Reputation matters

Why reputation management should be at the top of your priority list

26/01/2016 11:36:25
Thomas Paine once wrote that “Character is much easier kept than recovered.” If this was the case in the eighteenth century then it’s certainly even truer in the twenty-first: with 24 hour news and social media providing round-the-clock coverage of the world’s ups and downs, a gaffe-laden interview, high-profile security breach or flurry of bad reviews can be an unmitigated disaster for a business.

Here we discuss the ins and outs of reputation management, a ‘prophylactic’ approach to PR centred around maintaining a brand’s credibility and status. The focus of reputation management is on sustaining positive sentiment around a person or a business, and minimising the risk of damage to a brand if something unexpected happens.

Recent research has shown that businesses in the UK trade on their reputations to a staggering degree without even realising – but a badly-managed PR crisis truly can make or break a business.

Still not convinced you might benefit from reputation management? Read on…

Shutting the stable door

Recent research by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO and the Quoted Companies Alliance has shown that company reputations are worth an astonishing £1.7 trillion to the economy of the UK – a figure which is all the more concerning when the study also found that 26% of businesses admit that they do little to manage their reputation.

Where possible, prevention is always better than cure. The report points out that ‘reputation is earned over time by consistently ethical and conservative behaviour’ – transparency and best practice business conduct are arguably the best ways to minimise your risk of receiving negative coverage – after all, if there’s nothing negative to say, it can’t be said.

That said, it isn’t always possible to plan for a threat to your company’s reputation. Having robust strategies in place for handling bad press or minimising the risk of damaging errors can be the crucial factor in your business making it to the other side – the outlay in time or expense is almost always justifiable compared with the literal and figurative costs of the alternative.

Print problems and digital debacles

Having a gaffe splashed across the print press has long been most businesses’ worst nightmare, but in the digital age news travels even faster. According to the QCA study, many companies still believe that negative coverage in traditional media is the biggest risk to their reputation: 21% said they fear the effects of negative press in newspapers, radio and television, while only 17% are similarly wary of the power of the internet.

The shareable nature of social media raises many good examples of the importance of online reputation management. Tweets and Facebook posts can spread at lightning speed – which, if the tweet in question is a negative appraisal of your brand, can be a disaster. Not even the Oxford English Dictionary was safe this week: after a Twitter user pointed out the potential misogyny in some of its definitions, the dictionary’s social media executives responded flippantly then aggressively, provoking a storm of disapproval and a flurry of newspaper articles within hours of the original tweet. By the time the OED apologised for its response, the damage was done.
Fortunately, the fast-burning nature of Facebook and Twitter can be a positive attribute where reputation management is concerned, as embarrassing incidents can be overcome quickly – speedy reactions and effective social media management can help to quell a crisis as quickly as it appears.

Search engines, too, can be a company’s worst enemy as well as its best friend – many a business has Googled themselves only to find an article they’d rather forget about glued to the top of the search results. These too can be addressed with good PR and SEO support: search results are infinitely flexible, and the introduction of Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’ function allows individuals to ask for old or inaccurate search results to be removed – though this just makes coverage harder to find rather than removing it altogether.

Dealing with a disaster

Reputation management is a staple part of public relations. From media training to crisis management, strategies exist to help businesses to recover from a blow to their name.

Sometimes, effective crisis management even has the power to turn an embarrassing situation on its head. Being seen to handle an awkward state of affairs with transparency and maturity can actually become a positive PR opportunity – when an O2 network outage in 2012 sparked a deluge of fury on social media, O2’s response to the crisis was so good that users stopped tweeting angrily and began to praise the business’s social media manager instead.

However good your intentions in a crisis, if you’re worried things may get out of hand then it’s always best to hand over to the experts. A PR specialist with strong skills in reputation and crisis management will keep track of your coverage in print and digital media, helping to identify reputational risks before they gain momentum so they can be headed off at the pass where possible.
Much can be learned from our mistakes and the errors of others, but we’d all rather not put ourselves in those situations in the first place – after all, a reputation crisis can make or break a business. 

Would you like to know more about our reputation management and crisis communications services?

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