Reputation is No Longer Earned. It’s Tweeted.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

It’s a warning we all received. Most of us took it to heart. But is it true?

I wouldn’t have asked this question 15 years ago. At the risk of sounding like a luddite or curmudgeon, I believe the technology of the last two decades has redefined the human relationship.

Not so long ago, if we wanted to know something about someone (beyond gossip), we connected with them directly. The relationship that formed was etched on a blank tablet, and our understanding was defined by what the other person chose to reveal.

For better or worse, that’s changed. Today, you can open your browser, scan a few social media profiles, and form an opinion on anyone you choose based solely on their digital imprint.

That’s why I believe the old adage is no longer relevant. Not because we do get a second chance. Because I think we rarely get a first anymore.

Abraham Lincoln said that “character is like a tree, and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing”.

As social media casts a spotlight on the individual, that shadow expands, and expands, until the tree can no longer be seen.

I don’t think people are at a point where they truly understand that there’s no stopping it. We’ve all heard the stories of the teacher who was fired when her modelling photos found their way online, or the tech worker who lost his job after someone misinterpreted an off-hand comment. There is no hiding from the past, and the more successful you become, the more that rings true.

To protect our futures, we must question our desire to share our lives online.

I’m the last person to suggest you suppress your values and beliefs for the sake of security, but ask yourself this: your Facebook friends might appreciate your hot-tempered argument with some stranger, or that photo of you from passed out drunk at the age of 17 in some backyard, but does that really matter?

A minor mistake can bring about a world of hurt. There will be no time for explanation. No time for excuses. No chance for defence.

You only have one reputation. Don’t waste it.

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