, if you are a passionate atheist and regularly blog about it, make comments on Facebook, or tweet the Richard Dawkins website address to all your followers every week, do not be surprised if your god-fearing clients decide to go elsewhere. You are free to say what you like but so are your critics.

9. “Be Excellent to Each Other.” Your reputation is only as good as you are to other people. Trite as it may seem, the “Golden Rule” still applies in the world of the cloud – even if the majority of the folks who comment on news websites seem to be belligerent, venom-spitting zealots with all the appeal of a weeping wound on a canker-infested rhino’s backside. And that’s being unkind to rhinos.

10. Consider a Reputation Management company. The larger your business, the more likely you are to suffer some reputation attacks, and it may make financial sense to employ a company that specialises in Reputation Management. Sure it costs money but so does lost business. No matter how nice, patient, and diplomatic you may be, sometimes you have to use a 3rd-party to help, be that a Reputation Management group or an attorney.

If you take reasonable precautions, such as the 10 listed above, you can minimize the harm that can come from the unpredictable and skittish inhabitants of the cloud.

And we are, after all, a reputable source!

Notes
[1] I can remember when a vacation meant being out of contact for two weeks, and the world apparently went on quite happily during that time. In fact, that was pretty standard for most people. Now it’s rare for anyone to have any time when they are incommunicado unless they proactively arrange it that way. I am as guilty as anyone since I used to scoff and sneer at “workaholics” who couldn’t put their phones down, and now I have mt Droid pinging, peeping, and buzzing from getting out of bed in the morning to getting back in at night. I worry that the loss of “being alone” will have tragic effects on our psyches and that we are all the worse for being always connected.

[2] The geopbyte is 1,267,650,600,228,229,401,496,703,205,376 bytes – which is pretty big. For those who love numbers – and we try always to be educational, even if we don’t win awards – here’s a chart you can copy and paste:

1 Bit  = Binary Digit
4 Bits =1 Nibble
8 Bits = 1 Byte
1024 Bytes = 1 Kilobyte
1024 Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte 
1024 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte
1024 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte
1024 Terabytes = 1 Petabyte
1024 Petabytes = 1 Exabyte
1024 Exabytes = 1 Zettabyte
1024 Zettabytes = 1 Yottabyte
1024 Yottabytes = 1 Brontobyte
1024 Brontobytes = 1 Geopbyte 

[3] For the Dudes out there who are more interested in Psy’s co-star in the video – and who wouldn’t be – she’s also a Korean K-pop star called Hyuna who sings with the group, 4Minute. K-pop is a genre of music from Korea that is basically a dance-rap blend with a little techno thrown in for good measure. Prior to Psy’s mega-hit, Gangnam Style, K-pop was pretty much a specialist genre for folks in the US, UK, and other English-speaking countries.

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