In the days before ubiquitous, instant worldwide communication, company reputations took longer to build – and longer to break. News of both good and bad deeds generally spread much more slowly than today, and consumer sentiment about those deeds took much longer to percolate through the marketplace.
Now, instant gratification goes hand in hand with instant notification. Company missteps, even if not widely publicized via mainstream media, can go viral in a matter of minutes. Remember the bullied bus monitor Karen Klein, and the viral video that propelled her to instant international prominence?
It can happen to anybody – even you. Regrettably, human nature tends to gravitate more quickly to negative reports than positive. So, Job 1 of any marketing, PR, or communications department is to protect a good reputation from going south between sunrise and sunset.
Nowhere is this human tendency to pounce on the negative more pronounced than in the celebrity world. One mistake or misstatement by a highly-respected luminary can catapult him or her into an almost immediate freefall – propelled by a torment of tweets and other social media reports.
With this volatile and fragile state of affairs, what common sense, cost-effective steps can you take to protect and promote your good reputation?
1. Be honest with yourselves, your employees and other stakeholders, and the outside world. Social media is transforming the idea of transparency, serving, essentially, as a powerful “lie detector.” Everyone makes mistakes no matter how honorable or honest they are, but being deceptive in today’s environment is asking for trouble.
2. Check yourself out frequently. This can be as simple as scanning Google under your company name and any other relevant search terms. Often, you’ll discover substantial useful intel through this simple task.
Increasingly, disgruntled customer comments and views are finding their way onto the internet. Consumers seeking performance information about a firm may well encounter some negative feedback. For a mega-corporation, this is typical; but a small business with a string of negative reports should be concerned.
3. Prepare for controversy and have an action plan ready if it comes. You may recall the controversy around the Super Bowl Volkswagen ad featuring the person with a Jamaican accent. The buzz started before the big game on such places as the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, with columnists expressing their displeasure about the Jamaican characterization. A VW America spokesperson said they tested out the ad, including running it past people of Jamaican descent, and didn’t see a problem.
Here’s a case where a company supposedly covered their bases in the interest of cultural and ethnic sensitivity – and still wound up getting criticized. Just as media interview training prepares subjects to handle a variety of tough questions, so should your company be ready for a potential negative report – both in terms of strategy and tactics around specific scenarios.
4. Own up to screw-ups. When something goes awry, handle it head- on with integrity and truthfulness. Don’t attempt to spin a fictional tale to persuade the marketplace, or hide behind legal gobbledygook. In those cases where you can’t provide substantive disclosure right away, offer anything you can to demonstrate to the marketplace sincerity and caring about the issue. This will resonate with consumers encountering you or reports about your company years from now. People have long memories, both about positive – and negative – PR.
5. Make your marketing believable. Erik Qualman, author of the book Socialnomics, claims 78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations, versus the 14 percent who trust ads. Gearing marketing efforts to capitalize on word-of-mouth and social media-driven reviews and reports likely will resonate better with the marketplace than traditional advertising, at least among younger audiences. So, in addition to what you say and how you say it, where you say it deserves careful consideration.
6. Reach out to centers of influence. Establishing communication and rapport with influential mainstream and social media before there’s a problem can help later when negative issues surface. While a good relationship won’t stem potentially damaging reporting, it well may predispose reporters to develop “fair and balanced” stories. Regardless of what media people say, likeability can help when the chips are down.
7. Create an early warning system. In some cases, there is lead time before a negative report surfaces among the masses. To help protect your reputation, put into place protocols and procedures ahead of time, so that you have an organized way to deal with the emerging situation. This can save a lot of hand-wringing and missteps.lnw
Tammie MacLachlan, Lightning Labels customer service manager, contributed to this report.
Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printer providing full-color labels and stickers of all shapes and sizes, and custom packaging products. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label and printing news. Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008.