Search for ‘reputation management’ and you’ll be hit by a tidal wave of digital agencies offering to ‘clean-up’ online reputation by hiding complaints, evidence of previous mistakes and bad customer service.
Such services might minimise the current impact of a reputation issue, but it’s really just a short-term fix and isn’t managing the problem.
Instead, major corporates are increasingly seeing their online reputation as a useful barometer of customer opinion, helping to inform future investment and strategies for PR and Marketing. Why paper over the cracks, when you have free customer insight telling you how to improve your business?
A bigger opportunity therefore is to help organisations find ways to usefully channel their digital profile into a stronger reputation.
This isn’t just an issue for the likes of Coca Cola however. Digital signals are critical to how people weigh the reputations of local providers of services. In some sectors – e.g. hotels and restaurants – this is more obvious than others, but if you don’t think a business has a digital signal, chances are you aren’t listening hard enough. If a business genuinely does have a digital reputation….well that’s perhaps even more telling.
A key belief amongst PR professionals is that a crisis represents an opportunity. When something goes wrong it’s an opportunity for an organisation to show its true character and win new friends.
The Retail Consumer Report carried out by RightNow, highlighted the benefits of positive engagement on problem issues. Its research found that 33% of customers who received a reply to their negative review turned around and posted a positive review and 34% deleted their original negative review.
Therefore, creating strategies for being seen to actively listen, respond to and solve customer issues will boost corporate reputation. Three key benefits are:
- Better Listening: getting the complete picture of what’s being said in relation to their brand.
- Better Decision Making: the ability to see what’s happening right now, make comparisons with competitors and even make realistic predictions based on the analysis of past events.
- Better Emotional Understanding: gauging the emotional dimension on difficult issues to see which represent the biggest risks or opportunities for future growth.
Analysing customer emotion is becoming a crucial part of corporate risk management. Organisations face a long list of things they could do to improve customer service or bring new innovations to market. However, which of these should they prioritise and to actually improve reputation.
Organisations such as Reputation Consultancy, RepRisk and Oxford Metrica are helping organisations read their digital signals to track what customer emotions are truly driving corporate or brand reputation. Such solutions provide highly valuable management consultancy, helping boards make sense of the digital world and their networked customers.
So what are the key steps in building an organisation’s reputation?
- Understand what reputation means: Reputation isn’t just about being the most visible or having the best customer reviews (although these factors are important). Reputation is the combined perceptions of all of an organisation’s stakeholders at any point in time. Therefore try and see the organisation from an outsider’s point of view. What would you say its strengths and weaknesses were? How does it compare against some of the key strengths organisations with good reputations possess: innovation, difference, good management, products and services that meet a real need, fairness and making a positive contribution to the world around them. An organisation’s strengths should be being fully utilised and its weaknesses improved.
- Reputation is hard to fake, so don’t: One consequence of living in a networked world is that anyone can share their experience of an organisation and that audiences have got better at reading these signals to reach a fair idea of an organisation’s true nature. The best way to build a sustainable reputation is to act how you want to be perceived. Organisations should be challenged to confront their weaknesses and be better businesses.
- Look for the gaps: Sometimes the reality of an organisation will be better than the perception. This is often the case with new and emerging businesses that are yet to be fully understood by the outside world. Build communication strategies around narrowing these reputation gaps and encourage those who now the reality to share their experiences. Also, consider where reputation gaps lie in your competitors – what are the weaknesses in a sector’s reputation where you can make yourself famous – an ethical bank, a healthy fast food chain, a value for money energy provider.
- Make a big bang: Most communication is about doing little and often – building reputation by the drip, drip, drip of constant reinforcement. While this is true, what’s also often needed is the occasional big bang to make an organisation famous. One major campaign, launch or announcement can move reputation up several notches and pay dividends for years to come.
- If you don’t, someone else will: Understand that the cost of not building reputation is that others will seize the initiative. The opportunities to build reputation pay off for those brave enough to take the initiative. Being the first and showing leadership in a sector is crucial to getting the full benefit. Others may follow, but be the one to take the first step.
So before silencing a client’s critics, maybe encourage them to be brave and to think bigger about harnessing digital to build a better reputation.