Even the cream of the crop can’t please everybody all of the time.
Reputational risk can come in all forms. From a full-blown meltdown in the national press to a manager acting in an unprofessional manner at an expo; from a disgruntled customer cussing you on social, to an unhappy member of staff telling their extended family to avoid buying from their employer.
There are numerous scenarios that can damage your standing with the general public and though most companies will generally keep their noses clean, there’s nothing worse than finding yourself in a sticky situation with no plan of action to deal with it.
In today’s article, we’ll discuss how to identify potential risks to your good standing and put plans into place to mitigate any negative impact on your business. Terms like “risk” and “good reputation” mean countless different things to countless different companies, so we’ll try and talk about things in as general terms as possible.
But one thing still stands no matter what your company does – how your company deals with risks to reputation should form a crucial part of your marketing plan and indeed your brand as a whole.
So let’s get started!
1. Recognise the Importance of Reputation
Firstly we need to recognise that the promotional efforts you put out there aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of your brand. There will always be an element of your company’s reputation that sits in the hearts and minds of your customers and your network.
Whether you like him or not, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is widely credited with making this very true statement:
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Taking ownership of your company’s existing reputation (for better or worse) is an essential first step. Look through previous compliments and complaints and take stock of your current strengths and weaknesses. You could even bolster your existing data by sending out surveys to previous customers to ask for further input.
Also, look at where your audience hangs out and where they appear to have a voice – social media and review sites are a great place to start here. Where and how could an unhappy customer make things difficult for you in front of new prospects? Make a note of any findings – both real or hypothetical.
2. Think Laterally about Possible Scenarios
Once you’ve examined what people think of you, it’s time to look at situations that could cause you to lose face with new prospects. This could be something as small as a negative post on Facebook all the way up to a full-blown PR disaster.
Before we start brainstorming situations, remember that reputation risks can also come from within. If staff don’t feel appreciated or if your company isn’t a pleasant place to be, there’s no telling the damage that a disgruntled staff member can do. Keeping staff onside isn’t just crucial to being a good boss. Their operational knowledge of your company’s day-to-day can help the whole company navigate reputational pitfalls too.
Once you’ve got a well-rounded idea of the places where reputation risk could rear its ugly head, it’s time to brainstorm scenarios that could cause you to be viewed negatively. If any issues from the past immediately spring to mind, analyse what happened totally objectively, what went wrong, and what you’d like to have happened at every step.
But history doesn’t always repeat itself – also look into realistic but completely hypothetical scenarios alongside team members from various departments and levels of seniority. Those in different roles may have different attitudes to what constitutes “reputation risk” and may bring interesting new perspectives to the table. If you can, you might also want to brainstorm ideas with trusted external partners – be they fellow business owners/managers or friends and family.
Try not to be overwhelmed by all of these ideas – after all, forewarned is forearmed.
3. Crafting Contingency Processes
Now you know where things may go wrong, it’s time to put measures in place to best deal with each of your more likely scenarios. This can take the form of a flow chart or script to guide you and your staff through situations that could make your company look bad. Start off by determining red flags and warning signs that a situation is taking a turn for the worse, effectively setting “starting points” for each scenario. This planning can also involve set staff roles and lines of hierarchy for escalating customer service or PR issues.
But reputation management processes needn’t just come into play when things go wrong – you can do things to positively impact your reputation at all times. Set into stone processes for encouraging positive reviews following a sale, incorporating historical complaints into your quality control, inspiring positive customer participation over social media, and including new testimonials into your marketing collateral.
Formalise all such processes, with details of exactly who should do what, where, how, and why.
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Once you’ve identified key situations, processes, and people within your reputation management plan (and have planned for both ongoing maintenance and situational response) you need to communicate these plans to all internal stakeholders.
When giving your plans to operational staff, two-way communication is imperative. These team members are your “boots on the ground”, so they may have important input on how customers generally respond and where any internal systems may present stumbling blocks for your new plans. Include your risk-mitigating methodologies when training new staff, and regularly refresh on older concepts with your team.
External communication is important too. Maintaining good standing in the press, encouraging glowing testimonials, and keeping a positive outlook on social media – all helps to keep on your prospects’ radar and in their good books. Maintaining your company’s appearance in this way can even help mitigate any negative attention; if the buzz about you is overwhelmingly positive, any occasional negative voices are easily drowned out.
Risk management shouldn’t just be a “thing your company does” – the measures you decide to put in place should form a professional and cohesive front across the whole company’s outward appearance. Neither is it a “set it and forget it” thing; make time to periodically reassess and incorporate any new threats or practices into your risk planning.
And last but certainly not least – risk management shouldn’t just be a case of saving face, it should come from a genuine eagerness to please everyone involved in the company’s ecosystem. This eagerness should be meaningfully communicated to the world at large and baked into the business’s core values.Worried about what people say about your company behind its back? #reputationrisk Click To Tweet
So it’s over to you. Does your company have any reputational weak-spots? What reputation management practices do you currently have in place? Do you have a set script or flow chart for certain negative scenarios? If you feel like sharing, please head on down to the comments!