Ultra-rich risk reputations by staying ‘invisible’ online, finds new survey

The wealthy are at risk of ruining their reputations by trying to stay ‘invisible’ online, according to a new survey conducted by Transmission Private.

The results come at a time when new wealth taxes are under discussion in many western countries and anti-wealth sentiment is on the rise, which may encourage wealthy people to try to limit their digital visibility as a strategy to avoid exposure and attention.

Many wealthy people are keen to avoid having content – such as news articles, interviews, and even company biographies – appear against a search of their names online and, in some isolated cases, members of the business elite have taken steps to actively remove information about themselves online.

But a new national survey, based on a poll of 2,000 working people in the UK, shows that this approach is backfiring.

In fact, 41 per cent of people would actually feel ‘more negatively’ about a member of the wealthy elite if they could not find relevant information about them online. The respondents to the survey said it would lead to questions about the credibility of the individual – as well as encourage suspicion and mistrust.

This negative reputational impact was felt most amongst older and female respondents. Fifty per cent of respondents over the age of 55 felt more negatively about a member of the wealthy elite that they could not find information about online, with 45 per cent of female respondents saying the same.

The fact that older people thought most negatively suggests that this trend is not merely younger people expecting wealthy people to live out their lives on social media, but that there is a serious desire amongst the public to understand the people behind our biggest and most influential companies.

While wanting to limit information online is often driven by valid reasons around security and privacy, some members of the wealthy elite have also chosen this route as the best way to manage their reputations, thinking that staying under the radar is the best way to limit their exposure to criticism – but this research shows this approach is failing because it looks unnatural.

Transmission Private is a communications agency that specialises in working with successful individuals, such as entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors, business owners, and other high-net-worth individuals.

Luke Thompson, Head of Private Client Services at Transmission Private, says: “Many wealthy individuals and families have been reluctant to put content online about themselves, or their work, for fear of jeopardising their privacy. This approach is not only self-defeating but it’s harming their reputations.

“If you go online and cannot find much information about someone who you know is a multi-millionaire or billionaire, you're clearly going to think: ‘Huh? That’s odd. Something might be fishy here?’

“But clearly this research does not mean that wealthy individuals should suddenly get Twitter and Instagram accounts – this is not the type of information that people are expecting to find about individuals online, according to our findings.

“Instead, it indicates that people expect to know more about the people behind our biggest and most successful companies – who they are, how they became successful, and perhaps what they stand for in the world.

“Digital invisibility is also going to start getting in the way of the wealthy people’s business success. We know, for example, that many private and investment banks have already started to factor individuals’ online profiles into their financial decision-making, and the lack of an online profile could pose a significant red flag to such institutions.”

Jordan Greenaway, Managing Partner of Transmission Private, adds: “If wealthy people want to limit their online profiles, they are setting themselves up for failure – especially at a time like this when business partners, members of the public and politicians are scrutinising multi-millionaires and billionaires.

“But there’s an important positive message here for the wealthy as well. After people recognise that online invisibility is not an option, the next question becomes: if there is going to be something out there about me and family, what should it be? This should be approached as an opportunity to put their best foot forward and ensure that the content online captures their family and its impact accurately.”

The survey was undertaken by Transmission Private in concert with OnePoll, which is a member of ESOMAR and employs members of the MRS. The poll covered a nationally representative sample of 2,000 people.