Today, information seems to spread at lighting speed. News is shared in real-time, it’s global, updates are instant and 280 characters have become a “reliable” source. To add to the already challenging landscape of news consumption, unverified claims nowadays appear to be delivered with just as much authority as credible journalists.
This results in companies having to constantly monitor their brand reputation online and offline. Dealing with damaging content must be handled swiftly and decisively as a company’s brand and stock price can sometimes hang in the balance. According to a study by BrightLocal, 87% of people read online reviews on local businesses. This number has risen by 6% since 2019, clearly indicating the importance of a positive online reputation. Furthermore, the widespread adoption of social media and the ability of a single video to go viral in minutes, means that the focus on reputation management is now more crucial than ever.
Many of us are familiar with the Warren Buffet saying, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Given the increasing importance of reputation management to a company’s brand and stock price, there are plenty of opinions on how to firefight emerging negative stories.
Interpret the news, don’t just react
Today, information overload is affecting all of us. Trying to keep up with the rapid news cycles is a constant challenge. To gain a thorough understanding of what’s going on and to determine whether the news is as bad as it seems, one must consume the news with a discerning lens. Sensationalism and misinformation are common and getting a wide overview of news topics will help you determine what is credible and what is not. Developing an information collection plan of how to approach the vast collection of news options is critical. An organisation needs to quickly and correctly gauge and interpret the currency and value of the news. Additionally, an organisation’s capabilities should also include the ability to query the open source research to respond to the “unknown unknowns”- this will be key to understanding the intent of the news content.
Furthermore, social media has fundamentally changed the landscape of news consumption globally. Today, a vast number of people consume news via social media. Because many turn to their social feeds as their primary source of information, social media has a powerful impact on shaping perceptions. Social media has in mainly areas replaced “serious news” with buzzwords such as “trending”,“viral” and “buzzworthy”. While It may seem challenging to keep up with these cycles, the need for an information plan coupled with tools to monitor and track your business, industry and competitors news, gives a full 360 degree view on how your brand and company is circulated. Companies need to recalibrate this dynamic, take ownership of their reputations, and invest in plans and tools that will help them collect actionable intelligence.
Build the ark before it rains
One of the biggest mistakes a brand can make when developing a reputation management strategy is not having a thorough understanding of how the brand is aligned with the company’s vision and messaging. Whether you realise it or not, your brand or company already has a certain reputation. It is in your brands’ interest to control this reputation rather than leave it to chance or to external forces. That includes monitoring your brand mentions, reviews and feedback against established business goals and having a robust strategy for responding to negative feedback and events.
It’s crucial that any gathering of intelligence be aligned with a clear action plan. Additionally, the plan must not only include handling issues but identifying key weaknesses and having the skill set to scenario plan. The key is to find tools that help to identify the source and the identity of the damaging opinion or event and to understand their intent.
When it comes to negative comments, it’s always tempting to jump right in and begin defending yourself and your company. However, this can lead to communication blunders, misplaced expectations and reputation management failure. Shifting perceptions takes time and is often dependent on the willingness of your company to handle customer complaints, valid or otherwise.
If you end up with negative media news coverage it is important not to overreact but instead work towards a “reviewed” solution. Whether that includes improving a product or service, or having a response on hand, transform the problem into a new opportunity. If the piece of news coverage does convey implicit harm and incorrect information, then, as a last resort, consider approaching the media for a right to reply. Provide the correct information, discuss it with the journalist and build a basis for future coverage.
Build for success
Too often reputation management only becomes a priority after an issue arises. To stay ahead of the competition, start by building an information plan to monitor what’s being said so you can have actionable intelligence to act. Ensure that you know the players and the landscape by having the tools to complete open source checks. Be authentic and transparent in whatever you say about yourself and your company. Keep it relatable. Develop a strategy that includes scenario planning to mitigate any future negative perceptions. And always plan ahead with positive content to build advocacy.