Reputation Management

What Is Reputation Management?

young professionals working on computers

Broadly speaking, reputation management is a public relations strategy—it involves influencing how others perceive your brand. But the image of spin doctors cleaning up scandals with emergency press releases and sympathetic soundbites is somewhat out-of-date. So even though crisis management continues to be important, it’s only one piece of the reputation puzzle.

Today’s multimedia landscape has created new avenues of appreciation and scrutiny for those in the public eye.

Today’s multimedia landscape has created new avenues of appreciation and scrutiny for those in the public eye. Now that consumers are at home using social media and feedback forums to express their views, reputation management and online reputation management are basically synonymous.

“If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” One of Mad Men’s favorite Don Draper-isms is still a powerful ideal, but the icons and brands of the ’60s weren’t contending with the withering Twitter putdown, the one-star Yelp review or the wildfire spread of memes. Nowadays, cultivating goodwill demands a combination of transparency and digital prowess—whether that’s by following every channel and hashtag that people use to talk about your brand, inviting feedback from your audience or responding quickly and graciously to comments of all stripes (especially the negative ones).

The High Cost of Poor Reputation Management

Reputation might be a social currency, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s unrelated to your bottom line. Think back to the very recent past. One video of United Airlines forcibly removing a passenger lost the airline almost a billion dollars in market value; it took Kylie Jenner one tweet to sink Snapchat’s stock by 6%; and an even shorter tweet from Elon Musk cost him $20 million and his chairman position at Tesla, plus a sprawling lawsuit that’s pulled in everyone from Business Insider and The New York Times to Grimes and Azealia Banks.

Each of these cases highlights a different aspect of how reputation management provides value. Better customer diplomacy could have prevented United’s scandal, as could clear social media discipline and awareness of illegal conduct in the case of Musk. And while you can’t control what others say about your brand or product, you can certainly redeem yourself through your response to criticism, as Snapchat should’ve observed.

Building Trust Through Reputation Management

While Snapchat and Tesla can shake off immediate financial damages, that isn’t always the case for smaller companies. And no matter how established you are, lacking reputation management creates a lack of trust, and when it comes to trust, there’s no such thing as being “too big to fail”—for every Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that rises through goodwill, there’s a Watergate that brings down a presidency.

Building trust is an important goal of any digital reputation management. Nielsen’s research found that 83% of people trust brand recommendations from friends, and the Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that 65% of people trust search engines the most when researching brands and businesses. Meanwhile, the Harvard Business School found that a one-star increase in Yelp ratings can lead to U.S. restaurants gaining between 5% and 9% in revenue. Point being: word of mouth creates trust and boosts profits, provided consumers are saying good things.

Digital Reputation Management: Facing the Online World

hidden cost of reputation management at work

Digital reputation management doesn’t have to be complex, but it does require effort and strategy. Customers nowadays aren’t looking for perfection—they’d rather see that you’re honest, and willing to engage and improve.

With that in mind, here are some takeaways for managing your reputation online:

  1. Create a presence with content. While you can’t censor what others say about you (provided it’s legal), you can mitigate the presence of any negative press in search engines by publishing engaging, positive content across your channels. And of course, it’s always a good idea to share consumers’ positive feedback to cultivate a strong first impression with others.
  2. Be receptive to customer feedback. Your customers’ voices are more powerful than ever, so good customer service counts as good reputation management. Find and nurture your online communities, take stock of any recurring points of negativity and develop initiatives to address them. We’ve previously suggested some best practices when setting up a corporate feedback forum, if you decide to go that route. 
  3. Legally, know your sh*t. Do you know the difference between libel, defamation and acceptable freedom of speech? Legal escalation can be expensive and messy, but it always helps to know what kinds of comments you have the right to take action against, and which you need to address with care.
  4. Build your domain strategy. Your domains are essentially your online real estate—scaling your domain presence can protect your trademarks, boost your visibility and, above all, define your reputation.