When you want to buy a new product on Amazon, what do you do before you pull the trigger? For many of us, the answer is to click on product reviews and read what previous buyers think about our potential purchase. Similarly, when we are considering trying a new service or company, we tend to ask family or friends who are familiar with the product, or even the brand itself, and who can give us a recommendation either way.
This type of practice is a key element of corporate reputation management. Our perception of a brand is vital to its success, but with so many things that can make or break a company’s image, reputation management is not only a fundamental part of a company’s marketing and control process, it is also extremely complex.
Reputation Management and Why Is It Important?
Reputation management can be defined as the influencing, controlling or concealing of a person’s reputation, usually to gain a positive perception. In life as in business, reputation is essential to progress and prosperity, and in business in particular, a misstep can be catastrophic.
To manage your reputation effectively, you need to understand what helps create your reputation and brand. This can be any number of things, including
- The quality of your product
- The quality of your service
- The ability to listen and respond to your customers
- The ethics and professional conduct of your brand
- Your presence and performance on social media
- How you treat your employees
In a modern society where social media can make even the smallest positive or negative event spread like wildfire around the world, you must adhere to the themes that your customers, and even non-customers, want to see. In this day and age, for example, a company’s sustainability, i.e. its green credentials (or lack of them), can be a defining element of its brand, whether the product it sells is good or not.
So in reputation management, you need to identify and monitor several key themes and quality standards to ensure that your brand remains on the right side of public perception.
What To Do in A Crisis
No matter how well a company is run, the worst can happen. One of the fundamental principles of good business planning is to have protocols in place for unforeseen circumstances – and knowing what to do in the event of an image crisis should be one of them.
What is an image crisis? It could be a slip-up on social media, an individual employee error, a faulty product or a data breach. What matters is how you recover from it. Whatever the problem, there are some steps you can take to facilitate recovery. According to Forbes, they are as follows
- Listen and be present
- Set reasonable expectations
- Be transparent
- Respond to your customers in a thoughtful way
- Never lose your cool
- Set up a crisis team
- Manage your social media accounts with extreme caution
- Set moderation rules for your social media
- Hire experienced community managers
- Understand that you can’t please everyone
You’ll find full details of each step in the Forbes article, but much of the response process comes down to a legitimately concerned, sensitive, honest and reasoned approach to your customers. How you respond to the crisis in question will determine whether or how you recover.
In some cases, a positive and well-implemented crisis management response may even garner public praise. For example, Johnson & Johnson’s response to the Tylenol crisis in the 1980s has long been regarded as the gold standard of crisis management and did much to enhance the company’s reputation at the time, despite the tragedy surrounding it.
When Is It Time To Seek Specialist Help?
Brand image and perception are equally vital for companies, large or small. This means that responding to a crisis like the one above can seem incredibly daunting for a small business with limited resources and time to implement such a plan. To counteract this, there are a few solutions that can help avoid or address a crisis management situation.
The first is to invest in risk management strategies as part of your business plan in anticipation of crisis scenarios. If, as part of your normal business planning, you consider worst-case scenarios, you are more likely to avoid such circumstances and have more resources to deal with the unexpected if it happens.
The second is to seek professional help in a crisis. For many businesses that lack the internal resources and experience to respond effectively to a crisis, external specialists can provide the expert assistance required, helping you to put in place the protocols that will help you navigate the rough waters ahead. This allows small businesses to acquire an accessible, short-term solution that will be as effective as a large company’s internal response.
It’s an old cliché, but reputation is everything, and in today’s hyper-connected world, it’s never been more important for a business to be careful. With good reputation management, you will hopefully never have to deal with a real crisis, but if the worst happens, your response will be just as crucial.