Reputation, for you personally and for your company, has a major impact off-line and online. What others say about you can influence whether people follow you online, whether they take your phone call, whether they buy your products and services (other things being equal), whether you can justify a premium position in the market and in your pricing, and many other events in the buying cycle and customer (or indeed partner) relationships.

What others say about you is now much more visible in the online world. If people are interested in what you and your business does, or what you know and say, there are easy ways for them to Like, to Follow, and to spread your message online to people they are in contact with. If they like you sufficiently to endorse you there are many ways to do this online, from an endorsement of you, your company or your products or services on LinkedIn, and similarly in many other social media communities.

Reputations are fragile, and what can take 20 years to build can be destroyed in 20 seconds. A quip about the quality of your company products (Gerald Ratner), private banter caught by microphones that are still switched on (Andy Gray), remarks in a private meeting recorded by journalists (Vince Cable), are just some of the examples that are in the public domain. Having a strong following who are prepared to defend you can be a very helpful in these circumstances. Public opinion matters for public figures and peer group opinion matters elsewhere.

Word of mouth, and word of mouse, are extremely influential, so what can be done to manage them?

1. The first step I suggest is to acknowledge that reputation is important, that the environment for reputation matters has changed, and to decide to pro-actively manage and develop your reputation. Without this commitment the other steps are irrelevant.

2. On the principle of ‘once you can measure it you can manage it’ find a tool that enables you to measure (and later to manage) your reputation. If you use Twitter and Facebook then Klout is a very useful entry level measurement for tracking the growth of your network. A Google search will reveal a substantial range of tools, for personal, small business through to enterprise level.

3. Develop a ‘reputation strategy’ for yourself and/or for your company. This will guide your behavior, your content, your tone, the places you want to be seen at, the people you want to associate with and so on. This is just the on-line equivalent of deciding with social venues and parties you want to attend, what you will wear, what opening lines you’ll use, which topics of conversation you will lead with and so on.

4. Consider also what you want to gain over the long-term from your reputation. For an individual it is probably around career development and promotion. If you’re in sales or business development then enhancing relationships with current and future clients and helping you win more business is the gain. If you are the business owner or public spokesperson it may be around increasing your personal credentials and influence which has a deliberate enhancing effect onto the company that you run or work for. Explicitly this might be around gaining speaker invitations, media coverage or to create relationships with potential customers, channel partners or suppliers.

5. Clearly, you want to avoid hitting the ‘self-destruct’ button yourself, but mistakes do happen in the fast-moving and cutting-edge communications that is social media. With a positive reputation, honesty and humble pie (if appropriate) you hope your followers will be forgiving if you do something that is out of character. There may be some who will go further and help you ride out turbulence. This is much more likely if people see that you are prepared to give already, rather than just expecting to take at every step.

I guess that if you’ve read this far you want to be pro-active in developing your own reputation. In which case I hope the tips above will help you plan and then take action to move you along and up the reputation journey. And I hope you will view what I do in a positive light and spread the word.