It was Warren Buffet (a guy who knows just a bit about succeeding in business) who once noted:
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
With the advent of social media, those “five minutes” have been reduced to a nanosecond. A nasty Tweet, Facebook post, comment on an article, and discussion in an online group can go viral and negatively impact a business before a CEO knows what hit them.
Often, it doesn’t matter whether the negative comments are true or false. If people believe them to be true and the comments aren’t refuted quickly and convincingly, then it may be impossible to ever fully recover.
While most attacks to your company’s reputation come from outside sources, disgruntled customers, former clients, competitors and hostile bloggers, this article will focus on the steps you can take internally to build, fortify and defend your online reputation.
While there are dozens of ways to build and protect your online reputation, below are five essential steps every business should be taking:
Step 1: Create a Brand Worthy of a Powerful Reputation
This may sound obvious, but it is critical to focus on building a formidable reputation before you even think about protecting it. You can’t make people respect your brand. You have to earn their respect.
If you sell a product, make sure your product is useful, well made and fills a void. If you are a service provider, then be at the top of your game. If you aren’t giving back to the community yet, start doing so today.
No matter what kind of business you have, make sure you hold yourself and your team to the highest ethical standards.
Another key element of building a strong reputation is developing positive relationships with your employees. Make sure you provide a workplace where employees are valued, respected and fairly compensated. Disgruntled employees often do more damage to your brand than external forces.
Step 2: Identify, Train and Nurture your Brand Evangelists
While it’s great for the CEO to be the face of the company, many brands find it extremely effective to have multiple employees serving as official and unofficial spokespeople. Different people in your organization possess a variety of skill sets and levels of expertise. IBM actively recruits top employees to be part of their advertising and marketing campaigns.
Their “I’m an IBMer” campaign has been extremely successful:
Providing multiple voices not only humanizes a company, it demonstrates the breadth of knowledge and talent within the company.
Step 3: Train Your Entire Team in the Effective use of Social Media
Thanks to the Web, every member of your staff has the power to be a brand ambassador. That means you can take advantage of hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities to spread positive messages about your company.
On the flip side, the Web gives every staff member the power to be a saboteur (or worse). So long as an individual can be identified as a member of your team, everything they say online about your company reflects on your company. There are hundreds of cases of employees embarrassing their companies with inappropriate Tweets or Facebook posts.
While some companies try to enforce draconian social media policies (many of which have been deemed invalid by the National Labor Relations Board), I strongly suggest that you encourage your team to actively use social media. Use social media as a team-building exercise, have contests, post photographs from the workplace or to brag about awards, new products or services.
The best social media policies encourage – rather than discourage – activity on social platforms. Zappo’s “be real and use your best judgment” treats employees like adults, while Ford’s “play nice” is far simpler than spelling out “don’t be a jerk.”
Step 4: Build Your Reputation through Content Marketing
It is almost impossible to erase all negative comments about your brand from social media or from search engine results. Content marketing can be used to overwhelm the negative with positive. People judge a brand or an individual by weighing pros and cons. The effective use of content marketing can tip the scales in your favor.
Content marketing can take many forms, from articles and white papers to videos and webinars. You need to figure out what works best for your business model and your target audience.
Step 5: Reach out to the Media
Earned media is a tremendous way of bolstering your business’ reputation. Anyone can call themselves an expert or thought leader. It is far more convincing (and impressive) when it’s someone else calling you can expert. Every business has a story (or stories) to tell. A competent public relations professional can flesh out those stories and pitch those stories to the appropriate media.
A relatively small investment in public relations can pay off with big dividends, especially if your company lives up to the standards set in Step 1.
I began this post with a quote from Warren Buffet, so I will end it with one as well:
“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”
If you have failed to take the steps necessary to bolster your company’s reputation, then any attack is going to be magnified.
No matter how great you are as a person or as a business, you will have your detractors. The real risk to your business’ online reputation is when you fail to understand the science of building, fortifying and protecting it. When the overwhelming majority of the discussion about your business is highly positive, you are in a much better position to survive the random salvos that are sure to come.
If you don’t have the internal expertise to take the steps listed above, by all means either get it internally or find someone with the outside expertise to lend a hand. Your reputation should not be left in the hands of amateurs.
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