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Ask the expert: Associate Director and Head of Corporate Barney McCarthy explains why leaving your online reputation to chance is a thing of the past

January 2023
 by Barney McCarthy

Ask the expert: Associate Director and Head of Corporate Barney McCarthy explains why leaving your online reputation to chance is a thing of the past

January 2023
 By Barney McCarthy

Barney works with clients to help them take control of their digital narrative, ensuring the information people find about them online is positive, up-to-date, and accurately represents their views, actions and values. We ask him a few questions about his work at Digitalis and what the changes in the digital landscape mean for organisations looking to protect their reputation online.

1. Tell us a little about your background and what initially brought you to Digitalis.

I began my career as a personal finance journalist in 2004, predominantly covering the mortgage and property markets. It was the end of an era in many ways; the home loan market was yet to be regulated at that point, but the legislation that came in during my first year led to a tightening of standards that ultimately resulted in a clampdown on the days of free and easy credit.

This race to the bottom saw lenders offer potential house buyers loans of up to 125%, so it wasn’t a great surprise when the global financial crisis of 2007/8 hit. While it was a fascinating time to be a journalist covering a topic that dominated the front pages, it was also a difficult period, as dwindling advertising revenues saw budgets slashed and teams shrink.

Seeing how different banks handled their external communications during this period gave me a unique insight into how narratives are shaped and developed on all sides of the media ecosystem. After a spell in Sydney covering the Australian mortgage market, I knew my future lay in communications and reputation management.

2. What major shifts have you seen in the digital space during your career, and how has the changing digital environment affected companies and individuals seeking to manage their reputation online?

Having started my career almost two decades ago, I’ve had a front-row seat to witness the digital revolution that has taken place since the turn of the century. The titles I edited as a journalist evolved from predominantly print publications to digital-first outlets, where it was more important to beat your competitors to a story and get it online first, than to focus on perfecting the content that might feature in your hard copy.

While it makes me feel ancient to admit it, I vividly remember the launch of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the early days of my career. I don’t think many of us could have envisioned how these sites would evolve from their early days as frivolous personal distractions to become such a vital part of professional and brand communications strategies. Much of my time as a communications consultant during this period was spent advising clients on the importance of this brave new world and how to approach it.

The inherent corporate reluctance was soon dispelled when I explained how digital footprints were much like a credit score – not having any record at all raised suspicions, and there was a risk that misinformation could fill the vacuum.

3. What type of clients do you work with at Digitalis, and how do you help them with the challenges they face?

Working in corporate PR for a decade after leaving journalism gave me in-depth experience of managing the narrative for a variety of companies large and small, and moving into online reputation management with Digitalis was a natural progression in helping organisations to shape their stories.

I now head up the Corporate Practice at Digitalis, helping organisations protect their digital reputation and build their narrative. Clients tend to come to us in the build-up to an important event such as a merger or a float, or to help limit the damage in the wake of a controversy or crisis. Ideally, we work with companies well in advance of either, so they can ensure they are in the best position possible at all times. All our clients see the tangible benefit of what we do. Raising awareness to a wider audience about the importance of online reputation management and why it is a vital part of their armoury, much the same as marketing and PR have become, is the next step for Digitalis and for our industry as a whole.

4. What changes are you seeing in the digital space that affect your clients, and what do you think will be the most important issues for them in the near future?

A disconnect still exists between how people portray themselves professionally and personally online. Many people have a profile on LinkedIn, but remain unaware of how to optimise it so it shows up in search results for their name. Or they might realise the importance of not tweeting anything controversial, while failing to check whether their child is doing just that, and damaging their own reputation by association.

While the evolution of technology has improved our lives immeasurably in a number of ways, it has also given anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection the ability to smear an individual or a company in a matter of minutes. The unique breadth of our experience at Digitalis, from tech to law and from search to communications, enables us to call on a range of expertise to identify existing and potential threats, displace misinformation, and present the very best version of our clients online.

5. Finally, looking to the future, what emerging digital trends do you predict will gather pace, and what might this mean for your clients and for all of us who access information online?

Online reputation management is set to become ever more crucial, and Digitalis is a dynamic organisation at the forefront of this fascinating and complex industry. My own children are now making their first forays online, serving me with a constant reminder of how tech-savvy younger generations are, but also how much of a knowledge gap still exists around safe conduct on the internet.

The rise of misinformation from a variety of sources, from deepfakes on TikTok to unverified citizen journalism on Twitter, means that it has never been more important to check your sources. It is easier than ever for an organisation’s reputation to be impacted by unreliable online information. As new technology becomes more sophisticated and adopted by a wider range of users, the volume of misinformation online will increase while the ease of being able to distinguish between what is real and true, and what is invented or exaggerated, will decrease.

Staying one step ahead of fraudsters is a vital part of our work at Digitalis, and our range of tech tools, coupled with our expertise across diverse industries and disciplines, enables us to offer companies and individuals an unrivalled level of protection. Leaving your online reputation to chance – or to the vagaries of a search engine’s algorithm – will soon become a thing of the past.

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