Hold on —I’m just checking my account . . . No, I’m not looking to see if I’ve got the funds in my bank account for my car payment. Instead I mean (and so do you or will soon enough) how many people have recommended or endorsed me on LinkedIn, the number of “likes” I’ve posted on Facebook, the comments I’ve gotten on Airbnb — and whether I vote regularly. Like it or not (and do we?), the world of work is recalibrating your future career currency as you read this. Very soon, your online reputation will be far more significant than your traditional credit rating or FICO score has been for getting jobs, apartments, the best interest rate on mortgages, or even a run-down couch off of Freecycle. Start-ups are focused on figuring out the best ways to gather our social media data and convert it into reputation currency. Some of their approaches suck up data on trustworthiness, others, on social influence. Our social culture is accelerating in the drive toward the online reputation where your online history becomes more powerful than your credit history. Or as the global founding team of start-up Movenbank note, “it’s no longer about credit and a specific number”.
It’s about credibility. It’s about authentic self branding. It’s about leadership. It’s about trust.
You apply for a job where you’re going to have face-to-face contact with the public. Your employer checks out, say, Kred or Klout, to see how many friends you have on FB, whether you have a dialog going with them, if your comments “liked” on different sites, and so on. That data provide insight about your social reach and intelligence.
You want to sell something on eBay. The buyer looks at your general rep for all transactions you’ve made across the web — Amazon, Etsy, Airbnb. In short, you become a composite of all your purchases and sales on the web.
You need a bank loan. Yes, Movenbank examines your credit rating, which is based on your past transactions, plus, on average, 8,000 other bits of social data about you to find out your likely future trustworthiness. The past is no longer prologue, at least that’s no longer the whole story.
How should we think about all this? Does it even matter what we think? Yes, of course it matters. We may not be able to stop this sea change (and do we even want to?), but, hey, we are the “social” in “social media” — our online life and preferences shape its direction. In trying to get my mind around all this, I offer 4 questions:
1) What if I don’t want my personal choices to be gathered? Do you ever worry that your after-midnight ramblings or secret addiction to pink sheets will be plastered all over the internet? If you don’t, maybe you should. We know the drill: do not trust any site with info/photos/videos you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of The New York Times; use only the most secure sites for online money transactions; and put all settings on the most restrictive possible. Still, despite all your precautions, certain info can — and therefore will — be gathered. So, be smart and be true to you. And demand that sites safeguard your information or else give you choices about how your info is used.
2) Can I keep my buying and “liking” habits from determining my reputation? Unlikely. First, these habits do indicate a bit about who you are. Second, these changes truly are upon us. (Check out just a few of the sites that are already fashioning the reputation economy: Careers, Movenbank, Wonga, TrustCloud, Klout, Kred, Legit to name only a few.) The startling thing to remember is that you have power to shape your online and career reputation. Take time to comment on other blogs; rate movies and restaurants; invite people onto LinkedIn and recommend them only if you know their work. Be honest, act socially, reach out. In these ways you are forming your brand in very positive ways. And if you don’t do that…some other forces will. You will soon start getting some real payback for it. Remember: We can shape our own reputation or leave it for others do that. The beauty of social media is that it’s easy, convenient, and fast to construct our profile. The downside can also be these same factors. It’s important to remember you are leaving a trail of social breadcrumbs.
3) I don’t get it — why should my Facebook life affect my eBay transactions? It shouldn’t, unless you let yourself be seen as financially flighty on Facebook. The really good firms in the reputation-economy world want to measure and reflect various aspects of who you are. You are complex; so is your digital reputation. Your online digital reach indicates your social influence; eBay, your honesty. Banks don’t care how many friends you have — but they do care about your honesty.
4) So what’s in the reputation economy for me? Imagine applying for a home mortgage loan. Some anonymous banker decides, based on your credit rating (a late credit card or gas bill payment, and your rating plummets, at least temporarily), whether you get that loan. Now imagine the reputation-economy future: Your “whole person” is key, not primarily your credit rating. Your banker, prospective employers, and others will know important things about you: your sense of responsibility, your determination, your competence, your place in the community. And you determine that reputation. And — don’t forget! — the reputation economy works both ways, as we already know from Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other sites. As you can see, this goes beyond your LinkedIn profile. This is just the beginning.
So, increasingly, the new career and future of work equation is: Reputation = Currency. It is no longer an option to clarify and publicize your personal or corporate or workplace brand — it’s a necessity. And, I would say, an urgent one and a job, if well done, you can take pride in for your career. We are now all in the branding business, not just Coca-Cola and Apple. Every single one of us. Live your brand.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com on 1/20/2013