If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.

Even Saints Need Reputation Management

Within hours, a brand’s reputation can be smeared beyond repair. It doesn’t matter if what was said was true or false, legal or illegal.

Brook Zimmatore · 24 Feb 2020 ·

She helped starving children in Ethiopia, aided radiation victims at Chernobyl, operated 517 missions for the poor in over 100 countries, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. For a lifetime of helping people the worldover, she was officially sainted by the Catholic Church in 2016. But according to the Internet, she is ​racist,​ a friend of evil ​dictators,​ and per Vice magazine, even a ​heartless b****h​.

Yes, even the Mother Teresa brand needs reputation management. Being sainted by the Pope is not enough.

Long gone are the days of top-down, one-way communication to the consumer. Today, with social media, the brand and consumer relationship is two-way. This creates a deeper, more meaningful brand/consumer bond; the brand connected to the consumer, the consumer to the brand. This gives the consumer a powerful voice like never before. Handled poorly, a single negative review with a vengeful hashtag or an angry complaint video gone viral, can destroy a brand’s reputation overnight. (One recent tweet l​ ost​ the NBA $150 – 200 million and jeopardized its relationship with its largest market, China.) Handled well with modern reputation management strategies, both the brand and the consumer benefit from social media.

Keeping up with the internet

No longer does the Monday through Friday complaint department field upset phone calls and sort through the day’s snail mail complaints. Whether they live in your town or the other side of the world, today’s consumer is connected 24/7/365 to the brand through social media. Their praise and criticism is instant and everywhere. Their voices heard days, nights, and weekends. They expect the same from brands: immediate response. Ignore customers’ complaints at your peril. Public sentiment can turn for or against a brand at any time and instantly. Good brands monitor these shifts and work to remediate and repair them. Great brands see the currents changing — in their favor or against — and act proactively to leverage these changes to improve their reputation. The very best brands use reputation management to guide public opinion to their advantage, paving the way for greater brand recognition.

A few short decades ago, reputation management meant controlling your message on TV, Radio, and print. Access to this traditional media was limited and controlled by a relatively small number of people. The consumer was left with few options to tell his side of the story. Today the playing field has been flattened by social media. The largest brands in the world and you and your neighbors down the street have access to the same social media. They interact as equals. Not only that, the consumer has a seemingly ever-changing selection of megaphones to the world. Brands have to work hard to keep up. For every blogger, influencer, and citizen journalist singing your brand’s praises, there is a disgruntled former employee, an angry customer or rival working to tear your reputation down. Having and following an effective strategy for them all is what effective reputation management is today.

Not only was traditional media slow compared to today’s push-button, citizen journalist era, but it had greater capacity to filter and refine its messages. Lies could be vetted, slander edited out, and libel cross-checked and/or removed before publication. More importantly, faced with self-inflicted public relations wounds, messy legal matters, or embarrassing rumors (or truths) brands had more time to get in front of the bad news and mitigate its negative effects. Not so today.

No recourse for being slandered

Today’s media has been democratized and atomized. Each one of us can send our messages to the world with the click of a button. And, for better or worse, consumers and competitors can say whatever they want, without filter, without risk, without cost. In fact, their message may be false or libelous or slanderous and unable to stand up in the court of law. But all the lawyers in the world can’t turn the tide of public opinion when an angry tweet or revenge video goes viral. Within hours, a brand’s reputation can be smeared beyond repair. It doesn’t matter if what was said was true or false, legal or illegal, once everyone of your consumers, employees, partners, and the press sees it, the damage has been done and the brand has to act fast.

A common response when a brand is faced with internet defamation is to try to bury or push the story down the Google search results page. Infrequently, and in specific circumstances, Google can be persuaded to remove the story. But don’t count on it as a recourse. More frequently, a service is contracted to do the job. A paid, positive social media campaign can yield good results as well. The story may not go away, but it will be much harder to find. Good reputation management can push it off the first page, maybe even the second. Great reputation management offers a suite of services that not only pushes the story off the front pages, but also helps defend against internet defamation before it happens, mitigates damage when it does, and provides comprehensive crisis management clean-up after the fact.

The question is no longer, “Does my brand need reputation management?”

Online reputation management program

If your brand, whether local start-up or multinational, is not receiving positive attention from the press, not being lauded by leading influencers in your field, and not thought of as the leader in your industry, you need reputation management. Here is a simple formula to adopt:

  1. Get there first. Where there is no information, the internet will surely fill the void for you.
  2. Own your assets. A brand or individual should own as many social and internet properties as they can.
  3. Keep them alive. Constant management is key. It may seem expensive but your relay of communication through all channels is a powerful marketing and reputation tool.
  4. Establish relationships with the social media giants. Getting to know the right people or arbitration channels on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all the others may save your bacon one day.
  5. Establish social media and internet monitoring. There are dozens of tools available to actively monitor the internet.
  6. Have a situational crisis plan in place. Commonly ignored, much like a fire drill, a series of protocols can be put into place with predesigned messaging in the moment of an internet crisis.
  7. Make relationships with mainstream editors. This is powerful. Where you had no voice you now do. Editor-friendlies can assist in getting an accurate story out in the moment of need.

If Mother Teresa needs it, so do you.

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