Reputation Management: How to Win Customers and Influence Stakeholders

A successful entrepreneur once said, ‘it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.’ How true this is. Just ask BP, Ratners or Volkswagen. All three brands suffered serious reputational damage, losing customers, respect, and precious profit, because they neglected to invest in reputation management.

If you want to build a strong and reputable brand, you need to understand the concept of corporate reputation management: what it is, why it matters and how it can help keep your image squeaky-clean.

So, what is reputation management and why does it matter?

Reputation management, also known as brand reputation management, is the art of influencing how people think of your business. Falling under the remit of PR, it’s about doing everything in your power to prove you’re trustworthy, ethical and care about more than just your bottom line.

As for why it matters: Corporate reputation management is the currency of the business world. If you’re renowned for being unethical or untrustworthy, no-one will want to do business with you. This goes for consumers, stakeholders, and potential employees.

How to build a solid reputation management policy

We’ve had a brief look at the what and why of reputation management. Now let’s look at six strategies you can use to help keep your reputation intact.

Monitor your reputation

You can’t manage your reputation without knowing what people think of you. So your PR team needs to be proactive about monitoring. As well as asking your clients for feedback, keep an eye on what’s being said online, as people review businesses every day via review sites like Trustpilot, social media posts, blogs and much more.

There are some helpful tools to help you monitor what’s being said. A couple of options to investigate are:

Google Alerts. Type your company name into the search engine and you’ll get emailed when it finds results from web pages, newspaper articles or blogs.

Social Mention. This tool monitors more than 80 social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

If the monitoring throws up negative reviews, reputation management provides you with a chance to address and resolve issues. It also creates an opportunity to promote the experience of your positive mentions.

While you’re online, Google yourself. When you search for your company, what shows up on the first page? The results will form many people’s first impression of your business. If the search engines associate you with bad press from years ago, your marketing and PR teams need to bring out the SEO tools and change the story.

The information you find from these different sources will enable you to build a true-to-life picture of your brand in the eyes of the public. Once you have that, you have the bedrock for a solid reputation management policy.

Own up to your mistakes

When you’re running a business, it’s impossible to do everything perfectly. No matter what industry you’re in or how high your standards are, one day, there’ll be a slip up. It could be anything, from one of your staff inadvertently offending a stakeholder, to a full-blown financial scandal. Either way, you need to be prepared to respond.

Reputation management isn’t about covering up mistakes or pretending they didn’t happen but owning up to them and apologising in a measured and mature way. This is important as consumers respect businesses that take responsibility for their mistakes. In fact, as many as 95% of consumers are more loyal to honest and open brands, according to a report by SaaS company Label Insight.

This shows just how important owning up to your mistakes is. However, if you mess up the apology, the cure can be worse than the disease.

Consider this awful non-apology from beauty brand Dove after they released an ad that some considered racist. In their ‘apology’, they mentioned ‘regretting the offence’ they caused, rather than apologising for what they actually did. This brought them much more flak than they would’ve got otherwise.

To avoid making a bad situation worse like Dove, your apology should include, at a minimum:

  • A factual account of what happened
  • An explanation for why it happened
  • Sympathy for those affected
  • Plans to stop it happening again.

The gold standard is this apology, posted by the CEOs of Whole Foods, after the company was embroiled in an overcharging controversy, in 2015.

The apology was made via video rather than a standard press release, which enabled them to convey more emotion. The apology was short and to the point, while remaining empathetic. They laid out a clear way to make up for their mistakes, namely that customers could get free food to cover any overcharges. And the video was released as soon as the mistake came to light.

Prepare for the worst

Whatever business you run, it pays to be prepared, as you never know when a crisis might hit. This is a key aspect of reputation management. Too many companies often act reactively with their crisis comms and end up making things worse.

Now’s the time to put pen to paper and identify potential risk factors in your business. They could be internal or external. Of course, devising plans for every possible hypothetical disaster is impossible. But as most professional reputation management services will tell you, it’s essential to have some sort of contingency plan in place for when things go wrong.

As a quick primer, when disaster strikes, you need to be:

  • Adaptable – the crisis could take any form, from financial to legal
  • Quick to implement – every second counts when your reputation is on the line
  • Proactive – don’t let others tell the story for you.

New to crisis comms? Here’s a good introduction: Grounded: A Lesson in Crisis Comms from Boeing.

Look after your staff

Your staff are the backbone of your business, so you need to treat them well. If you don’t, you could end up in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons, like Chinese multinational electronics contract manufacturer, Foxconn.

The brand, which manufacture Apple’s iPhones, came under intense scrutiny when eighteen employees attempted to commit suicide in 2010.

Suicide notes blamed it on ‘immense stress, long workdays and harsh managers who were prone to humiliate workers for mistakes, of unfair fines and unkept promises of benefits’.

Unsurprisingly, the press coverage was scathing and Foxconn’s corporate reputation was left hanging by a thread.

This, along with pressure from Apple and its other clients forced Foxconn to take steps to improve its working practices by raising wages, reducing overtime and setting up a workers’ hotline. Needless to say, you don’t want something like this resting on your conscience, or your public image, so it pays to have a comprehensive reputation management policy in place.

On the other end of the scale, companies like Google, with great working environments, attract high quality staff that produce world-class products. The tech brand invented the concept of office perks, from on-site doctors to gourmet cafeterias and round-the-clock massage rooms.

As a result, Google enjoys one of the highest corporate reputations on the market, attracts highly skilled applicants, and has cultivated an army of raving internal brand ambassadors.

Google, and other brands that top the Reputation Institute’s 2020 Global Workplace 100 Study show that reputation management has tangible benefits, and companies around the world would do well to emulate them.

Want to know more about how to keep your employees happy? It’s all down to good internal communication. Further reading: What is Internal Communication in Public Relations?

Keep things personal

When it comes to reputation management, companies often think in broad, impersonal terms.

While carefully-planned campaigns to improve your public image are great, they’re not enough. Often, your reputation relies most on how you interact with individual people.

This is why a growing number of brands are actively replying to negative reviews on sites such as Trustpilot. Even if you just direct them to your dedicated customer service team, it shows you’re keenly interested in how people feel about your services.

Of course, there are ways this can go wrong. Social media is time sensitive. If you don’t respond quickly enough, you’ve no chance of stopping a bad post from going viral and harming your reputation. Your PR team needs to be constantly monitoring and ready to respond.

Let’s step away from social media for a moment. Here’s a more unique example of how speaking to customers on a personal level can do wonders for your reputation.

In 2010, a line of O.B. tampons were hit by supply issues and disappeared from shelves, causing anger amongst a loyal customer base. Rather than a generic, one-size-fits-all PR campaign to undo the damage to their reputation, parent company Johnson & Johnson did something different. They created personalised video apologies for over 65,000 women in their database, and distributed coupons to make up for the tampons they lost out on. This was, no doubt, a massive logistical operation, and probably costly, but Johnson & Johnson made the right choice.

This personal approach to reputation management, combined with how easy the videos were to share on social media, made the campaign a huge success and gave their reputation a much-needed boost.

Give back to the community

Besides it being the right thing to do, savvy businesses need to think about corporate social responsibility if they want to maintain a good reputation.

This is a huge area of public relations, and it’s easy to come off as insincere, like when oil companies such as Shell create ads with sad piano music, declaring how much they care about the environment.

Social responsibility and cause marketing have to be genuine to win public sympathy. One of the best ways to show this is with community relations. By giving something back to the local community and the wider world, you can develop a strong reputation for doing the right thing.

Want to know more about community relations? Read: What is Community Relations?

The star of the show when it comes to community relations is Disney. A juggernaut of industry, they’ve maintained a gleaming reputation in part due to their commitment to social responsibility. For them, this breaks down into three main areas:

When people learn of these efforts, they stop thinking of Disney as ‘just another company’. They become a force for good in the world – as someone ‘on our side’. That’s a powerful brand image to form, and a reputation worth putting in the work for.

Want to know more about reputation management in the context of corporate social responsibility? Read: What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Need some help with your reputation management policy?

Managing your reputation is a complicated business and there’s a lot that goes into proper reputation management. UK firms, for instance, need to know their way around libel and defamation laws. While online companies need to know how to make websites take down fake negative material. In short, you need an expert.

Give me a call. There’s never been a better time to focus on reputation management. London, New York, Tokyo – no matter where you go, a good reputation will precede you.

If you’d like to discuss reputation management strategies for your business, get in touch now.



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