Protecting reputation in the age of digital permanence

By Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director of Deep South Media

This time 20 years ago I was a few weeks into a 14-month adventure to cycle the knotted Andean length of South America.

From the Antarctica-facing toe of Argentina, at the far end of the world, to the fevered scalp of a tremulous Colombia 9,000 miles away in the heat-haze Caribbean north.

Meanwhile, in that year – 1994 – there were reportedly just 40,000 or so emails sent globally, compared to the 249 billion that currently flash across the information super highway every day.

Touching upon the way communication has changed beyond recognition since then, it was this month all those years ago that I had to detour an extra 800 headwind miles to pick up air mail letters from family and friends. At a tumble-weed post office forwarding address. Having haphazardly selected the arid Patagonian location back in England on a cosy sofa with a large-scale map. Which was next-to-useless in conveying meaningful distances.

Even now, despite the arduous diversion, I remember the gripping excitement of opening those letters, the familiar scrawls and in-jokes, the characters of the writers emerging larger than life from the Par Avion parchment paper. They good-naturedly gossiped and chuckled, shared thoughts and reflections, bade me well. All in private, because they were letters meant for an audience of one.

Fast-forward to 2014, to a real-time world where a rogue tweet or Facebook update can be headline news online within five minutes. Writing letters is anathema to so many of us. Understandably, conveniently, the email is expedient, second nature, so now. Handwriting feels awkward, clumsy, disconnected, fuddy-duddy.

Given the potential for viral insanity – that now-famous group selfie of Hollywood A-listers at the Oscars on March 3rd was retweeted a record 2.5 million times in just a few hours – the watchword must always be digital profile caution.

There is the constant danger that injudicious comments made on a stray email, or an inappropriate image borne out of a moment’s stupidity, will haunt us digitally, either as an individual or a company, a never-ending echo bouncing off the impenetrable walls of a bottomless canyon.

No doubt the owners of those echoes, especially those whose reputations have wrongly been damaged by internet search engine permanence, long for a not-so-distant time when letters were the only means of written communication.

Yet the online imprint cuts both ways because there are many decent, well-run companies and organisations that prefer digital permanence for all the right reasons.

They are sharing success stories, from contract wins, industry awards and job creation to new products, customer service excellence and growth.

Just the sort of sharable and informative content we provide for our own clients.