Gossip and Reputation

Gossip_2 Ron Burt gave a great presentation tonight at Queen Mary University of London entitled Gossip and Reputation. He was on fine form, as he was when he spoke at Nesta last year (see here for webcast of that previous event). I really don’t think I can summarise his points any better than he delivered them, so here they are verbatim:

Your reputation is owned by the people who discuss it. Their purpose is building ties with one another, which need not be about accuracy so much as empathy. Therefore, reputation building requires more than a display of competence. Reputation depends on colleagues telling stories to one another about you. Be suspicious of extreme reputations; they are based on gossip echo within closed networks [see below].

The closed networks that facilitate trust and build reputation to deliver value produce at the same time distrust, character assassination, and hostility. Closure [in networks] produces echo, not bandwidth. External relations wither, people benchmark solely against insiders, and the etiquette filter on information passing between people amplifies reputations into stereotypes with predictable problems for the value potential of diversity. Trust is facilitated between people already close, and distrust amplified between people not close, creating a potential for organizational arthritis.


  1. This is such an interesting topic – I am sorry I missed the talk!
    Trust is something which can be developed with people we haven’t even met, by all the messages we put out through what we say and do, what we write, what we praise.
    People collect and store this data about others all the time, even without realising it … are you demonstrating acceptance of others, are you being double handed, unfair, judgemental, indiscreet, uncaring, incompetent, gossipy …. ?
    Trust and high integrity reputations can be built.

  2. The idea of personal branding is really interesting Roland. What messages are you projecting in your online presence? What do you stand for?
    Having a strong online presence is a key opportunity for people to get to know you well, even before meeting you. The best reputation to have is one where you accept people exactly as they are. It draws people to you, makes you very approachable and people trust that you won’t be arrogant or judgemental.
    The key for me is that I don’t think you can fake it in real life, people always sense if you are sincere or just pretending…. can you fake authenticity online? Probably a better chance . . .but people are very intuitive don’t you think?

  3. Hi – yes I definitely think it’s easier to fake authenticity online, but as you say people are intuitive, and yet if it’s authenticity you are after then offline is probably the best way to go.
    However for more 1 dimensional transactions such purchasing or recommendations, as the likes of eBay and amazon have shown, there is something more powerful from agreegating the opinions of the community.
    It all depends on the type of exchange you need or want I suppose which influences the best media for the interaction.
    Another interest aspect of the web is its permanence so a reputation will increasingly follow you around which I hope will force people and organisations to interact with greater integrity and responsibility. But then I have always been an optimist!

  4. People know that things follow them around more now on the internet, and this is probably why people are reluctant to leave blog comments.
    But as you can see I think leaving comments is fun . . . in the sort of way you can only think is fun if you have your own blog!
    And having a reputation for optimism is a very good thing 🙂

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