Lis Anderson is founder and director at PR consultancy AMBITIOUS and an agency MD with over 20 years in the communications industry.
As the famous quote from Warren Buffet goes, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Mr. Buffet offered this pearl of wisdom almost a decade ago. Since then, the digital revolution has well and truly taken over. And so, even though this quote still rings true today, I think it needs updating.
Thanks to the digital world, everything is faster. You can now build a reputation much faster, but you can also ruin it more quickly. Forget five minutes—try 0.5 seconds or however quickly you can click a mouse.
“Cancel culture” is rife, and it is not just celebrities who need to be careful. Business leaders and brands are also under fire. An errant tweet or damning online review can have huge repercussions on corporate reputation and, ultimately, a company’s bottom line . So, it’s time to get proactive about your online reputation. It’s something that needs to be built and continuously maintained. It’s not just about making sure the information about you, your company or sales messages are relevant, but about curating a digital presence that you are proud of and that resonates with your target audience. Think about the online reputation of your business as an ecosystem, which is only as strong as its weakest link:
The people at the top of a company are intrinsically linked to the company’s reputation. If their character comes under question, so do the companies they’re tied to. There is also an opportunity here. Your leadership can become brand advocates and contribute to the marketing effort with tailored and developed online profiles.
It goes without saying that the reputation of the brand itself online is critical. Your brand needs to be put in the best light possible, and all online communications need to be controlled and cleared for reputational risk.
Who you work with has a direct reflection on your business, too. Influencer marketing is incredibly popular, but do you really know how reputable the partners you work with are? Once you sign a contract, that influencer is a direct representative of your business and, therefore, their reputation becomes just as important as yours.
It can be hard to know where to start with so many different components to consider. What should be clear is that managing your online reputation is something that needs a proactive approach. You need to actively curate a favorable online presence—one that stands up to scrutiny and is defensible in the event of a reputational crisis. Here is how you can make a start:
Get a full view of how the public sees your brand.
Knowledge is power. Having the entire picture of how your business or leadership is viewed online is where you need to start. To build and protect your reputation, you need to have visibility of all open-source information regarding your business available. This will allow you to effectively map your online presence and identify both the opportunities and the threats. Find any negative product and Glassdoor reviews, seek out negative news articles or unfavorable Reddit threads. Knowing the reputational issues is where you need to start if you want to mitigate the risk.
Know your threats.
The digital dark arts are real. And no, it is not all troll farms and the dark web. It is much more likely that the threats to your reputation are from hostile journalists or targeted phishing attacks. You need to be aware of the threats that are out there and then have a contingency plan in place to mitigate those threats if they occur. Do you have an effective crisis communications plan? Do you have a cybersecurity response to a breach? What do you do in case of a data leak? These are all questions you should be asking yourself as a business leader.
Online perceptions can be contradictory to what your business is actually like. You therefore need to be proactive when it comes to your online profile. First, make sure you own everything when it comes to your brand name. Claim your Google My Business profile, lock down social channels and domains, and publish and tag up-to-date, high-quality imagery. You then need to take it a step further by optimizing all of your assets for search and start producing content regularly. Take control of the narrative online and start locking down the search results that matter to your business. You’ll then be well on your way to managing your online reputation effectively.
The field of online reputation management is growing. The demand is huge, and supply is just starting to catch up. As business continues to be done more and more online, being proactive about your online reputation is no longer something you can avoid. If you do, someone else will end up telling your business story. And it may not be one that you want to read.
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