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A lot of what we discuss in the online space surrounds the idea of building, maintaining, and, ultimately, protecting our online reputation. The same basic principles apply for both the individual and the brand. Whether we want to admit or not we ALL have some kind of online reputation to uphold. It might be a small business owner with his/her name attached to a company. It could be on someone as public-facing as a world-renowned athlete or someone who might be locally famous (or infamous for that matter) like a politician, pastor, teacher, mayor, etc. No matter the situation or the place the reputation of a person is very fragile and it can be destroyed at any time. Or can it? If you are even a modest follower of things political, there is a name that should at least ring an online reputation disaster bell in your head. The name is Anthony Weiner. Weiner is the once-disgraced congressman from New York who turned his Twitter account into a social media Weinerland both literally and figuratively. He committed a social faux pas so egregious that one had to wonder if he would ever be able to show his face in public again.

Well, that was so many Internet ages ago–2011. The Wikipedia entry for the “Anthony Weiner Sexting Scandal” fills us in with this retelling of the high points:

The Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, also dubbed Weinergate, began when Democratic U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner used the social media website Twitter to send a link to a sexually suggestive picture to a 21-year-old woman from Seattle, Washington. After several days of denying media reports that he had posted the image, he admitted to having sent a link to the photo, and also other sexually explicit photos and messages to women both before and during his marriage. He denied ever having met, or having had a physical relationship with any of the women. On June 16, 2011, Weiner announced his intention to resign from Congress with his official resignation occurring on June 23, 2011.

Ouch. Pretty tough to bounce back from, don’t ya think?

Well, it seems that while the world of social media is creating more and more opportunity for idiots to do idiotic things in a very public way it also may be creating incredibly short memories in all of us. You see, Mr. Weiner is preparing to put together a run to be mayor of New York City.

Let’s save the political bantering and jabbering for another time. Here we are looking at a pure online and offline reputation case study that could be making academics shake their heads for years to come.

It’s not so much that Mr. Weiner could actually run for mayor. That’s not the issue here. What is the issue is that if he does (and apparently he has hired a campaign manager, so you do the math) we have to seriously consider what depths we have plunged to in a society in the social age. He has to have SOME smarts to have maneuvered himself into the position of being a congressman. That said he must have at least SOME sense of what the public does or does not like or what it can or cannot take.

Assuming this knowledge, he actually thinks that the public is either that forgiving, that stupid or both.

This could be the ultimate case to show that there is little you can do to truly ruin your reputation short of something sinister like murder or something equally heinous. It’s interesting to see just how far the public will stretch its muscles in the area of forgiveness in the case of Anthony Weiner. Would there actually be a chance for him to seriously compete for the position of mayor in arguably the most dynamic and important city in the world?

Hey, why not. South Carolina put Mark Sanford back in office.

So the conclusion is this. Short of committing a capital crime it’s getting more and more difficult to trash a reputation in the online space these days. As marketers, this should be good news. But wait. Will consumers be as forgiving with brands and companies as they are with some people? I wouldn’t count on it. This quickly-evolving social media double-standard will be more lasting, because folks don’t want big companies to get away with major mistakes.

But wait. Have you seen cars getting gas at Exxon and BP stations recently? Bet you have.

Oh well, I guess it’s getting tougher to kill your reputation these days, so why all the hubbub over protecting it? No one really seems to care do they?

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