Reputation ManagementBy Gini Dietrich

Warren Buffett famously said, “If you lose money for the firm, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation, I will be ruthless.”

Reputation management, today, is only as good as an organization’s search results. If your operations are solid, you have a responsive customer service team, and you run things ethically, the rest will sort itself out.

But reputation management should be handled with the utmost care…it shouldn’t be something that is left simply to sorting itself out, though that is a good starting point.

Reputation management requires communication. It should be strategic, thoughtful, and targeted.

And reputation management always comes down to this: When there is a bad situation at hand, is it an issue or does it become a crisis?

Reputation Management through an Issue

When you are faced with reputation management because of an issue that could turn crisis, it’s important to remember that often, it’s not the content of the story that matters, but who tells it first.

When you tell your story, you have the best opportunity to stay in front of it. Take the punch to the nose. It may break, but it will heal.

  1. Act swiftlyYou may not think you’ll ever have to worry about reputation management, but the social web creates an environment where you have to be on your toes all day, every day. An employee could say something racist online. A customer could have it out for you and spread lies through their Facebook page. A competitor might engage in a whisper campaign against you. The only way to win at the game is to be prepared, have a communications expert on your team (or have one on speed dial), and act swiftly.
  2. Address the problem. It’s not fun to have to come out and say you screwed up or something bad has happened. When you address the problem head-on, you have the opportunity to tell the story from your point-of-view, to say you’re sorry, and to provide solutions.
  3. Communicate the story. A story gets out of control when you haven’t told your side of it and people begin to speculate. This is extremely damaging to your brand and what creates an emergency around reputation management. While you can’t control the story, you can provide the facts, information, and access to executives that allow journalists and bloggers to help you frame it in the right way.
  4. Communicate where it happens. A few years ago, Dominos had rogue employees post a nasty video on YouTube. That is where the company went to diffuse the bomb. Their CEO recorded a video and posted it on YouTube so it would come up in searches when people were looking for the original employee video. Of course, it was then shared through other social networks and embedded on the company’s website, but it lives on YouTube. If the story is unfolding on Facebook, that’s the tool you’ll use to tell your side. If it’s happening in the more traditional media, that’s where you’ll focus your energies.
  5. Hire a crisis communications expert. This shouldn’t be someone who knows how to use social media or someone who works for a company that has experienced an issue or crisis. It should be someone who has deep and intense experience in managing an issue or crisis. Typically these people work in PR firms and specialize in crisis communication or reputation management. If you can’t afford a communications expert, become BFFs with someone who can help you think through issues when they arise. Put them on your advisory board. If you have a paid board, add them to that.
  6. Think before you act. Yes, things happen in real-time. Yes, we live in a 24/7/365 world. Yes, it’s fast-paced and you have to act quickly. But that does not excuse you from thinking. An issue or a crisis is emotional. You will feel defensive. If it will make you feel better, write down what you really want to say and then delete it (please delete it—or it will eventually find its way into the wrong hands!). Sometimes all you need is someone to vent to and then you can go about the task of communicating rationally and without emotion.
  7. Empower your team. Lululemon is an athletic clothing store. Early in 2013, it was discovered you could see through some of the women’s yoga pants, creating a very expensive situation for the company. They had to recall the pants from their stores and offer refunds to women who bought them. Not only did they have some fun with the issue—a window at a store in Vancouver had a sign that read, “We aim to be transparent”—but they empowered their team to do what they thought was best for each individual customer. Because of it, the story fanned out fairly quickly, and it became a case study in how to manage an issue the right way. Let your team help. Set the expectations and boundaries, give them the tools and resources they need to be successful, and let them at it!
  8. Say I’m sorry. Of course, you have to mean it and it can’t be accompanied with the word “but.” When you practice saying “I’m sorry” in your everyday communications, it becomes easier to say it—and mean it—when an issue develops…and it’s critical for reputation management.
  9. Back down when you’re wrong. If you hold a position on something and someone points out there is a double standard or you’re being hypocritical, reassess your policy (see: Applebee’s).

Today’s Reputation Management Exercise

Though this exercise will take longer than 30 minutes to have it complete, it’s a great place to start.

Set your timer and get ready to work!

  1. Conduct an online audit. Likely you already know what’s there, but it doesn’t hurt to do a Google search, see what is being said, and where it lands in search results (second listing, first page). Search Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Search the social networks. Search the review sites. Search the Better Business Bureau and Ripoff Report. Search employee sites such as Glassdoor. Use terms such as “I hate COMPANY NAME” or “COMPANY NAME sucks.”
  2. Search individuals. Do searches on key employees or executives at your organization. Look at sites such as Spokeo that aggregate content from all over the web—including personal information such as a home address—to determine what is out there that you may not like. Keep a watch on not only the company but your name and those of your key employees and revisit monthly.
  3. Create a strategy. Based on what you learn from the audit and what internal and external implementation resources are in place, put together the company’s online strategy—and make sure it’s tied to your goals. The very first thing you should do (if you haven’t already) is set up alerts to let you know when someone says something about you online—positive, neutral, or negative.
  4. Create a clean-up list. With the audit complete and your online strategy in place, now comes the clean-up. In some cases, there will be multiple accounts for your organization. There might be profiles you don’t need on social networks that either are defunct or don’t help your strategy. There might be negative reviews or blog posts on the first page of search results you’d like to address so they don’t come up before your own sites and the positive reviews. Maybe there are “I hate COMPANY NAME” groups on Facebook or untrue reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Perhaps former employees have said really terrible things about you on Glassdoor, or they’ve set up social networks for the company and you don’t have the login information. Whatever it happens to be, the list begins with these types of things. Write down everything you need cleaned up so the person or team responsible understands what it is you want done.
  5. Assign a person or a team to do the work. They will need usernames and passwords, branding guidelines, sign-off on copy/images, and the power to make changes without a laborious approval process. Assign certain people to complaints, others to delete unnecessary social networks or get the login information to those missing, and others to begin a list of content that should be created, based on what people are saying.
  6. Begin the clean-up. Some of this is painful because you’ll need to work with the social networks’ customer service departments to reset login data, delete a profile, or take down an untrue review. This could take weeks, but it’s worth the time and effort.
  7. Content is king…or at least prince. Many of you will have negative reviews that are, unfortunately, true. There are many organizations who claim they will clean up your online reputation for $40 per month, deleting all of the negative reviews from search results. Don’t fall for that. It’s impossible to delete things on a site unless you have administrator rights. Sure, you can hire someone on their word and take your chances. It’s certainly a lot cheaper than hiring a communications professional, but remember: You always get what you pay for, and this is one of those instances where it pays to spend the money.
  8. Implement the strategy. Once you’ve cleaned up the organization’s online presence and figured out how you’re going to use content to build a strong reputation, it’s time to put your strategy into action. You’re about to become transparent, which is really scary for most business leaders. Allow employees to talk about your products or services publicly. Establish a one-to-one communication channel where customers can engage and converse with you in real time every day. Proactively ask for feedback. And don’t hide criticism: Address it publicly.

The Scavenger Hunt

If you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit Paul Sutton’s blog.

The secret word is in his blog post, “Embrace the Crazy!”

Just write down the secret word in Paul’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through tomorrow, so keep playing along (and you can work backwards, if you’re just starting out).

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office, including a Spin Sucks computer sticker, a Spin Sucks Sharpie, and more. I’ll even personalize and sign a nameplate for you to put in the front of your book.

Just email the receipt to [email protected]. Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

Now get to work!

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich