It may be hard for the internet generations to comprehend, but individuals and organizations were worried about reputation management long before Google, social media, online reputation management (OMR) experts, search engines and crowd-sourced review platforms such as Yelp, Which? and TripAdvisor.
Former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, for example, was prominent in public life around 130 years before Google came along, yet he understood its importance and was once moved to pronounce:
Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
In other words, the tree is the essence and substance, while the shadow is what people choose to make of it based on their perspective. The shadow may be an accurate reflection or vastly distorted.
So, good standing was important in Lincoln’s time and it’s essential now. The key difference is the speed at which a 21st-century organization’s good name can be created or destroyed. And the vast geographical spread involved.
A reputation disaster in Washington, D.C., during Lincoln’s time would likely have taken months to become known about in Lubbock, Texas, and may never have made headlines in Munich, Germany. However, today, citizens of all three would know within minutes of a crisis breaking out.
What does reputation mean?
How To Develop a Reputation Management Policy
How To Implement a Reputation Management Strategy
We can turn to the Oxford English Dictionary for a simple brand reputation definition: “The beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something.”
Investopedia, the business and financial content website, prefers to call it "reputational risk" and says this can occur in the following ways:
“In addition to having good governance practices and transparency, companies need to be socially responsible and environmentally conscious to avoid or minimize reputational risk,” the website explains.
In essence, an organization’s public standing is the sum of everything it says and does, the products and services it provides, how these perform, the customer experience offered, how customer-centric it is, and the public utterances and actions of its employees and management. In the internet age, we must also include in this equation the wider public’s reaction to the organization in the form of online reviews, social media posts and comments, and all other forms of online presence.
Companies, particularly those that source and operate globally, are also increasingly being held accountable for the actions of their suppliers and vendors around the world.
In the business context, the topic of reputation has many different names:
Now that we understand reputation’s history, scope, and how to define it, we must ask ourselves: Should businesses, NGOs, governments, and, indeed, entire nations care about how others see them? Read on as we quantify why it’s important and detail a recent example of how one organization’s ill-considered action created a massive negative response in the court of public opinion.
Given the way in which some organizations continue to act – despite increased global scrutiny and expectations of brand integrity and corporate social responsibility – you may be forgiven for believing that they don’t care about their public standing.
The Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto, for example, in May 2020 elected to destroy a series of 46 000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that were of enormous cultural and historic significance to Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australians. The company destroyed the caves to gain access to better-quality iron ore.
There was subsequently huge adverse public reaction, several top executives exited the company, shareholders were in an uproar and Rio Tinto became a central figure in a high-profile Australian government inquiry and was heavily criticized.
Despite these occasional negative actions that besmirch a company name, there are many facts and figures to quantify the importance of a positive image.
According to the Global Risks 2012 study by the World Economic Forum (WEF), on average more than 25% of a company’s market value is directly attributable to the way it is perceived.
Multinational professional services company Deloitte, in its Global Survey on Reputation Risk, noted:
Eighty-seven percent of the executives we surveyed rate reputation risk as ‘more important’ or ‘much more important’, and 88% say they are explicitly focusing on reputation risk as a key business challenge.
In its World PR Report 2020, the International Communications Consultancy Organisation, a public relations body, found that the good name of a business is consistently ranked by corporate leaders as their most valuable asset.
The above points surely answer that.
But– if you are a professional reputation manager or a reputation management company – the report noted that: “The appetite for [image] management and advice seems limitless.”
Now that we understand the importance in economic and business terms of a positive market perception – and the potential consequences when an organization falls short – it’s time to discuss ways to ensure your business has a good brand reputation.
Your company presumably has a business strategy and one for marketing, sales, and other key functions of the business. As we have just determined, you need a reputation management strategy too.
But before you reach that point, the business requires an overarching plan – the reputation management policy – to guide your operational actions.
Our old friend Oxford’s definition of a policy is: “A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual.”
Management Study Guide, a global provider of management and skill-based education, gives a more detailed definition of a policy in the context of business:
“Business policy defines the scope or spheres within which decisions can be taken by the subordinates in an organization. It permits the lower-level management to deal with the problems and issues without consulting top-level management every time for decisions.”
So this sets the framework for your brand reputation management strategy. And, given that we have already illustrated the importance of reputation, it must be set at the C-suite level and involve the likes of the marketing director, public relations director, CEO, and others. Buy-in – and sign-off – of the policy at the board level is required.
This policy may include, but will not necessarily be limited, to:
This is an acceptance at the highest strategic level that ‘reputation’ is about more than managing hostile media reporting and negative reviews online. The risk to your image must be considered as part of all critical decision-making. If the organization or individuals within it are making poor decisions or behaving badly at a macro level, even the best reputation management strategy will be of little consequence.
Decide whether the business will hire an external reputation management company or only use internal employee resources. This decision may be based on budgetary or human resources considerations.
Decide the extent of your monitoring and social listening. While a marketing director or reputation manager may wish to monitor what is being said by all possible audiences – including competitors – in all markets, this may not be financially viable or practical in terms of the resources required to analyze and respond to these conversations. Prioritize what parameters and audiences matter most.
Decide who is responsible for responding to what issues – and when. The newest hire in the social media department may be suitable when it’s a bad product review. But if it’s a media frenzy involving harsh online and offline criticism, the responsible person must be a clearly identified senior executive who understands the vision and voice of the brand. If it’s a disaster of international consequence, nothing less than the CEO or chairperson of the board will suffice. Set tight timelines for responses too. In the digital age, the court of public opinion does not keep office hours or respect the chief marketing officer’s long-weekend wilderness getaway.
Now that you have set the high-level reputation management parameters and obtained buy-in from the organization’s most senior people, it’s time to drill down to day-to-day actions.
This will apply the policy parameters discussed above and deal with reputation at a more granular level. The realities of the digital age put the focus on aspects such as online reputation, content marketing, optimizing search engine results, and generally monitoring the life of the brand online.
But it should not be to the exclusion of all else. In the offline environment, positive word-of-mouth is still beneficial to your marketing efforts, while negative word-of-mouth can still damage the trust in your brand. These instances are harder to monitor offline, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be listening out for them.
However, most of your activity will involve online reputation management (ORM). A detailed ORM plan would fill a book, but the following are some of the key elements you should consider.
When people want to know something about your brand or its products, they will most likely look you up via a search engine. So the last thing you need is the first two pages of search engine results to be occupied by bad online reviews of a product that was discontinued years ago, social media rants by a disgruntled ex-employee, a decade-old news story about a fire at one of your factories, or a one-star product rating on some obscure review sites when you have a five-star rating on the likes of Yelp! that only appears on page three of the results.
You may also find a competitor targeting you with malicious content that rates fairly highly on the results pages. Unfortunately, not everyone believes in fair play and, human nature being what it is, consumers like to click on the sensational negative stuff – whether fake news or not.
Once you know what your search engine results pages look like, you can take action. There are many companies that specialize in online reputation management, SEO, content creation, and other techniques that can help you to move the good content higher up the search results and the less desirable stuff further down the pages.
But the bottom line is that you need to work on your online reputation. Be hands-on and pro-active as it won’t happen by itself. If you don’t put in the effort to enhance your good reputation, you can be certain that a competitor is out there working hard to boost theirs.
Give your clients, potential customers, would-be investors, and other stakeholders content that they can get their teeth into. Readable, useful, credible information and advice never goes out of fashion. Prioritize quality over quantity, craft the content from your audience’s perspective, and emphasize the benefits to them. Try to be entertaining too. Get this right and your SERPs will improve accordingly.
But remember that, as with any form of marketing, digital marketing requires that you remain true to your corporate image and brand voice. Don’t embrace hype and sensation in the pursuit of clicks if it isn’t of long-term benefit to the brand. This is especially pertinent in the B2B marketing environment, where professionalism and credibility are vital.
Create blogs, eBooks, and infographics. Invest in white papers. Publish in-depth, credible, and well-researched industry reports that will benefit the industry and be of interest to other stakeholders, including the media. Done correctly, this type of content will help to position your organization as the industry leader and spokesperson.
This may sound like common sense, but it is often neglected. Is the organization’s website attractive, modern, and populated with up-to-date content? Is the latest annual report there? Are the executive team’s profiles current? Does the ‘latest’ blog post date back to 2016 or to last week?
Is the company on LinkedIn, for example? What about Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites? These are all useful platforms for news updates about the business, your content marketing initiatives, and for conveying information about your products and services. Remember to make the best content shareable as this amplifies your online presence and brand voice.
A widespread online and social media presence also enables two-way conversations with your audience. And because they’re your sites, you’re in control. Ill-founded product complaints and hysterical social media rants should rather happen on your site than on a third-party site, where you have no control and there may be an incentive to fan the frenzy in order to keep the clicks coming.
Your reputation management policy has determined the scope of your monitoring and social listening. Now ensure that you’re taking the appropriate actions and responding in accordance with the policy.
Do you need a company engineer to reply urgently to queries bring raised on a product review site? After all, if people better understand how to use the product correctly, your four-star review rating may go up to five.
Is there a negative media report about an alleged environmental breach at the company’s factory that requires the CEO to urgently respond and explain what has really happened?
Or perhaps you have a situation developing on a community Facebook group, where a near-hysterical customer is claiming the company is refusing to honor its warranty. Ensure the social media team issues an immediate holding statement and then get the relevant marketing executive to follow up with a phone call or email to the client as soon as possible.
Also, be aware that a response strategy isn’t limited to mitigating negative reviews and responding to unfolding crises. Where someone has something good to say about the brand online, thank them and ask if you can share it to the organization’s social media platforms and website.
Where they’re complimentary about your product in an offline environment, be bold and ask them if they wouldn’t mind repeating the comments on one of the review sites and on social media. Bad reviews are sometimes inevitable. Good reviews, diligently obtained, can balance the reputation equation in your favor.
A reputation management strategy is not only about providing information, polishing the brand, and mitigating negativity. It’s also a highly effective market research tool.
Meltwater provides you with a tool stack to master your reputation management by amplifying your positive brand name and managing the reputation of your organization. This way you can track and analyze how news and social media think and feel about your brand.
Analyze all of the interactions and comments, whether positive or negative, to determine what they’re telling you about the organization, how it’s perceived in the marketplace, and how your products and services are performing. Then give that feedback, warts and all, to the relevant departments such as marketing, sales, and product development.
Because the world is unpredictable and consumer behavior is rapidly evolving, corporate reputation management is a moving feast too. Issues that were irrelevant to a good brand image a few years ago are now center stage. Technological advances make monitoring and responding to conversations far easier. But, at the same time, there are more platforms where people can have their say and be heard by others.
In essence, though, building a good name still comprises the same cornerstones that Abraham Lincoln would have recognized: Honesty, integrity, transparency, and consistency of word and deed.
If you want to learn more about the Meltwater solutions that help you master your brand reputation, simply fill out the following form and we will be in touch.