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Reputations, hubris and a stunning loss of influence – Kelly Blazek's LinkedIn fail

Jane Wilson is a communication and reputation consultant. She is a former chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations

I cringe at the overused phrase ‘personal brand’. Even on digital and social media, you’re essentially talking about good old fashioned reputation – that thing that can take a lifetime to build and a second to shatter. But whether personal brand or reputation, the same rules still apply. Trust, strong relationships, authenticity, humility and to some extent being liked all matter.

Professionals spend hours refining their online presence, building networks, growing followers and notching up likes on the Facebook bedpost. The more followers, friends and connections the greater your perceived power and influence. I’ve been guilty of weighing up whether to follow someone who is personally unknown to me by the number of followers they have. And yes I know that makes me a bit of an asshat but hey I’m human.

And humanity is exactly what other humans like. Which brings me to this week’s entry to the Social Media Hubris Hall of Fame (I just made that up but it should exist). A delightful creature called Kelly Blazek who manages a list of marketing jobs in Ohio learned that it doesn’t matter how influential your numbers make you look, you can be toppled from your perch by the equalising nature and speed of social media. She sent this response to a Diana Mekota, a young professional who had contacted her about her job bank via LinkedIn.

I could write a whole blog post about why senior practitioners I know DO welcome requests from those at the start of their career, but even if she can’t or won't, Ms Blazek who is currently crowned Cleveland’s ‘Communicator of the Year’, simply forgot some of the golden rules of online (and offline) reputation:
  1. Don’t press send when you’re pissed off
  2. Don’t forget how much people will root for the underdog
  3. Don’t underestimate how digital savvy the next generation is and how quickly your response will be distributed worldwide
  4. Don’t treat people badly on the way up because you might need them on the way down (Although with the speed of Ms Blazek’s fall she may have struggled to reach out to anyone or anything)
  5. Lighten up a little!
We know about this story because Ms Mekota, who was relocating to the Cleveland area, distributed the email online and it went viral. She explained to the local press that she posted Ms Blazek's email online only after her subsequent email trying to explain herself did not receive a reply, which makes her look reasonable and mature as well as ambitious and social media savvy. Naturally her fellow Cleveland residents took to Twitter to offer her support.So, the lesson here folks is not to believe your own online hype and remember your reputation can be destroyed through hubris, arrogance and self-importance in the blink of an eye.However, we end this sorry tale with another important reputation tip that Ms Blazek does seem to have got right: The immediate and ‘sincere’ public apology. In a statement to the BBC she said that she was "very sorry to the people I have hurt". She added that the job bank listings had started as a "labor of love for the marketing industry, but somehow it also became a labor, and I vented my frustrations on the very people I set out to help. The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong. I have apologized to her, and to others, for my actions which were wrong.”My hope is that if she was just having a bad day and this is uncharacteristic behaviour then her apology is accepted and she gets on with her life and her business. If it’s not untypical, then she is about to have a very difficult job restoring her reputation and has hopefully learnt a valuable lesson about the power of the internet and the benefits of being a nicer human being.