Protecting your most important asset

Reputation. It’s your greatest business asset. It takes months, even years to build yet, in today’s always-on society, it can be destroyed in just a matter of hours.

There are plenty of corporate reputational skeletons to learn from: Volkswagen’s slow-footed, reluctant response to the revelations of data manipulation; United Airlines’ clumsy reaction to a YouTube video of baggage handlers manhandling a guitar; more recently, 7-Eleven’s mis-management of the Four Corners allegations.

Yet the research repeatedly shows that the majority of issues which drag organisations through the mire of public condemnation are predictable and avoidable. Risks to reputation are almost always internal. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that at least two-thirds of all crises are smouldering issues which management had ignored over an extended period of time. This happens typically for one of three reasons:

  1. Recognition: leaders remain oblivious to emerging threats
  2. Prioritisation: leaders recognise a threat but don’t consider it serious enough
  3. Mobilisation: leaders recognise and prioritise a threat but don’t respond effectively.

Reputation management is more than just public relations and marketing. It requires identification of your key audiences, an understanding of their priorities and concerns, and it requires an appreciation of how an issue is likely to unravel at a corporate, community, and political level.

Your reputation is built by your actions and you are being measured against your intention every minute of every day. Importantly, reputation management is not just about dealing appropriately with crises. It’s also about building your reputation buffer by amplifying your positive initiatives. It’s about turning a crisis into a positive corporate positioning opportunity.

This is even more important across a franchise network. You need to make sure that your franchisees understand what constitutes an issue, and when to escalate it so that your brand is reinforced rather than damaged.

Harness the power of social media

One of the most powerful amplification tools at your fingertips is social media. Social media provides you with direct channels to reach out to your existing and potential customers and business partners.

It allows you to extend your reach across endless communities at a local, state or even global level as well as across a particular issue or subject level. It allows you to direct without the filtering imposed through traditional media channels. Plus, social media is a powerful listening tool. It allows you to monitor trends, keep track of what’s being said about your business – and your competitors.

The fact is that your customers, present and future, use social media. They use it to research, to review and to complain. You can’t afford not to be social.

The fact is however that there are simple steps you can take to identify the risks facing your business and prepare to succeed in turning a potential crisis into an opportunity to impress.

10 rules of reputational management

1. Audit your brand – online and offline

Make sure you know what people are saying about you online and offline. A customer issue can – and will – escalate quickly, and publicly, depending on the individual.  Run reputation roulette with your team. What are the issues, real or perceived, that a competitor or a disgruntled former employee might use to smear you?

2. Understand social media

Social media is so much more than cats and Kardashians – you need to be where your customers are and the fact is you can’t afford not to be social. Embrace it!

3. Be proactive – track and monitor

Even if you’re the CEO, you need to know what is being said about your company – this is not something to quarantine with marketing.

There are plenty of tools available from Google Alerts (which sends you an email when something is published on your area of interest) through to platforms like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite which allow you to track multiple issues and accounts and schedule posts.

4. Implement a reputation protection plan

If you don’t already have a plan in place to identify and manage reputation risks, get cracking. It needs to embrace your social media strategy, your team, your audiences and areas of exposure. Preparedness really is next to godliness when it comes to managing an issue. You and your team need to know who’s doing what when a crisis emerges.

5. Respond quickly

If and when something goes wrong, make sure you communicate quickly, following the 3 R’s of regret, reason, remedy. Acknowledge the situation. Express your sympathy for those impacted. Provide context and clarity on what happens next. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

6. Be truthful and direct

It’s ok to say that you don’t know the answer. Never, ever wing it.

7. Deliver on high quality services

Your reputation is built on your actions as well as your words.

8. Know your key messages

Your key messages need to be consistent and complementary across your audiences – this is particularly important when you are under the spotlight.

9. Plan, test, rehearse and revise

Organisations that plan for failures, plan to succeed. A detailed reputation management plan is critical. It’s also a work in progress and needs to be updated on a regular basis to ensure alignment with your market.

10. Choose the correct communication channels

Make sure that you’re communicating through the channels which your audiences are using – that means that social media should be a critical part of your reputation management strategy

Cognitive biases lead us to see the world as we’d like it to be not how it is. The reality is that we favour evidence supporting our preconceptions, fail to notice others’ behaviour and ignore problems we haven’t experienced. The process of preparing your reputation protection strategy is at its best when it reflects the input of an appropriate cross-section of your business.

Compare and contrast your advertising and marketing spend with your investment in your reputation. Typically, unprepared organisations have to spend at least three times the normal annual marketing budget in the aftermath of a disaster to rebuild customer confidence and regain market share.

What are you waiting for?