The Reputation Economy

A helpful tool in shaping one's framework for public interaction

What is the first thing you do when you meet someone new? If you’re like me, you will probably Google them, look up their Facebook profile, or see if they’re on Twitter. But it’s not just with people. Before buying a new product I’ve heard about or dining at a new restaurant that’s been recommended to me, I will invariably look it up on the internet.


This, in a nutshell, is what Michael Fertik and David Thompson have written about in their book, The Reputation Economy.


We all know that social media and networking sites have made it easier than ever to share our thoughts and happenings. On the one hand, this means that we have unprecedented control of our online digital footprint. On the other hand, it may also be said that, ironically, we have less control than ever about how we are perceived. For every person that has put their best foot forward by tweeting, posting, and sharing content; there is a horror story of another person, company, or brand being undone by negative buzz; whether of their own (unintended) doing or not. There is little wonder, then, that European parliaments have started advocating the “right to be forgotten” (never mind how difficult it’ll be to implement).



Fertik and Thompson add more nuance to this picture by highlighting something often taken for granted:  it is becoming increasingly cheaper to invest in digital storage (which follows Moore’s law) than to develop systems for deleting data (which does not). As a result, what a person does online can very well last forever, especially since online sites that capture your data probably don’t ever delete it, even when you request them to do so. Coupled with how easy it is for misinformation to spread online, it is plain to see that we are already living in a “reputation economy” where one’s reputation is a valuable and delicate asset.


The Reputation Economy is a thoughtful examination of this premise, offering a unique perspective on current trends and future prospects. Some of these prospects are intriguing. For instance, the authors posit that the reputation economy may improve the signaling inherent in the educational process, or that one’s reputation may be reduced to something like a credit score. For businesses, the reputation economy also presents the opportunity of looking into the reputations of their customers (which, on balance, is a completely different way of looking at things).


However, the book falls somewhat short of its promise, as stated in its subtitle, to convey “how to optimize your digital footprint.” The authors’ formula for doing so amounts to little more than gaming the system and pushing out more “positive” content in the hope that it drowns out the negative content, which is rather underwhelming. “Your best option,” they write, “is to curate the kind of digital permanent record that will put you on the right side of this reputational divide.” This is true; however, most anyone that has written cautionary tales about posting on social media has said something along these lines already.


But to condense the entire book into this singular point would be oversimplifying it. There is a lot of insight to be gleaned from The Reputation Economy that is helpful for shaping one’s framework for public interaction, be it online or off. Fertik and Thompson warn that in today’s reputation economy there is a danger that “your reputation will be used publicly, instantly, whether you like it or not.” That, at the very least, is a point anyone would do well to keep firmly in mind.



Get the book here!



Posted 21st January by 


Edited by Bryan Troutt