Twitter has a new account as of last week, and it is one you should watch.
In case you were born late in this century or were living under a rock in the 1990s, Monica Lewinsky is the former White House intern during the Bill Clinton presidency whose affair with the sitting president from 1995 to 1997 eventually led to Clinton's impeachment. For those of us who remember, it was an absolute media circus--a happy distraction from our obsession with O.J. Simpson.
For Lewinsky, the scandal turned into one of the first true Internet defaming campaigns after being picked up and shared globally online by the Drudge Report--all of this before Google existed. The relentless humiliation and shaming turned her into an instant and infamous public figure, and eventually forced Lewinsky to retreat into what shadows she could find.
After an unsuccessful attempt to repair her image in 2001 for the documentary Monica in Black and White, Lewinsky is stepping out again. In June 2014, she published a poignant article in Vanity Fair discussing her life over the past decade and how she has managed to deal with the omnipresent public scrutiny.
Last week, she joined Twitter--amassing more than 73,000 followers in just a few days.
It is clear that she is stepping out again to leverage the same power of the Internet that destroyed her reputation in an attempt to repair it. Social media is a powerful beast in this regard, but it is also capricious. Whether she succeeds at repairing her image or not, her brave attempt to rebrand herself provides great lessons for others. Here are four:
1. Control your reputation online, or someone else will.
For years, the news and social media constructed Lewinsky's reputation. Filled with embellishments and lies, often politically motivated, her reputation was destroyed. Because her terms of immunity restricted her from speaking about her affair or defending herself for years, the Internet relentlessly pounced unanswered. It became so bad that when she did attempt to repair her reputation in 2001, the gap to make up was just too great.
These days, it is incredibly important for everyone to control his or her reputation online, and for the most part, it is quite easy to do. More important, you need to make sure that there is as much positive content about you and your company as there is negative content. And if you do not believe that you need to worry about scandal or controversy, good for you. But the ease and remarkable speed at which even a rumor can spread is enough to destroy a reputation in a few hours. Stay ahead of the game.
2. Always take the high road.
In her public appearances since the scandal, Lewinsky has never attacked or defamed anyone involved with her trial or scandal, some sarcasm excepted. She has instead done her best to accept the truths and attempt to rebuild her reputation on a platform of who she really is. Of course, Lewinsky understands the Internet's "feedback loop of defame and shame," so the slightest misstep in her personal rebranding would spread faster and more furiously than her original scandal.
This approach is very admirable and smart. It might be difficult for many people to look past those who are attempting or have succeeded at defaming us to instead take the high road. While it often seems the Internet feeds off of vitriol and hate, it is still a place for occasional healing and reconciliation. It is more difficult to earn forgiveness, but you will never get it if you come out of the gates firing back defensively.
3. Ignore the noise.
Lewinsky has been called every hateful name in the book, and there is no shortage of lingering hate remaining. She is older and more mature now and, like a professional athlete, has learned to tune out most of the noise. Instead, she is choosing to outpace the noise by emphasizing the positive lessons from her experience. Whether she can win over older generations who know only the media's side of the story is to be determined. What is important is that this strategy will build the counter viewpoint online for future generations to consider.
Without a doubt, the Internet is full of "noise." As entrepreneurs and business owners, it is just a matter of time before an angry customer, disgruntled employee, or random individual with a grudge decides to take to the Internet to spill his or her grievances. As you become more successful, the more you should expect it. There are times when you should react, and as long as you are reacting properly, the experience can help improve your reputation. Other times, however, it is just noise and should be ignored. Often, engaging in the noise does more harm than good.
4. If you cannot beat them, re-imagine yourself.
In the Vanity Fair piece, Lewinsky points out that she has been unsuccessful at finding a good job, despite her skills and training, because her reputation carries too much baggage. In one case, the recruiter for a government-funded company asks for a "Letter of Indemnification from the Clintons (since) there is a 25 percent chance that Mrs. Clinton will be the next president."
Unable to find an employer willing to take a chance on her, Lewinsky is putting her introverted nature aside to speak publicly about online bullying. Her goal is to "help other victims of the shame game put her suffering to good use, and give purpose to her past." Recently, she nervously spoke for the first time publicly at the Forbes Under 30 Event and focused her speech on the problem of online bullying. And while she has turned down lucrative deals to secure the rights to her story to avoid being perceived as an opportunistic victim, now she can comfortably leverage her experience to create a positive impact and make a living.
For the rest of us, a professional failure can carry the embarrassing weight of shame like a sack of bricks. What we must keep in mind is that how we react to these failures is far more important to our reputation and character. More than likely, we will not be remembered for a specific failure but rather the failure to learn from our mistakes. We can all learn from Monica Lewinsky.