As a fluent French speaker and reader, I often have the privilege of exploring thoughts on social media reputation and crisis management from France, Quebec, and other Gallic realms. This is a parallel universe where core concepts may be similar to those in the English speaking world but tone and emphasis can be wildly different. Those who geeked out on French philosophers, like Foucault and Baudrillard, will know what I’m talking about. No equivalent English authorship exists for the concepts these thinkers cooked up, as if certain great ideas sprang from the language itself.
I observe much the same distinction when it comes to discussions around ‘online reputation‘ in the U.S., U.K. and other English speaking communities and the French treatment of the subject under the term ‘e-Réputation‘. For those less familiar with these emerging buzzwords, ‘online reputation’ is a catch-all concept covering everything from the digital trails we leave as individuals (and how they can be used against us) to the strategic aspects of corporate reputation and how it is affected by negative online critiques and campaigns initiated by dissatisfied clients and advocates.
After reading material on the subject from both sides of the language divide, one thing is certain. ‘e-Réputation‘, as it pertains to corporate reputation, is taken a lot more seriously in French texts than anywhere else in English. Allow me to illustrate this with the following anecdotes.
Last January, I was invited as a keynote speaker at the ‘ReputationWar‘ conference in Paris (English titles are cool in France). Co-organized by the current President of the International Public Relations Association, Christophe Ginisty and industry association Syntec-RP, ReputationWar was a grand affair that drew the likes of Brian Solis, Helio Fred Garcia and French Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
Apart from the caliber of the speakers invited, the conference did nothing less than position online reputation management as a crucial front for the practice of public relations and corporate affairs starting now and into the future. The vast business of maintaining corporate reputation in the digital realm was covered including discussions of monitoring technologies, brand storytelling as well as stakeholder engagement strategies. For a full review of ReputationWar highlights, please see my previous blog post on the subject.
Another French curiosity is the ‘École de guerre économique‘. My French colleagues often speak to me of the close ties between the military establishment and the directorship of big name corporations in France, something that gives new meaning to the term “military-industrial complex”. In this environment, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that the École de guerre économique, essentially a military academy for the study of tactical uses of information, applies its research to commercial and industrial challenges, rather than state intelligence and geopolitics.
Among the favorite emerging themes evoked by the École is the notion of ‘Infoguerre‘ or ‘Information War’. Here, the concept of the digital sphere are a battleground for corporate ‘e-Réputation’ is a pivotal subject which is given serious attention. Recently, the École published an essay compilation titled Influence et réputation sur Internet – Communautés, crises et stratégies, which I have just gotten my hands on. The articles within are all written by École de guerre graduates, who have gone on to take digital strategy positions in the French government or private firms such as Burson Marsteller.
This collection does a very thorough analysis of the new rules of engagement for maintaining competitive advantage and protecting reputation in the digital sphere. While English literature on the subject is replete with rapid nuts and bolts writeups and top 10 ‘do’s and don’ts’ lists, this study applies philosophical, historical and sociological frameworks to the subject to achieve a much more robust understanding of the profound cultural shifts that have taken place.
Special mention goes to my friend and colleague David Millian, for his article entitled “‘Réputation et luttes informationelles : Quel leadership à l’heure du web social ?“. David does a great job of outlining the built-in tactical disadvantages corporations face when facing detractors on social media, illustrated throughout by solid case studies. As well, he outlines the resources and organizational shifts required to ramp up defensive reputation management online. All subjects very close to my heart!