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The media circus currently engulfing many sponsors of the Winter Olympics in Sochi demonstrates that association can be a key issue in the management of your online reputation.

Why is this?

It’s a principle people are taught from the cradle; who you are friends with, who you associate with reflects on you. This is because if you willingly consort with somebody who has done something bad, there is often lingering doubt in the minds of others about whether you approved of what they did.

This is the issue facing the sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. Activists, media pundits politicians and even the general public are reacting negatively to companies such as Coca Cola, McDonalds, Samsung and Visa sponsoring the event because it’s going to be held in Russia.

More specifically, Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Under the politician, Russia has increasingly become a country of oppression. Activists cite the ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law, the detention of political prisoners and the  general human rights abuses, as well as the incidents that have taken place over the  games themselves, as reasons why sponsors should not bankroll the event.

The backlash has hit Coca Cola most recently. The drinks giant released a ‘share a coke’ function on its website, which allowed you to type your name onto a cyber can of coke. However you couldn’t type the word gay. The backlash has been huge and coke has since taken down the feature and condemned the practices of Putin’s Russia.

This is the perfect example of why association is a key issue in online reputation. Here we see companies lending active support to a regime that is widely condemned by the people it is looking to engage with. It’s easy to see how actively endorsing something your target audience finds so offensive could persuade them to turn away from you. This is how boycotts are started.

However the issue goes much further in the field of brand online reputation. If this sort of incident concerned a single person, unless they were someone of particular public interest, while it would certainly damage their online reputation that damage would be somewhat limited.

When a brand makes this sort of move, everybody knows about it. News sources jump on it, and from there it comes to the attention of social media users on a mass scale. This generates comments, blog posts, videos, protest movements, boycotts, political commentary; the list is endless.

This is a staggering amount of negative press generated over simply associating with a government people object to. Note here that with online reputation it’s a particular problem because news sites, social media sites etc. rank very well on Google and consumers increasingly turn to the search engine to determine whether they want to buy a particular product.

When your parents told you that who you associate with matters, they were giving you a lesson in ‘reputation management’. Nothing can damage your brand reputation in the eyes of consumers faster than a ‘negative’ page one greeting them when they type in your search term.

For more information about brand reputation management contact Simon Wadsworth on email: [email protected] or phone: +44 (0) 203 542 8689.