Scott Baradell

38 Tips for Reputation Management In a Post-Truth World

By: Scott Baradell | July 12, 2021 | 
1

38 Tips for Reputation Management In a Post-Truth WorldI’ve referred to reputation management as PR playing defense, but the truth is that to do reputation right in 2021, you also must be able to go on the offensive.

That means rather than simply listening for online criticism and then responding to it, brands must start 10 steps ahead by anticipating possible issues and putting programs in place to blunt the impact of these potential challenges should they occur.

Otherwise, your brand could unwittingly find itself the target of an online cancellation attempt or other existential crisis.

I asked professional communicators, brand managers, entrepreneurs, and others to share their top tips for reputation management in the post-truth, cancel-culture world of 2021.

Here are 38 of those tips.

To better organize these insights, I’ve arranged them into four categories:

  1. Strategy and Planning
  2. Working with the News Media
  3. Managing Social Media
  4. Managing and Responding to Online Reviews

Reputation Management Strategy and Planning

Be Prepared

A simple fire evacuation drill once a month will ensure your staff’s safety whenever a fire happens. Preparing yourself for something doesn’t mean you’re hoping for it to happen. It’s taking care of your business proactively. — Israel Gaudette, founder, Link Tracker Pro

See What’s Getting the Other Guys In Trouble

Devote some time each week to researching any current brands experiencing crises. Then, document exactly what the uproar was over. It’s easy for brands to fall out of touch with the views of the general public if they’re small or work with a niche sector. Paying attention helps you figure out how to ensure the same does not happen to your brand. — Ravi Parikh, CEO, RoverPass

Perform a Quarterly SWOT Analysis to Identify Threats

A SWOT analysis is incredibly helpful for taking an introspective look at your business. Naturally, identifying threats to your business will help you be more proactive about them, but identifying other aspects such as your strengths and weaknesses can help you identify potential future issues as well. Some of your greatest strengths could easily become your biggest threats if not managed well. — Mark Webster, co-founder, Authority Hacker

Establish a Chain of Command

Have a clear chain of command established in advance for managing reputation crises. Often, there is confusion about who makes calls: is it the social media manager, the head of HR, or the owner of the company? Different situations call for different processes, but ultimately you need to decide who has the final say on any statements put out by the company. Everyone should be aware of the people they’d be working with if a crisis occurred. — Ann Martin, Director of Operations of CreditDonkey

Implement a Content Review System

Reputation crises mainly arise because of a poor choice of content or poor review strategy. The review strategy should include every piece of content being reviewed by at least three different people. When three different employees filter your content, it is highly likely to be error-free. These employees must be trained individuals that follow a given pattern to review the content and effectively point out mistakes. —Kristi Stoll, founder, KidVisionaries

Run a Simulation

Simulations can be really valuable learning opportunities for leadership teams to assess their current ability to effectively address organizational risks, without the high stakes and consequences of an actual crisis. Simulations can also be custom-designed to target vulnerable areas of the organization (e.g. ability to respond to customer complaints on social media) so leadership can more quickly strengthen their response capacity to a specific risk or area of concern. — Helio Fred Garcia, president, Logos Consulting Group

Start with Your Employees

Building a reputation begins inside the working environment. For us, managing our reputation begins with ensuring all employees are happy at work. There’s nothing more important than taking time out of the workweek to speak with team members about how they feel. This gives them the opportunity to raise any concerns and ask questions. — Jack Benzaquen, founder, Duradry.com

Undertake DE&I Training

DE&I training is an ideal way for any company to improve its reputation management, along with the other positive changes it can bring. Many mishaps have derived from a lack of understanding about how to talk about important issues with DEI in mind (e.g., the Burger King tweet about women in the kitchen.) Social expectations change over time, and companies need to make sure everyone understands current conventions and standards for behavior. — Daivat Dholakia, director of operations, Force by Mojio

Encourage Your Employees to Be Advocates

Employee advocacy is one of the most powerful tools for building your company’s reputation and at the same time protecting your business from gossip and crisis. Employees are your most valuable asset; they are also your best brand representatives. — Elwina Melon, head of people and culture, Tidio Chatbots

Be Consistent in Words and Actions

Your marketing staff can invest a billion dollars promoting your brand as one that “cares.” However, if your customer service is never accessible or if you handle dissatisfied consumers with contempt, no amount of influencers or marketing talk can help you. — Mike Chappell, founder, Formspal

Buy Up Negative Domain Names

When a company becomes a public spectacle, the negative interest will have people frothing at the mouth to cash in. People will snap up domains like CompanyNameScandal.com or CompanySucks.com and will sit on those domains, then build them out for clicks that they can use for profit. If they’re diligent, they can rank those sites high—sometimes higher than yours.

I recommend investing in some of the common ones beforehand. It may seem silly, but buying YourCompanyNameSucks.com won’t cost you all that much and it will save you the headache of having to deal with some internet “entrepreneur” using it when it’s convenient. — Carter Seuthe, vice president of content, Credit Summit

Invest in Better Customer Service

Focus on improving customer satisfaction metrics. Your profit might suffer initially, but it will almost always grow in the long run. The best antidote for any potential reputation hits is having years of good reputation to fall back on. — Dan Bailey, president, WikiLawn

Listen to Other Perspectives and Be Open to Change

Be a better listener than talker. Leaders of brands must realize that regardless of how “right” they believe they are in conducting themselves, their people or their market may not see it similarly. Relationship quality is reputation quality. Perceptions matter. Our sensitivity matters. How we conduct ourselves and conduct business is deeply meaningful to others, as much so or more than our products. — Michael Toebe, founder and specialist, Reputation Quality

Embrace Social Changes

The best way to avoid being “canceled” is for your organization to embrace changes in culture, thoughts, and beliefs in society—supporting and standing for what is right. — Michelle Devani, founder, lovedevani

Working With the News Media

Hire a PR Firm Before a Crisis Happens

Hire a PR team before you have a crisis. The job of a public relations expert is to manage a company, brand, or individual’s public reputation, ensuring that this aligns with the values they represent and the image they want to present to the world. As a crisis is already unfolding is probably the worst time to try to hire a PR agency – granted it’s better than doing nothing at all – but you should already have one. — Eric Yaverbaum, CEO, Ericho Communications

Stay Up on the News

Think about what’s in the news, what people are talking about, what the hot-button issues are, and then consider how what you’re about to do will play in those contexts. Cultural trends and hot topics are beyond your control but staying aware of them and using them to judge how your actions will be received can go a long way towards avoiding damage to your reputation. — Francesca Nicasio, content marketer, Payment Depot

Generate Positive Media Coverage in Advance

The best thing you can do for your business’s reputation is to generate good press preemptively to outweigh the bad. Doing this will diminish the impact of anything that happens and it will give your business some sticking power on the internet beyond whatever crisis arises. Unfortunately, if you don’t have this presence beforehand, people Googling your business will almost certainly come up with articles about the blow-up, spoof sites, and other things that aren’t your actual business. — Rex Freiberger, CEO, License to Vape

Put Executives Through Media Training

Every company should have a well-circulated crisis communications plan. Only designated individuals should have media access after they’ve been trained by a PR professional and company media goals are aligned. — Joseph Finora, owner, Joseph Finora & Associates

Put the CEO Out Front in a Crisis

Nobody is immune from making mistakes. In crises, it is essential for the company’s CEO to publicly talk about the company’s steps to resolve the situation and then regularly report how you follow this plan. Finally, tell what measures will be taken to prevent it from happening again. — Illia Termeno, founder, Fractional CMO

Execute a Thought Leadership Strategy

The best strategy is thought leadership. Over time, building on your thought leadership will ensure that you have built a solid reputation in front of the right audiences and influencers. So, if you find yourself in the middle of a heated or unfortunate block of attention at any moment of time, you will have a solid foundation of credibility already amassed behind you. — Amanda Sutton, president, CATALYST communications choreography

Managing Social Media

Use Social Media as an Early Warning System

We use social media platforms as a sort of modern-day canary in the coal mine system. We vigilantly monitor the social media sites for any mention of our company and assess each one in terms of whether it’s an indicator of a bigger problem coming for us down the road. — Todd Ramlin, Cable Compare

Use a Monitoring Tool

Having the ability to monitor your brand’s reputation and presence online is crucial for a number of reasons. It allows you to find out what your brand’s image looks like at present. It tells you what’s working and what’s not. To be able to keep track of all the chatter, you’ll need a good media monitoring tool. This type of software lets you track the whole lot from a single dashboard. — Allan Borch, founder, DotcomDollar.com

Focus on the Most Important Channels

One of the best things you can do for your brand is to minimize exposure by reducing forward-facing channels. What I mean by this is to reduce the number of social channels you have open. You don’t need to participate on so many social networks, just choose one or two where your customers spend most of their time. You don’t need a talkative blog that details everything happening at the company, just a relevant news feed to share major events. — Morgan Taylor, co-founder, Link Sourcery

Show You Care

Use your social media profiles to build up trust with current and potential customers. People love to talk about products and brands online and using your social media to listen to their feedback, comments, and suggestions can help build your reputation as a brand that cares. — Melissa Haws, community outreach manager, The Furnace Outlet

Create Positive Experiences

We all make mistakes. Think about when a family member or friend makes a mistake. We give them the benefit of the doubt because of the many positive interactions we’ve had. Our customers are the same way. If they only hear from us when their payments lapse, then we’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt when we make a mistake. Instagram giveaways are one way to create positive engagement; think of it as an insurance policy that also grows your brand. — Gabriel A. Mays, co-founder & CEO, POPSMASH

Build a Social Media Following That Trusts You

If you build a good relationship with followers, you can have them as a source of support when you are criticized. To do that, you have to show your followers you care about their opinion. Listen to people’s comments and act on them. Your followers will start trusting you and will be more likely to help you out in case of a PR mistake. — Stefan Chekanov, CEO, Brosix

Create a Facebook Group to Stand Up for Your Brand

Facebook Groups form a sense of community. Forming a community around your brand is one of the most effective ways to keep your reputation clean. When people band together in support of a product or service, it becomes a powerful force in social media. So when some people try to “cancel” you, there will also be those who will protect you. Of course, this strategy is only good if you consistently provide excellent products or services. — Lucas Travis, founder, Inboard Skate

Clean Up the Social Media History of Your Spokespeople

One of the most important things a company can do is look into the history of its spokespeople and C-level suite. You can extract social media posts to a CSV file and carefully examine someone’s history. You can then choose to delete posts or not use someone altogether. It’s not uncommon for someone to have posted something 10 years ago that isn’t so PC. Or it can be something innocent with no harm meant, such as “I can’t believe I woke up drunk.” Without context, that post can make the person look like an alcoholic or someone who glorifies drinking. But in reality, it can be something as innocent as they had one drink on an empty stomach. Do your research and fix the problem before it ever becomes a problem. — Mindy Serin, CEO, RunWith.Digital

Include a Morality Clause in Agreements with Influencers

It would be unfair for your company to get caught in the fire because of the actions of, say, a social media influencer you’ve partnered with—but it can happen. Make sure your partnership contract gives you an out. You want to be able to terminate a relationship for “bad behavior,” whatever that means to you. If “it” hits the fan, you’ll be glad that the morality clause is there. — Maria Spear Ollis, owner/attorney, Spear IP Law

Managing and Responding to Online Reviews

Ask for Reviews

Consistently ask for reviews after a transaction. Many satisfied customers will leave positive reviews, and in the end, they will outweigh any negative ones, boosting your company’s reputation in the process. — Golda Criddle, marketing manager, ReviewInc

Send Customers Directly to Your Google Reviews Link

Once your team is armed with the URL for your Google Reviews area, you can have them text or email it directly to the customer to streamline the process when asking for reviews. To get a direct URL to your Google reviews, log in to your profile, click “Reviews” in the left-hand navigation menu, and copy the review link. — Colin Little, owner, Social Launch, LLC

Respond to Complaints Immediately

When a bad review, comment, or message comes your way, one particular step alone will define what happens next, and it is the speed of your response. Take action, and respond to any negative reviews or feedback immediately. The point is to show you care and make your customer feel heard and valued. — Keith Eneix, president, TautUSA

Don’t Be Afraid to Pick Up the Phone

Do not underestimate the power of a phone call. When addressing a complaint from a known customer, a phone call from an owner or manager to the disgruntled customer can have a tremendous impact in turning a customer service debacle into a triumph. We are all inundated with e-mails, so a phone call or handwritten note can really stand out. — Todd William, founder and CEO, Reputation Rhino

Learn and Make Improvements Based on Complaints

Isn’t it true that the customer is always right? Consider if there are any flaws in your business that need to be fixed when responding to online comments or poor reviews, particularly if you get a lot of negative feedback regarding a specific problem. — Celynn Leow, CEO, The Halo Pets

Apologize with Discounts

Act on the issue immediately. Apologize for the mistake and find a way to make up for it, such as giving the customer discounts or freebies.— Samantha Moss, editor, Romantific

Don’t Overreact to Negative Reviews

If you get a bad review, celebrate! It gives you an opportunity to talk about your customer service policies, what you did when things went wrong, and your side of the story. Bad reviews authenticate all your good reviews by making your review page look credible, authentic, and not “faked.” It is harder to get good reviews than bad ones. People know this and expect to see a bad review; if there isn’t one, they start to wonder if all the reviews are fake. — Shannon Peel, CEO, MarketAPeel

Have Your Customers Come to You First

We are a cricket farm, and we ship millions of crickets every week to reptile owners across the country.  Sometimes the crickets don’t survive the transit. Naturally, customers want to jump on social media and announce to the world that we are a terrible service provider due to these rare but unavoidable results. To prevent this, we make it very transparent on our website that we have a live delivery guarantee, and that customers should notify us if there is a problem. We have this statement on our product page, on our shipping FAQ page, and in the confirmation email that customers receive after they place their order. This has done a great job preventing disappointed customers from announcing these results to the world, giving us a chance to correct the issue.  — Jeff Neal, owner, The Critter Depot

Head Off Bad Reviews with Chatbots

Having customer service chatbots will do wonders because you can take action to your customers’ feedback 24/7 leaving no time for adverse comment, that initiates a wrong impression to the brand. Pair the chatbot with a dedicated team of customer service representatives that are also available round the clock to act if the customers are not satisfied with the chatbot’s response. — Scott Cairns, founder and CEO, Creation Business Consultants

A version of this first appeared on the Idea Grove blog. Reprinted with permission. 

About Scott Baradell


Scott Baradell is founder and CEO of the unified PR and marketing firm Idea Grove and author of the upcoming book Trust Signals, to be published later this year.