Safeguarding your brand’s reputation is much easier than damage limitation, says Jennifer Janson, author of The Reputation Playbook. Read her tips for foolproof reputation management
The importance of corporate reputation is not new, but the speed at which information and opinion spreads – good or bad – has increased exponentially with the advent of social media. Companies of any size must look carefully at their actions and take steps to ensure behaviour is completely aligned with the businesses core values as a first step to protecting reputation.
Doing so will inevitably mean breaking down traditional silos that exist between functions in a business. A shared focus on reputation can create the guiding principles within which every single person in a business operates.
While companies of almost any size are likely to have a well defined marketing strategy, it’s vital to identifty the crucial elements in safeguarding corporate reputation at the highest level:
1. Know where you stand today
This is easier said than done. There will inevitably be data in almost every area of the business being used as a benchmark for success. But when it comes to reputation, what matters is what people think of you. Your employees, your customers, your prospects, investors, journalists, and any other stakeholders that matter to your business. Do you have a complete view of what that perception is?
An all-singing, all-dancing perception audit is the ideal starting point, and many businesses today have neither the time nor financial resources to commit to such a project. But don’t let that stop you from doing something. It is very possible that a simple exercise in gathering the most relevant information from each function will give you a representative view. Doing a social media audit is a great idea and it’s worth looking at sites like Glassdoor to see how your company is represented as an employer.
The goal is to create a single page view of where your reputation stands today so that you can clearly see if the actions you take are helping you progress to where you want your reputation to be.
2. Identify potential risks
It’s hard to mitigate reputational risk if you don’t know where it lies. As a starting point, look for the gaps between what your company says is important – your values – and the way it and its employees behave. Get rid of the idea that reputation is a communications issue. It is a business issue that needs to be understood and addressed throughout the company.
Take some time to note the company’s stated core values. If you don’t know what they are then you have another problem.
And now look at each area of the business: start with the impression people get when they enter or call your office. Walk through the recruitment process. Get insight into customer service issues. Look at the payment process and cycles for suppliers. You see where we are going with this. Your company’s reputation is made up of hundreds of little experiences with hundreds of people over time and although you won’t always get everything right, at least aiming to do so will get you far.
Let’s take a fictitious example. Say you are a large multinational selling enterprise products and services to small businesses. Your company values are all based around being a “friend” to small business. Your products are geared up to address every issue a small business might have. Your above-the-line campaigns are beautifully executed. You’ve even publicly signed up to the UK’s Prompt Payment Code supporting the government’s initiative to support small businesses in the country.
But somehow, someone forgot to share all of this information with accounts payable. The team there has always seen its role to extend payments as far as possible to aid cashflow. And the suppliers who have the least clout (the small businesses) get paid late. Sometimes very late. So the very people you are trying to win over on one hand are being let down on the other. This may not have any bearing on your reputation in normal operations, but should larger cracks begin to appear, these unhappy suppliers may add dangerous fuel to a social media fire.
3. Seek to influence, not control
Although a lot of companies spend a lot of time trying to influence the perception of the company externally sometimes it pays dividends to start by looking at the culture internally. Happy, fulfilled employees have the potential to be your greatest ambassadors. Do you know what employees are saying about you online in public forums? Are you acknowledging and supporting those who are active in their positive commentary about the company? And are you seeking out those who are vocal about their dissatisfaction, to have a genuine conversation? Gone are the days when a communications team had the ability to have every tweet, post and image approved by the upper echelons within an organisation. Trust is at the heart of a great reputation – and that trust must start at home.
No one gets it right all of the time. But in laying strong foundations and behaving in line with your company values, when the company hits bumps in the road they will be far easier to deal with if you generally have people on your side.