10 Methods to Manage Your Reputation
Each company, small or large, has been confronted with reputational threats on a daily basis, but hardly any are satisfactorily prepared. Risks today emerge in the click of a mouse and may go viral around the world in seconds. Just ask Volkswagen how quickly things can spiral out of control and cause significant damage to a company’s bottom line.
When controversy strikes, investor and public trust are ruined, stock prices often fall, customers choose the contest, people donate elsewhere, market caps may have a hit and CEO heads to roll.
A company’s next reputational crisis or drawback can emerge from any number of locations, often from within the organization. So, it’s vital that organizations recognize and address smoldering issues before they turned into a raging inferno, engulfing the organization. Proactively running a 360-degree risk audit to assess your operations and rate the quality of your stakeholder relationships is vital. Otherwise, the organization is likely to be blindsided.
Simply put, you cannot manage what you do not measure, and reputations have to be measured over time because they’re continually fluctuating. It is also important to realize that reputation isn’t only impacted by your organization’s, communication, and performance but may be negatively influenced by your competition, activist groups or changes in stakeholder expectations.
Many essential elements elevate or damage reputation, from the standard of products and services to the ethics of leaders, the dedication to social responsibility, how employees are treated, and how transparent, authentic and responsive the business is.
Unprepared organizations often learn the hard way, with devastating and costly consequences. Regrettably, I’m usually called by organizations when the harm has been already done, and the board or executive realizes just how vulnerable their organization is to attack.
Case in point: Consider the estimated 500 million individuals worldwide who have personally seen the smartphone video posted online by passengers on board United Airlines flight 3411. The upsetting video showed footage of a 69-year-old grandfather being violently attacked, humiliated and dragged off the plane.
United has since apologized, changed their policies, dedicated to enhanced training and finally paid a significant sum of money to repay what could have been a massive lawsuit discretely.
Sadly, the reputational damage was mostly self-inflicted and will linger for years, not just because of what happened, but how it had been staged when the CEO lied and disgraced himself with one poorly crafted insincere message after another. This wasn’t only a public relations failure, and this was a leadership, policy, coaching, customer support, and values failure. This is the CEO of a US$2.3 billion business who has been caught napping in the proverbial cockpit, flying on auto-pilot, seemingly unaware that it is going to crash.
“Passengergate” is sure to be a textbook case study emphasized by PR professors globally, myself included, for years to come, on precisely how businesses should not handle a catastrophe.
Organizations are unprepared for reputation disasters
Organizations, whether they’re charities, governments, local restaurants or airlines, need to realize that we now function in a world where smartphones have enabled consumers to become ethical whistleblowers, holding companies accountable unlike previously. Nothing remains a secret and listening to your stakeholders is no longer optional; it is crucial.
Having directed emergency communication plans and answers for dozens of companies over the last twenty decades, I know that many crises can be avoided and quickly solved, but they were caught unprepared or unwilling to accommodate.
In reality, the latest 2016 study from the Institute for Crisis Management demonstrates that just 32 percent of crises of is surprising and unexpected, while the vast majority, 68 percent, are detectable and smoldering just below the surface, due to dishonest workers, short-sighted leaders or even policies that are marginal.
Anticipating risks is key
Most issues and crises can be anticipated, and the damage significantly mitigated through appropriate planning, training and directed by shared values which empower workers to do the right thing.
We live in a digital world where everything has been rated, reviewed, shared, followed, enjoyed or loathed. Everything you say and do is being scrutinized and recorded online.
In reality, according to some 2016 research from BrightLocal, 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as far as personal recommendations. So, what used to be word of mouth is fast becoming a word of mouse. In the same way, the analysis demonstrated that 91% of customers read online reviews to ascertain the standard of a local company and their services or products. Twenty-four percentage of customers stated they wouldn’t purchase products or services from a company with poor reviews.
So, companies must treat their customers like gold, actively monitor and respond to internet comment and promote happy customers and employees to discuss their experiences.
In the end, a business without trust is similar to a plane without gasoline: It won’t eliminate, never mind fly.
Ten ways to handle reputation
Here are my “10 commandments” of reputation management that will help you prevent a full-blown crisis before it occurs.
Be Ready. Organizations that understand the dangers and have actionable emergency plans can manage them much more efficiently. Be the strategist, maybe not the tactician.
Build trust. Your messages won’t resonate if your leaders and communicators are not trusted.
Where there is smoke, there is fire. Communicators ought to be the proactive fire detectors, identifying problems early, not just the firefighters managing the damage control.
Reputations are built inside out. Workers are critical to making a good standing. They can be your best ambassadors or worst reputation assassins. Ignore them at your peril.
Know your stakeholders. Know who your key stakeholders are, build relationships and communicate together, to create a reservoir of trust and make your company more resilient when issues surface.
Embrace social media. Listen and understand what’s being said about your company, products, services, and people on the internet, and make sure you could respond fast, authentically and persuasively.
Honor your worth. Organizations have to operate with integrity. Do everything you say, and state precisely what you do.
Measure. You cannot manage what you do not measure. Research is key to understanding where you are and quantifying improvements or setbacks.
Eliminate silos. Organizations must effectively communicate across divisions and geographies, to help ensure that workers understand their functions and policies, which will result in more informed, smart decisions.
Produce a reputation team. The communication department cannot manage reputation. Construct a cross-functional staff that meets regularly to flag threats and leverage opportunities.