Reputation Management and Why Words Matter, Even (More) in a Digital Age

Reputation management, The Knight Canney Group, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are roughly 228,132 words in the English language. This includes about 47,000 that are no longer in widespread use.

With so many to choose from, you’d think those in the public eye would choose more carefully. Especially considering the forever-ness of anything uttered or written in this digital age.

If you think there’s no longevity in poorly chosen words, we invite you to Google “Depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” and see how 17 years later, the most famous words of her husband’s presidency were used—rightly or wrongly—against Hillary Clinton. (Who has had her own trouble with parsing and verbal coyness.)

Some might argue that is the careful choice and over parsing of words, the excessive message development that has led to the rise of a new crop of blunt-speaking politicians. Straight talk is certainly preferable to obfuscation, but there’s a difference between being plain spoken and being irresponsible.

The natural progression here is to now take Donald Trump to task for everything from overtly racist comments to casually inciting violence but his poorly chosen words—and there are many—are hardly the only ones out there.

This isn’t a plea for political correctness. It’s a call to choose wisely, lest your poor choices haunt you for months and years to come via Google, YouTube, and the myriad social media channels that haven’t been invented yet. Reputation management isn’t always on the minds of public—or private—citizens. But it should be.

Ten years ago, Sen. George Allen’s 2006 campaign imploded thanks to a video that was shot just months after the founding of YouTube. Yet, as the digital age unfolded, promising there would be lasting records of everything, people still seemed inclined to choose the wrong words and share them publicly.

From a clueless Fox Sports reporter who mistakenly believed she was an adult to a U.S. Supreme Court Justice who should have kept her counsel, the casualties of poorly chosen words are everywhere.

Despite riding to the Republican Presidential nomination on a conflagration of inappropriate words, Donald Trump is now seeing his poll numbers suffer. Sixty-nine percent of people in a recent Fox News poll said his comments criticizing Khizr Khan and his wife were “out of bounds.”

Free speech is protected by the Constitution and there are no laws against poor judgment or having a poor vocabulary. But the law of averages says that poorly chosen words eventually will come back to masticate you in the gluteus maximus.


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