When you come to buy a new product on Amazon, what do you do before pulling the trigger? The answer for many of us is to click on the product reviews and read up on what previous buyers think of our potential purchase. Similarly, when we’re thinking of trying out a new service or company, we tend to ask family or friends who know the product, or indeed the brand itself, and can offer a recommendation one way or the other.
These sorts of practices represent key strands of reputation management for businesses. Our perception of a brand is absolutely vital to its success, but with so many elements that can add to or detract from a business’s image, reputation management is not only a fundamental part of a business’s marketing and control process, but a highly complex one, too.
What is reputation management and why is it important?
Reputation management can be defined as the influencing, controlling or concealing of one’s reputation, typically in order to benefit from positive perception. In life and business, reputation is vital to progress and prosper, and in business particularly, one wrong move can be catastrophic.
To manage your reputation efficiently, you need to understand what goes into creating your reputation and brand. That 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
- Your brand ethos and ethics
- Your social media presence and output
- The way you treat your employees
In a modern society where social media can make the slightest positive or negative occurrence spread like wildfire around the world, it’s essential you adhere to the themes your customers, and even your non-customers, want to see. Right now, for example, the sustainability of a business – as in its eco-friendliness (or lack thereof) – could be a sink or swim detail for its brand, regardless of whether the product it sells is good or not.
Thus, in reputation management, you have a number of essential themes and quality standards you need to identify and control in order to ensure you brand stays on the right side of public perception.
The steps to take in a crisis situation
No matter how well you run a business, the worst can happen. One of the fundamentals of good business planning is to have protocols in place for unforeseen circumstances – and knowing what to do in a reputational crisis situation should be one of them.
What represents a crisis of image? It can be anything from a social media slip up or individual employee mistake through to a defective product or data breach. What matters is how you recover from it. Regardless of the problem, there are a number of steps you should take in order to facilitate a recovery. According to Forbes, they are:
- Listen and be present
- Set reasonable expectations
- Be transparent
- Respond to your customers thoughtfully
- Never lose your cool
- Have a crisis team in place
- Manage your social media accounts with extreme care
- Set moderation guidelines for your social media
- Hire experienced community managers
- Understand you can’t please everybody
You can find full details of each step via the Forbes article, but much of the response process comes down to delivering a legitimately concerned, sensitive, honest and reasoned approach to your customers. How you respond to the crisis in question will dictate how or whether you will recover.
In some cases, a positive and well implemented crisis management response can actually draw praise from the public. For example, the response of Johnson & Johnson to the Tylenol Crisis in the 1980s has long been regarded as the gold standard of crisis management and went a long way to enhancing the company’s reputation in the period, in spite of the tragedy around it.
When is it time to seek specialist help?
Brand image and perception is equally vital to businesses big and small. That does mean that a crisis response like the one listed above might seem incredibly daunting for a smaller business with limited resources and time to implement such a plan. To counterbalance that, there are a few solutions that look to either avoid or address a crisis management situation.
The first is to invest in risk management strategies as part of your business plan in expectation of crisis scenarios. If you look ahead to the what ifs and maybes of worst-case scenarios in your normal business planning, you stand a better chance of firstly avoiding such circumstances, and secondly having more resources in place to deal with the unexpected should it happen.
The second is to seek professional help in the event of a crisis situation. For many businesses who lack the internal resources and experience to effectively respond to a crisis, external specialists can provide the expert support required, helping you to install the protocols that will help you to navigate the choppy waters ahead. This enables smaller businesses to acquire an accessible, short term solution that will be as effective as a larger corporation’s in-house response.
It’s an old cliché, but reputation really is everything, and in today’s hyperconnected world, it’s never been more important for an enterprise to tread carefully. With good reputation management, you’ll hopefully never have to deal with a true crisis situation, but should the worst happen, your response to it will be equally crucial.