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Since the dawn of time, people have promoted themselves and their accomplishments. From cave drawings of hunting conquests to hieroglyphics touting the miracles of the Pharaohs to the modern-day press release, people have tried to manage their reputation since they could first differentiate itself from animals and one another.
It’s only natural, then, that we extended our need to cheer our personal achievements into the desire to promote the accomplishments of our businesses and positions.
But within the walls of corporate culture, who becomes the focal point and arbiter of maintaining your organization’s reputation when things are good and when things turn bad?
Owners set the tone
In the past, the CEO or company owner has been responsible for managing an organization’s reputation. Many officials consider reputation one of the top 10 risk factors they oversee (https://bit.ly/3JhaNzX). Despite this acknowledgment, most CEOs admit they still don’t have a formal reputation risk plan in place.
Over the past decade, the speed at which a reputation can be made or broken has also sped up due to social media platforms and online reviews. This has alienated some CEOs from the business of reputation management since the flow is now outside traditional avenues and directly in the hands of consumers.
While the CEO can still set the tone that employees and public-facing communications can follow, the “head honcho” can no longer control what the public says on their personal social media accounts, blogs or third-party review sites, such as Google or Yelp.
As a result, an entire cottage industry for online reputation management has sprung up to help business leaders manage what is said about them online. Public relations agencies have created methods to help companies counter negativity by creating positive content, using search engine optimization tools to lower the ranking of bad reviews (decreasing the likelihood negative comments are seen), and developing plans to communicate with the media during crises.
A proactive message
Your reputation doesn’t begin with the latest crisis, nor should it end with it.
For your reputation to sustain any crisis that could befall it, you need to have an ongoing dialogue with the media, your customer base and other company stakeholders. This is called proactive reputation management.
It means that when a potential customer searches for your name online, they should automatically see favorable information — such as good reviews, informative blog posts and positive news articles.
That said, brand positioning isn’t always up to you and anyone can gum up the works by writing a bad review. A disgruntled former employee or competitor can manipulate online searches so that negative reviews, posts and articles can top the search results lists.
This is why you need to constantly monitor your reviews. A public relations team can set up an ORM plan to help you keep an eye on your reviews. Keep the following in mind when responding to bad reviews:
1. Read every review and respond promptly: You should respond to all reviews — good or bad — as quickly as possible. Waiting days or months to respond shows the reviewer that you do not care about their opinion.
2. Keep it simple: While it’s understandable that you would take a bad review personally, don’t allow your feelings to cloud your response. Be empathetic, express regret for a negative experience, and ask the reviewer to contact you offline to resolve the matter.
3. Remember that reviews and responses are public: The internet never forgets. Any scathing response you post can live online for years — or forever. Keep responses short and professional. Avoid offering details of solutions to keep others from seeking to have issues solved in the public domain or asking for a similar solution.
4. Don’t use your response to sell your service or product: Answer the question, offer a solution, apologize for the issue or thank the person for a good review. If you try to sell something, you can sour the reviewer on your company.
5. Don’t offer a canned response: Try to make your response heartfelt and speak to the specific customer and issue. Again, offer to take the conversation offline if you feel you need more information to remedy the situation.
Another way to stay proactive is to pay attention to your content creation. Writing ongoing blog posts, maintaining your social media and having a great media relations strategy can keep your company out front in a positive light.
Your content should be engaging and informative. Your blogs should offer advice and timely tips to your customers. Press releases should provide the news media with a quote from you as a subject-matter expert on topical issues relating to your industry. This kind of content creation establishes you and your company as experts in your field.
Responding to a crisis
No matter how much you try to prevent a crisis, the chances of one happening are still great. If you contracted with a good public relations agency, you probably already have a crisis management plan.
A CMP allows you to respond to the crisis rather than react to it.
Devising a plan helps protect your reputation, your revenue, your employees and your customers. If you neglect to prepare a plan and then don’t respond appropriately, it may not cause the complete failure of your business, but it can cause a lot of embarrassment that requires cleanup.
If you don’t have a plan together yet, there are still some things you shouldn’t do when faced with a crisis:
1. Don’t assume it will just go away: You can’t hide your head in the sand and hope it blows over. You must respond quickly.
2. Don’t shift responsibility: Own the mistake, apologize for it and offer a course correction.
3. Don’t downplay the severity of the situation: Even if the problem isn’t severe to you, it might be to your customers or other stakeholders.
4. Don’t be inauthentic: Put yourself in the shoes of the person or people who are affected and apologize sincerely.
5. Respond calmly and with purpose: If you respond with a knee-jerk or poorly thought-out reaction, the public will notice and punish you for it.
When all is said and done, you and others in top positions at your organization will be held accountable for your reputation. Working with a public relations agency or others who are used to managing a company’s public persona can help you develop plans for ongoing reputation management and dealing with crises. This can make this task easier to handle.
Whether you take on the mantle of handling your reputation management alone or with a team of experts, the bottom line is that you should plan for it now. Don’t wait until the next crisis forces you to think about it while you’re under the gun.