In the past, a business reputation was made slowly and surely over a period of months and years. Public opinion was largely formed through word of mouth when you did business with other companies or consumers in your community. When a news story about your business or one like yours broke, the effects passed quickly as new stories pushed old ones down the page. Reputation could be managed effectively with the help of public relations professionals.
Now, a complete history of any and every business is available online to those who look for it. It’s easy to find everything from a tweeted joke that reads poorly to a positive review left seven years ago. The power of social media to amplify messages can mean that a minor misstep can morph into a major crisis in hours. While some voices are more influential than others, anyone can potentially become the mouthpiece for an online movement. These movements can be positive for brands, but they can also bring damaging negative results.
To make the ins and outs of modern communication work best for your brand, an active reputation management plan is key. Reputation management isn’t just for when a crisis occurs; it is an ongoing process to help create a good reputation online and keep one, no matter what happens.
Reputation management can be broken down into three distinct phases: building a quality reputation, maintaining it and a rapid response when an issue with your reputation occurs. Each phase is associated with different tasks, each of which needs to be updated and tended to regularly.
Building Your Reputation
What happens when someone searches for your business online? Are the results relevant to your brand? Do they contain the sorts of links you’d like a potential customer to see?
If you have not worked much at building a good reputation, you may find that the search results on Google and other search engines are a little slim. This is where the building phase of reputation management occurs.
It all starts with building many positive links and listings for your site. If you don’t have a website yet, buy the domain for your name and create a home base on the web. This can be a central space where potential customers can find contact information, as well as a hub for all of your other online activity.
Then, begin building positive reputation links throughout the web. Claim your business’s identity on Google, Yelp, Facebook and other outlets. Consider adding some social media to your repertoire. Each of these pages can help go toward building a strong reputation online. When these sites are well constructed and well maintained, they are likely to be the first results that someone sees when they look for you online. These rich and varied results also make it harder for negative entries to get a foothold online.
You should also work to build a positive reputation by providing excellent customer service and products. Make sure that, as much as possible, everyone who does business with your brand comes away with a positive experience. And, when someone has a good experience, ask them to share. Positive reviews on your website, on review sites and on social media can go a long way toward building a rock solid reputation. When potential customers see a series of positive reviews, they are more likely to discount one or two negative ones that show up.
Maintaining Your Reputation
Once you have a presence online, it needs to be properly maintained. If name, address or phone (collectively known as “NAP”) information changes, make sure to update this on all of your business sites and social media. Google considers NAP-agreement very important, and accurate results keep your pages high in the search engine results pages.
It’s important to keep tabs on what people are saying about your business and businesses like yours online. Set up social listening so that you can have relevant results delivered to you on a regular basis. This can give you the warning you need to get crisis communications in place when it looks like an issue may be about to occur.
You should also keep your website and your social media pages active. When someone posts a comment, compliment or complaint on Twitter, Facebook or another social network, be sure to give a prompt and polite response. These don’t just keep things smooth and peaceful with current customers. They can also demonstrate to third parties who are silently reading along that your brand is responsive and trustworthy.
Create internal policies for how people should communicate when they are representing your brand. These should include guidelines for social media, as well as rules for communicating with customers via phone and email. Having consistent rules makes it less likely that inexperienced workers will inadvertently cause an issue.
Create a crisis management and crisis communications plan. This plan should include what sorts of responses should be given and who is in charge of what task. Setting up clear points of contact can help ensure that you respond quickly and positively if something goes wrong.
When a Crisis Occurs
If something goes wrong, quick and decisive communication can be the difference between a reputation that remains intact and one that suffers serious damage. Having a crisis communication plan in place is key.
Generally, the best approach involves anticipating a potential crisis before one occurs. Sometimes, these events can be seen in advance. A poor earnings report, a data leak in your industry or another issue can cause potential problems. By knowing in advance what may happen, you can get ahead of any damage.
In other cases, the crisis can begin before you know it. This is where the social listening mentioned above is key. If trouble seems to be brewing, it is time to consult your plan and start working on a response. You’ll need, for instance, to collect information about the negative event. Who is affected and which stakeholders are involved? What are their complaints? What can be done to rebuild trust and help them feel secure and comfortable?
Make sure that there is always someone who can act as a liaison with the press. Often, reporters will work to reach out to you before publishing something negative. Being able to get them an answer can allow your side of the story to be told.
If you are not sure where to start, a crisis communications consultant can help. They will use their experience with other companies to outline potential pitfalls for your business and the best way to cope with them. When your brand starts with a good reputation, it is easier to weather any problems that come up down the line. By working consistently to protect your reputation both online and off, you can enjoy better relationships with your clients and continue to create ties with new ones.
Can we help you?
Building an effective crisis management process that incorporates crisis management, crisis communications, and other functions within your firm is what we do here at Bryghtpath. Such a process can help you weather the storm when you encounter a significant issue.
Bryghtpath has built the crisis management plans and frameworks for many Fortune 500 organizations, non-profits, and public sector agencies. Our firm has more than a century of experience in developing actionable plans to help prepare organizations for the unexpected. Our expertise includes crisis communications and emergency plans/exercises.
Contact us today at +1.612.235.6435 or via our contact form.