10 tips for reputation management

From forging a strong reputation for being the thought leader in its market, to protecting its interests from attack from unscrupulous individuals or disenfranchised users, reputation management needs to be carefully thought through, expedited and then managed on an on-going basis. Ashley Carr, Managing Director at Neo PR offers ten tips for getting it right…

1. Thought Leadership will help the market form an impression of you…
Why do we respect some brands and are ambivalent about others? Yes, positive track record and user experience are right up there with brand awareness and perceived success, but it’s also about how the brand communicates to the market. Taking the time to contribute to the market with thought provoking ideas that position you as a market ‘thinker’ will ultimately engender the feeling that you are the market ‘leader’, or at the very least, the market ‘mover’ in the eyes of your potential clients. Actively managing a reputation for contributing to debates and helping to define or ‘make’ the market will boost your reputation no end.

2. When the going gets tough…
If you’ve really messed up, then now would be a good time to hold your hands up, admit to your shortcomings, apologise where applicable and limit any damage with positive, but conciliatory comment. If you haven’t messed up and it is clearly a misunderstanding or worse, a falsehood, then now would be a good time to issue statements that unequivocally confirm your position and counter the threat.

3. Make sure you know where all the bodies are buried…
Would you send your best soldiers into battle with their hands tied behind their backs? No? Then this is the time to be really honest with your PR people (under the strictest NDA of course) and let them know everything. Yes everything. Even the bits you haven’t told anyone else about. Why? Because armed with ALL the details, it IS possible to construct watertight statements that will limit the damage and be effective in either preventing the story going further (most cases), or limiting the damage (almost all cases). To a journalist, or indeed anyone on the outside, ‘No Comment’ could be construed as ‘Write what you want, we don’t care’.

4. Social Media can be a scary place…
Unedited; uncontrolled; no police; nowhere to hide. Or so it would seem. But with the right intelligence about what is being said about you, it’s also a great place to manage your reputation positively and in a timely manner. Get on top of a story first – take the lead – or respond to a criticism quickly – stamp out the embers before they get fuelled by the Social fire – and it’s not such a scary place at all. In fact all the things you do in your thought leadership and reputation management work here too – it’s just that the timelines can be an awful lot quicker – so you must be prepared to be fleet of foot and jump on things quickly.

5. Don’t sit on the good stuff and make sure you jump all over the bad
You only get one chance to make a first impression. And getting the timing right is everything. Clients who have just said yes to your latest offering are prime to say nice things about you. But don’t wait – as we all know that when implementation starts, however good it can be, this will always be a time of uncertainty for your client and their confidence, and therefore their willingness to say nice things about you, will probably take a dip. Get them at the start; get them in the middle and then come back for some good comments in the form of a positive case study at the end. And if it’s all going wrong, put away the tin hat and get out of the trenches and face the enemy – it’s always better to get ahead of the bad news, wave the white flag and seek a truce, than it is to call in expensive reinforcements. Get the actions and messaging right here and your reputation could actually be enhanced.

6. Make sure you know who your friends are
Ask the people in any mid-sized organisation what the key messages are, or some basics about the organisation’s messages to the market, and you are likely to get different answers from each – ranging from accurate to wildly off track. And yet most organisations have more customer-facing people who aren’t in sales and marketing, who are equally able to convey the key messages to potential prospects and the world at large. This goes for all partners too – do they know how to sell for you? Are they equipped with all the information and key messages necessary to build you a positive reputation in the markets they operate in also? Getting your ‘elevator pitch’ sorted and then making sure everyone you deal with both internally and externally knows it and understands it, is key to message success.

7. Don’t be a #fail
With Social Media in full swing and generally considered a ‘must-have’ for business to business organisations of all shapes and sizes, it becomes key to manage your reputation in real time, on line. Social Media campaigns for, or against, your organisation can gain momentum quickly in either direction. Avoiding the ‘#fail’ is a balance of getting the appropriate communication guidelines in place and implementing the mechanisms to ensure timely and accurate outbound messaging and responses, engaging with your audience in a dialogue, rather than a monologue.

8. Get your customers to say very nice things about you
It sounds like going back to marketing basics, but it’s simply staggering how many organisations miss the trick of getting other brands with good reputations to say very nice things about them so that their reputation rubs off on your reputation. And if you make sure you do the work for them, most customers will willingly take part in your reputation management if their own corporate communication guidelines allow. People still like to do business with people who have a positive reputation!

9. It’s not a one hit wonder
As with all things marketing shaped, strategy and direction should be closely followed with tactics and footwork. Start with building on a well thought through plan of reputation management across your organisation and deliver clear direction from the top so that everyone understands the aims and is bought in. Preparation is everything – making sure everyone has a clear script to follow should things turn bad will leave them better prepared and able to execute in the best interests of the entire organisation. Often the first you’ll know that something has gone wrong is when someone in your organisation is caught off guard by an inbound journalist enquiry and reports back that they gave lots of answers to their questions – none of them desirable!

10. The holy grail
It’s often said that maintaining a good reputation is as difficult as building one in the first place. It’s a seemingly precarious place teetering at top of the reputation ratings. But it doesn’t have to be. As long as you take the view that you are always on a journey towards an even better reputation, then the focus is on growth and not on standing still!