Online Reputation, Families Beware: Anti-Social Media

Author: Amber Melville-Brown, Withers Bergman and Angelo J Robles,
Family Office Association, CEO & Founder

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Social media and the Internet in general, present an increasing challenge with online reputation for families of wealth. In the past, it was the paparazzi that families had to protect against. In the modern age of quick news-cycles and the prevalence of social media, the pitfalls of privacy are everywhere – from our neighbors to our children. How can you possibly prevent missteps that will damage the family reputation, and potentially the underlying business enterprises? And, if a breech does occur, how can you manage the ensuing circus?

In this white paper, noted authority Amber Melville-Brown gives us a blueprint for navigating the online hazards that we may face as families of great wealth. She examines the potential hazards, outlines best practices and provides steps for damage control.


Your family name is mentioned in polite company. What image is conjured? The Borgias – steeped in Spanish Renaissance sin and notorious dark deeds. Or the Waltons – happy Depression-era mountain family of motherhood and apple pie. Do you care? Does it matter? Well, you should care. And it does matter. If your family has philanthropic roots as deep as the Appalachian trees, the baleful Borgias’ reputation must be avoided. While a hard-talking, no-nonsense professional family enterprise may eschew ties to the tender television familiarity of ‘goodnight John-Boy.’  The ‘other’ Waltons, founders of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, and one of the richest families in the world, may straddle the line between the two – or for that matter, find either equally abhorrent.

Your family reputation will have been created over generations; cast from its characters and their personalities, their activities and standards, their successes and their ability to overcome adversity. These experiences have formed a solid bronze bell of a brand, which resonates with the family’s aspirations and rings out the family message loud and clear. But a fissure in the fine dome of your family reputation can distort the clarity of the message. And cracks and dents can appear only too readily if your reputation is not carefully maintained.

This is even more challenging in today’s online environment. A slip of the tongue yesteryear was forgotten when tomorrow came. But today, a word out of place is captured permanently, on social media sites, blogs or national newspaper archives. There it takes root, smothers the family name like a climbing vine, and can choke a respectable reputation forever. In this paper we discuss how to navigate the online era and protect the family reputation.

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