Online Reputation Management: Not if, but when.

No one wants to be that company whose reputation was ruined in a matter of seconds.

You have preventative measures in place, implement HR safeguards, and train your employees on how to be “politically correct.” But in reality, it’s not a matter of if, but when. Try as we might, an online threat could be on the horizon at any given time. Whether it’s a reckless tweet, a disgruntled employee, or a negative review, your online reputation is always at risk.

On the bright side, there are several examples we can learn from. Oil spills, lawsuits, and interrupted Video Music Award speeches  are only the beginning of the rabbit holes that can derail even the best reputation management strategy. If Taylor Swift can do it, so can you. Here are five tips to get you started:

Speak Up 

Radio silence is not always the way to go. Staying quiet allows stakeholders (especially the media) to make their own assumptions and develop a story without your narrative, so you must be able to quickly assess whether staying quiet allows the problem to get bigger or if it’s better to allow the storm to blow over without comment.

When the situation warrants a statement, share your message across all appropriate social channels and make sure the information can be accessed easily. Remember, this is your opportunity to share your side of the story, and being transparent will allow you to gain the trust of those involved. When you share your statement online, it’s important that it can be found quickly by your stakeholders. While your comment doesn’t have to reveal all of your information, it’s important to give the public something to chew on while you prepare your full statement.

Example: Southwest 345 Crash Tweets updates before other lies take off

Tell the Truth 

It goes without saying:  honesty is the best policy. A lie lives forever on the internet. When you do decide to make a statement, it should never stray from the truth. Formulating an excuse (that’s false) is worse than not saying anything at all. A false statement will escalate the problem you already have and worsen the reputation you are trying to mend. When the lie is discovered, you will have created another barrier between yourself and your stakeholders and make it that much more difficult to regain their trust.

Example: Catholic Church…need we say more?  

Don’t Ignore Your Fans – or Foes

While engaging directly with stakeholders and the public can be time-consuming, it can be extremely helpful to reassure them of your brand’s original voice and to maintain faith in your company. It’s important the public feels they are heard, and that you value their feelings and opinions. Communicating and interacting strategically and consistently with outreach from consumers online can have a great impact on your stakeholders’ feelings and repair or preserve your online image. Interacting with the public is an integral part of managing your online reputation.

Example: Tiger Woods’ sponsors stay silent

Choose A Spokesperson 

If raising kids takes a village, managing a reputation takes an army. However, it’s important that the communication is coming from one voice. Whether that is the CEO or the brand as a whole, the communication should be coming from one source to ensure clear, uniform, and truthful information is released to the public. This ensures no wires are crossed, the public can connect with a face, and stakeholders have a source they know is reliable. Be strategic in your choice. Choose a spokesperson who is dependable, well known, and will reach your stakeholders in an effective way.

Example: Richard Branson’s love letter to Virgin Atlantic

 Be Human

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. And most of the time, we don’t have all the answers. It’s perfectly acceptable to admit this, even as a large company or a leader. Instead of pretending to know the solution, it can be more endearing and effective for your stakeholders to see human emotions and to watch you solve your problems just like they would. Whether the emotion is embarrassment, disappointment, or grief, being transparent will allow your consumers and stakeholders to relate, connect, and empathize with your company. When sharing updates online, don’t forget to express true emotions that reflect the reality of the situation.

Example: Red Cross recovers from rogue tweet with class

 

Maintaining your reputation isn’t a perfect science but these are key steps to keep in mind to mitigate the situation at hand, before you call in the professionals. As always, if you have questions or are interested in learning more, please email Erin Smith at esmith@baeringgroup.com.

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