The Long Term Impacts of Online Critics on Personal Brands

This post is not about Thomas vs Simon B, but instead about the long term online impacts to personal and corporate brands.

A focus on online reputation and brands
I’m hesitant to publish this post, not because I don’t think it’s important, but instead, I don’t want to be caught in the cross fire between Thomas Hawk and Simon B of the SF museum. My focus is on the online impacts, not the specific quarrel these two have around photographers rights, I wasn’t at the museum that day, so I really can’t comment on what happened.


[Seventy-seven percent of recruiters report using search engines to find background data on candidates. Of that number, 35 percent eliminated a candidate because of what they found online... -StarTribune]

First of all, please note that Thomas Hawk is a friend of mine for a few years now, he supported me at my first Lunch 2.0 at Hitachi, and a blogger dinner with the CEO of Hitachi Data Systems, and even took the picture I use everywhere (see right), I admire the man’s work, we will continue to be friends for many years.

A personal brand is damaged
Yesterday, he published a post outlining a conflict he had with a director at a SF museum regarding photographing in public. The post characterized Simon B (I’m not using his full name as I don’t want to make the situation worse) as an a-hole. Thomas’s blog is well read, his social media prowess strong among his community and in true social media fashion, it spread to Flickr, Zoomr (where Thomas is the CEO), Friendfeed, Twitter and perhaps the biggest driver –it was seen by millions on Digg (including a portrait of Simon).

Today’s resume is your Google search results
Today, if you do a search result and examine the first search engine results page (SERP) you’ll notice that as of today 9/10 results are tied to Simon being an “a-hole”. Perhaps most importantly the first two results are of Thomas (we know most clicks start there), the only one that’s not is Simon B’s Facebook profile, which has very little info.


[Your relevant resume is your Google Search results. You should spend as much time managing your search results as you do your printed resume]

Simon had very little online footprint to start with, and now it will be dominated online by all of these social media elements. Even if Thomas chose to change the title of his blog and flickr, the Twitter, tailrank, and many other online echos will forever be archived –Simon’s online reputation is forever linked to this incident.

Essentially, Simon B’s online reputation has been burnt.

The Long Term Impacts of Online Criticisms on Personal Brands
For Simon, these online results are a big impact, we know that many recruiters use the web to find candidates, and seeing several results like this could result in a recruiter passing up a candidate. If a recruiter doesn’t care, or doesn’t see this, hiring managers are likely to do Google searches on the individual finding this. Of course, this could swing towards Simon’s advantage, some museums or businesses may seem him as serving as a defender of the property, if he positions himself correctly. Perhaps the biggest damage is to Simon’s personal and family relationships, who will see this incident online for years to come.

Key takeaways:

  • For those that don’t already participate online, and have a small digital footprint, they don’t have a strong platform to stand from.
  • Anyone is susceptible to brand damage, even if you’re not in this space (Simon is not in a web professional)
  • Bloggers with large social media platforms are incredibly powerful, and must recognize the long term impacts of their actions.
  • Businesses should assume every customer (and employee) is capable of impacting an individual or company’s online reputation
  • Companies should already have a crises plan ready to deal with online criticisms, read this article from CBS on outsourcing brand damage experts
  • Simon B may have to buy search ads to get his printed resume or story correctly positioned
  • Customers and Corporations should first consider the Company Customer Pact
  • Update: To be fair, if Simon or the museum come forward with a statement, I’ll update this post and link to it.

  • Thomas Hawk has left a thoughtful comment below, see comment #28
  • A similar blog post (and discussion on Friendfeed) has started to take place.
  • A post reviewing Thomas’s change and update to the post (it now reads “jerk”)– since the community reaction has been so fiery
  • August 13: The Museum has made an official statement, suggesting we move on –I agree.
  • Dec 3, 2008: It’s a few months later and Thomas Hawk’s blog still shows first for searches on Simon’s name in my SERP, of course, your results could vary.