What’s your reputation?

“What?! I failed the ‘good conduct’ test. I’m not a good citizen? How can this be? I’m mortified!”

Oops! I didn’t mean for my innocent joke on my colleague to be taken so seriously. I’ll finish that story later.

Did you know there’s such a thing as a “Good Conduct Certificate”? Yep! I discovered this some time ago when preparing to move to Belgium for a work assignment. That certificate was required by the Belgian authorities responsible for issuing work visas. I thankfully acquired one from the New York City Police Department back then, smoothing the path towards a life-changing overseas assignment. Today it’s called a “Certificate of Conduct”, and is an example of a manual process at establishing a positive reputation as an aspect of identity.

Earlier this year I mused about the potential of Blockchain technology helping drive the evolution of digital platforms in writing “Will Blockchain become the Standard Platform for the Digital Economy”. In that blog I noted the importance of reputation, as individuals or business entities. It’s become increasingly evident that “reputation” will play an important role in assembling our digital identities.

What motivated me to write this now was a recording of a panel discussion that I recently finished watching. It was titled “5 Predictions for 2017” at the Blockchain Conference NYC on August 17, 2016. When the question came up asking what’s the next killer app for Blockchain, “identity” was the easy answer for many of the panelists, all leaders in the Blockchain space.

What comprises identity? Of course, there is the core aspect that proves that I am who I say I am. That alone may be enough to satisfy many cases where proving my identity is required. But there may be more nuanced identity requirements where qualifications about my identity are important, “reputation” for example. I needed a “good conduct” reputation before Belgium would allow me to work in their lovely country.

This had me wondering about what comprises one’s reputation. Here I’m not trying to be exhaustive, but rather I’m highlighting several that come to mind as food for thought. My point in writing this is to draw attention to both the importance and complexity of “reputation” as an aspect of “identity”. Reputation has nuances too, some of which I touch on below.

Law abiding citizen reputation

Employers do background checks before the final hiring process. They want to know if I’ve any criminal background. My “Good Conduct Certificate” is an example of this. For some with prior life-challenges this could be detrimental to future job and career opportunities. Demonstrating a positive trajectory from poor choices earlier in life could open a door that might otherwise slam shut. Here a “Good Conduct Certificate” may not be good enough if rules for issuing such are purely binary, criminal record vs no criminal record.

Financial reputation

Applying for a mortgage, auto loan, line-of-credit all rely on my financial reputation in the loan provider decision. Think KYC, AML, and credit score. Come to think of it, even potential dating partners sometimes research each other’s financial reputation. Correct credit history is critical. How correct are they? When there’s a dispute, mistake, or misunderstanding between a merchant and I involving payment, often times the merchant has leverage in negatively influencing my credit score, and thus my financial reputation. How do I gain a fair position in resolving such disputes, and protecting my financial reputation?

Potential employers may want to ensure I’m financially stable before hiring me. This is especially true where the employer is in the financial services sector, and their own reputations are largely staked on that of their employees.

Then of course there is the proliferation of our financial information spread among the many retailers, and credit card issuers that I interact with, exposing my financial reputation to potential hackers, with the risk increasing for every merchant that takes a copy from me for their records. How do I regain control of and protect my financial records?

Health reputation

This reputation could be set early on from childhood. Consider anyone with physical or mental challenges. Children can be brutal to their peers in establishing stigmas. These are health reputations that could happen at young age and affect life choices.

Insurance companies set member policy rates based on health reputation to protect their financial goals. Smokers, drinkers, evidence of family disease all factor in. How much of this do we have a right as individuals to own and protect? Have you considered taking one of those DNA tests out of curiosity? What if the result reveals a condition that lowers your health reputation? Think about it.

Work or Business reputation

This ranges from formal, Employee performance reviews and recognition awards to informal comments from peers via LinkedIn recommendations. The lines blur here between Social and Business reputation with digital platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I frankly worry about the overemphasis on LinkedIn and Twitter visibility. I wonder if prolific bloggers and tweeters with upward trending number of postings and followers misleads us to believe their respective business reputations are also upward trending. Not that a high number of postings or followers is a bad thing, but it does foster an “out of sight, out of mind” reaction for many others with equally fabulous skills and business reputations.

Social reputation (aka Lifestyle reputation)

Employers, potential business partners, even potential friends use social media, and other means to vet relationships before proceeding. What is he tweeting? What is she blogging? What comments is he posting on Facebook or LinkedIn? In short, what is your public persona? Private clubs vet candidate members before accepting them their membership. Universities do the same for student candidates. Certainly the depth and breadth of such reputation vetting varies widely depending on the situation context.

We’ve all seen the extreme political posts, the vitriolic forum commentary. Such activity carries an “extreme views” stigma. And what about employees who blindly tweet or re-tweet company marketing info. Do they really believe in what they’re re-posting? Is that the only type of posting they ever offer? That attaches a curious stigma in itself. Not bad, not good, just “eh”. There’s an assumed correlation between what people are entering into social media sites, and their frame of mind, even if it’s just in a passing moment. Too late, it’s nearly permanent. Sigh! We can’t help ourselves, though some of us more than others.

Consider eCommerce and digital marketplace reviews, i.e., buyer and seller may review each other. In some markets such as eBay, not only does the buyer enter reviews about the seller, the seller can post a review about the buyer. In creative ride-sharing platform, Arcade City, drivers gain points for good reviews, increasing their visibility, a clever use of gamification.

Enterprise reputation

So far the focus is on individuals, but you can hopefully see how easy it would be to substitute enterprise reputation. Enterprises are at the mercy of their employees’ and partners’ reputations. Consider what happened to the Olympic swimmer, Ryan Lochte. His lying about being robbed in Rio during the 2016 Olympic Games has cost him lucrative sponsorship deals because the reputation of the sponsors was at risk.

The rest of the story…

Way back when, my colleague and I both applied in person for the “Good Conduct Certificate” at 1 Police Plaza, New York, NY. A couple weeks later when notified that our certificates were ready to retrieve I volunteered to pick them up. I discovered each certificate was an overly simple one page document with a check box representing “Good” or “Not Good” (not the actual words, but something similar). On the walk back to the office I devised an innocent scheme to make a copy of my colleague’s certificate, white out the simple check next to the “Good Citizen” box, and mark a check in the copy next to “Not Good”, slip it back into the envelope, and drop it at his desk. Ha!

What I later learned as the reason for his legitimate panic was that his fairly common name had already caused him to fight to regain his financial reputation due to a mistaken identity. He thought it was happening again, and was going to prevent him from experiencing an overseas assignment. Thankfully, his shock and anger at me were short lived. We eventually both were lucky to enjoy a life changing experience of living abroad, and we continue to exchange annual holiday cards :). Lesson learned, no harm. Our reputations are valuable.

(image referenced from https://blog.bufferapp.com/how-to-build-a-great-twitter-reputation-and-get-more-followers-and-retweets)