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How to Defend Your Reputation Via Social Media: A Case for Transparency

How do you defend your reputation against harmful allegations? Expose the worst of them yourself and quickly control the narrative. Keith Rabois provides a case study in killing pestilence with social media.
COLLABORATORS Keith Rabois, David Thompson
Use social media to defend your reputation
photo by Michael Dorausch

It was a Silicon Valley scandal.

Back in January, news broke that a former vice president of LinkedIn and PayPal was leaving his latest gig at Square after a very public outing. It seems that COO Keith Rabois engaged in an intimate relationship with a male Square employee who was accusing him of “some pretty horrible things” and threatening to file a harassment lawsuit against Rabois and the company. It was soap opera fodder to alight the Twittersphere, for sure.

So, how come we barely heard a tweet?

It’s simple. Rabois himself exposed the scandal — via his personal Tumblr blog, no less.

According to Rabois, the story continues like this: After fruitless attempts to resolve the employee’s claims, he resigns. Hours later, he posts a startlingly frank account of what happened on his blog, in which he admits to exercising poor judgment in having a consensual relationship with an employee. He also asserts that he did none of the illegal acts alleged.

“Faced with a lot bad options, [Rabois] picked the best one,” says David Thompson, former Reputation.com chief privacy officer and coauthor of Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier. “He pulled off the Band-Aid himself and quickly exposed a story ripe with tabloid material. Everyone gawked at it for a moment, but when it became clear there was very little else to see, the world moved on.”

Yes, it’s true that the best reputation-management strategy for a Silicon Valley veteran may not apply to every executive who’s facing personal or professional affronts. But Thompson contends that the lesson here is universal: Control the narrative, or let the narrative control you.

“Quickly exposing the truth is painful if the underlying truth is painful,” he says. “But what’s worse is weeks of potentially harmful speculation happening outside your control. The best response depends on the situation. The worst response is always to let your accuser have control.”

And what of Rabois? After being courted by Airbnb for its COO job, he joined VC firm Khosla Ventures as a senior investment professional. In other words, he’s feeling better already.

#socialreputation
#buildtransparency

THE PLUS

“Social media has destroyed the line between public and private,” notes author and privacy attorney David Thompson. “Anything an employee does . . . can dramatically impact the reputation of his company. So companies are caught in a difficult position regarding the individual social-media accounts of their employees, especially if they’re trying to manage the company image but also treat their employees like adults. Companies on top of the curve are helping their people, from the C-Suite to the front line, understand the ways their online behavior effects the company. It’s not necessarily about prohibition, but rather about showing how positive social-media activity can help the company and its employees in the long run.”

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