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From #SXSW: Building a successful online reputation system

This guest post is by Daley Epstein, a contributing writer for SmartBrief. She was reporting from South by Southwest in Austin.

Although creating the framework for your company’s online reputation seems simple enough, there are still plenty of ways to get it wrong. At the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, Bill Johnston, Dell’s director of global community, and Randy Farmer, author of “Building Web Reputation Systems,” outlined the do’s and don’ts of online reputation systems, and how to effectively implement one into your organization.

The foundation for reputation is trickier now than it used to be. Formerly, people would use former employees for references and get a relatively accurate perception of the candidate’s place within the workforce. Then one person decided to sue on the basis of a poor reference and won — sending companies into a panic. Employers stopped recommending employees on a legal basis, thus collapsing the reputation market.

One way companies began checking out potential workers was by looking at their FICO credit score. But if you’ve been out of work for a while, odds are that your credit isn’t great. Getting a job will begin to build up credit, but that isn’t reflected at the time of application. Additionally, certain minorities have a tendency to have lower credit scores, which can hinder them rather than illustrating their actual potential.

Companies then decided to use online reputation rankings, offering everything from star rankings to “like” buttons. However, Johnston and Farmer both caution against blurring the lines between the different types of ratings, a mistake they say that YouTube makes. “Dislikes” and “I don’t want to see it again” links aren’t the same thing, they pointed out. You can like a video, yet never want to see it again.

Websites that do have it right? Xbox Live offers games with comprehensive context and “smart goals”  that roll into features such as leaderboards. These are effective because your reputation is leveraged based on the game’s context and is carried throughout the Xbox community. As such, your achievements are ranked against your friends, driving competition and motivation to succeed, and if you are especially talented, your results are compared with the public.

“Reputation in context is a necessary tool. Reputation shared across all meaningful contexts is a game changer,” Johnston said. A tough question asked in the discussion was why a centralized reputation analyzer does not exist. The answer? Reputation depends on the context or application. People are multidimensional and can’t be pigeonholed — so when evaluating reputation, the best you can do is gather as much information as possible and analyze it contextually.

What does your company do to analyze reputation?