Image vs. Reputation: It’s good to know the difference

I was having coffee this morning with a friend who is a former journalist now working in corporate communications. He mentioned something that stuck with me and that is for communicators and organizations to know the difference between image and reputation.

You could view the distinction as being one between what you project and proclaim, versus who you really are and are known to be. It can be subtle, but understanding the difference is critical.

Both advertising and public relations deal with creating an image. When I think of creating an image, I see something more deliberately crafted, externally focused and promoted. You can create, or try to create, image pretty quickly. Reputation, on the other hand, is built and acquired over time, whether it is intentional or not. Knowing the difference is significant to organizational and brand reputation, especially in this world of social media immediacy where the cumulative impact of all our tweets and Instagram posts create how we’re ultimately known.

While we (hopefully) have organizational and brand standards for social media, how often are we considering what the sum total of what we’re doing ultimately adds up to be? Furthermore, how often are we considering whether that’s consistent with how we want to be known, or at a deeper level, who we really are? More importantly, are the image people talking to the reputation people? If they happen to be one-in-the-same, do they understand the distinction?