A few weeks ago Google‘s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, suggested people may be forced to change their names in order to escape youthful misdemeanours immortalised online on social media sites, like Facebook. As a university student looking for a placement for my third year, I found myself doing some housekeeping, but there was nothing I deemed bad enough on my profile to warrant a name change.

Schmidt’s comment provoked a vast debate on the volume of information we freely publicise, which is next to impossible to eradicate. He told the Wall Street Journal:

“I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.”

As someone who has grown up using social media, I certainly understand where Eric Schmidt’s suggestion comes from. My generation spends a vast majority of their day logged on to social platforms, such as Facebook, where they document every aspect of their lives, without supervision or thought as to who their information is available to.

An Independent article including the story of a trainee teacher, unable to complete her qualification following a comical picture online of her captioned, “Drunk Pirate”, is a stark warning. Therefore, Schmidt has a good point.

But is this suggestion relevant to companies?

Brands might be attracted by the idea of a new identity, but is this possible to achieve when an online reputation can last forever? If the internet behaves as a public archive, is it possible to turn public opinion around? And is damage to brand reputation ever enough to warrant giving up brand awareness?

When Aviva changed its name two years ago, from Norwich Union, members of the public polled by the Guardian, thought ‘Aviva’ was a bus company, not the UK’s biggest insurer. Brands need to consider social media as part of their campaign management strategy and a channel to manage any risk to reputation. Name changing may be an option for individuals, but the cost to businesses can be much higher.

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