What is reputation management?

Reputation management is the art of managing perceptions to create and maintain a favoured brand whether that’s for an organisation or an individual. Those tasked with reputation management aim to influence conversations in the media, on social and in real life too, measuring sentiment, conversations and beyond to proactively navigate any potential reputational risks, and identify opportunities to elevate a brand, service or person(s). As a communications specialism which can significantly impact the bottom line, reputation management usually falls to internal marketing teams or external PR agencies who are well-versed in this. 

Why is reputation management important?

Reputation management is essential to sustained success because it will ultimately determine whether people will want to work with or buy from you. A bold statement, sure, but your reputation can impact everything from your bottom line to the size of your social media following. With information overload ever-present, perceptions around reputation are largely defined by your presence in the media or conversations on social channels, and in the age of cancel culture and fake news, that perception can change almost instantly if something goes wrong (and the issue isn’t well managed).  

From a business perspective, it’s worth knowing that 88% of online consumers now say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 72% state they will take action only after reading a positive review. That’s just one example of your reputation in action. Paying attention to customer conversations is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but it’s essential to business growth (and survival), especially in competitive environments and the ongoing threat of a recession. Plus, with the first organic result in Google Search averaging a click-through rate of 28.5%, consider what that will mean for your organisation if that result is a news article born out of a crisis. 

However, I want to take a moment to pause right here. Reputation management should not only be considered at the point of crisis. There’s a significant opportunity to reinforce a positive reputation and build an authentic brand narrative that will impact your bottom line. 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support (there’s more on brand authenticity from us here). 

Just like the musicians/ brands/ influencers (etc etc) who do this frequently, you may want to reinvent your brand and to do this successfully, you need to have a strong reputation management strategy in place. Warren Buffett once said: “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” So, it’s time to think differently. 

We love our musicians in the Station Rd. office, so it’s no surprise that we’re drawing on another female artist to help us make our point here. Let’s take you back to 2016 with Taylor Swift and her public fall-out with the soon-to-be-divorced Kardashian-West clan. When Swift was called out for her so-called inauthenticity for ‘that’ phone call leak, fans of the opposing side flooded her social media channels with snake emojis and the media was quickly saturated with negative articles about her. Fast forward to 2017 and Swift leaned into the snake iconography, taking hold of the narrative to manage her reputation. It quickly became a key focus for the launch of her new album – which centred around the drama that unfolded during this time – as well as a central focus for the accompanying tour. 

Managing your reputation does not – and shouldn’t – mean sweeping any negativity under the carpet, but it’s understanding how to effectively respond in a way that will resonate with your audience. 

Online reputation management

Your online reputation is affected by content across the web, not just your owned channels, which can be a minefield. When you consider conversations on social media, blogs, news articles and more, and the impact they are having on public perception – positively or negatively – managing your online reputation has become more complex with the influx of channels available. 

Here are five top tips to consider when managing your reputation online: 

  1. Invest in social media monitoring tools
  2. Set up Google Alerts
  3. Build strong media relationships 
  4. Monitor review sites
  5. Audit your online reputation regularly

1. Invest in social media monitoring tools

Social media moves quickly with more than half of the world population now using social media (58.4%). With that in mind, it would be almost impossible to stay up to date, 24/7 without a little help from automated tools. Social monitoring tools can strengthen your social activity by listening to conversations about your brand, industry, competitors or even your media-facing personnel. While a spike in conversations might seem positive in the first instance, especially around key product launches or events, for example, you’ll need to measure social media sentiment to truly understand how your audience feels about and respond to your brand. After all, if your mentions are full of negative perceptions, you have some work to do. 

[Top tip] You may want to consider tools such as:

  • Falcon
  • Factmata
  • Brand24
  • Hootsuite
  • AgoraPulse 

2. Set up Google Alerts

We’re going back to basics here, but setting up Google Alerts to monitor when someone mentions your name, product or company can save you a lot of manual search time. Not only will these relevant links be delivered directly to your inbox, but alerts can be scheduled as they happen, daily, weekly or otherwise, whatever frequency best suits you. We’d always recommend selecting ‘As-it-happens’ alerts which will allow you to stay ahead of any key mentions or topical developments to provide a swift response when needed. 

3. Build strong relationships

Whether you’re hoping to build a positive perception through strategic PR outreach or mitigate a brewing crisis through a carefully planned crisis management strategy, building ongoing relationships with key media or influencers across your sector (or nationally) can be incredibly valuable. These relationships will help you to quickly identify any potential risks to your reputation as your trusted contacts will be more likely to approach you for comment – in good or bad situations – giving you first-hand insider knowledge of when and where relevant content might be published. Not only will this allow you to stay on the front foot, but it will also help you to influence the brand narrative (when done correctly, of course).

4. Monitor online review sites

Although you have those Google Alerts set up, they may not always capture comments shared via online review sites. Whether it’s feedback on your workplace culture through platforms like Glassdoor, or customer-related feedback through Google My Business, Yelp, Trustpilot or the like, feedback can quickly transform into financial gain (or loss). With 26,380 new reviews posted to Yelp every minute, 98% of users purchased from a business that they found on Yelp and in 2021, 90% of UK consumers reported checking online reviews before they made a purchase. Regularly monitor these review channels and make sure that you respond appropriately to maintain a two-way conversation, regardless of whether reviews are positive or negative. 

5. Audit your online reputation regularly

If you’re ticking all the above boxes, then bravo to you. But there’s always an opportunity to pause, reflect and learn (as with anything in life). Conducting a reputation audit will be invaluable to your key stakeholders and overall business operations and will help to inform your overall marketing strategy. Whether it’s done quarterly, annually or across a more bespoke timeframe unique to you, according to Gartner, your reputation audit can be split into three key categories:

  1. Resonance with buyer needs – understanding the challenges that your customers face and how your business can provide them with an effective solution. 
  2. Differentiation from others in the market – grounding key messaging in your unique selling points and business proposition which will support ongoing communications outreach. 
  3. Credibility backed by customer reviews – going back to that customer review activity and social media monitoring to understand how customers perceive your brand. 

Ensure that your audit is backed by data insights and human analysis, which may come from your internal team or a third-party marketing consultant.  

Building a positive brand reputation strategy

A positive brand reputation is not something that can be built overnight, although as we’ve already mentioned it can certainly be destroyed that quickly. Your reputation is something that should be honed over time and should always link back to your brand proposition and mission, and requires a carefully-curated strategy. 

Here are five key ways to build a positive brand reputation:

  1. Refine your communications strategy
  2. Establish your brand voice
  3. Monitor and listen to feedback
  4. Focus on the customer experience 
  5. Remember your invisible PR

Refine your communications strategy

You can’t (note, shouldn’t) communicate before you’ve had time to ‘think’. For us, that always goes back to the beginning – the communications strategy. To quote Julie Andrews, it’s a very good place to start.  After all, if you want to build a strong brand reputation, you must first identify what you’re striving for. What’s your brand proposition? What’s your mission? What do you want to be known for? These questions (typically asked as part of our planning sessions) will help to inform your communications strategy which should closely align with your wider organisational objectives. It would be difficult to define a ‘positive’ brand reputation for your organisation without this unique understanding and positioning. 

Establish your brand voice

Once you know who you are and what you stand for, your brand voice should align with this. That’s not to say that you’ll replicate the same tone of voice through all of your communications platforms as it can be interchangeable. For example, brands from BBC to Specsavers employ an informal tone of voice via social media platforms like Twitter where this has become the ‘norm’ to engage audiences. It’s the element that helps brands to feel more relatable and human and 33% of consumers said a distinct personality is what helps a brand stand out from the crowd on social today. But regardless of your channel-specific tone of voice, you should carry through the same key messages and overarching values, focusing on what you’re trying to convey. This will help to shape a consistent brand voice that your customers will come to know, expect and hopefully connect with. 

Monitor and listen to feedback

All feedback can be valuable and those responsible for reputation management can utilise this information. With research showing that 84% of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in revenue and 96% of customers saying that customer service is important in their choice of loyalty to a brand, responding to and implementing feedback can impact the bottom line significantly. While negative responses should be dealt with tentatively and efficiently to mitigate risks to your reputation, seeing the implementation of feedback can help audiences feel a greater connection to your brand and help to support sustainable growth in line with audience expectations. 

Focus on the customer experience

According to the latest research, 80% of global consumers would pay extra for a good online experience which includes quick loading time, a user-friendly interface and efficient responses from customer service. 44% of consumers also say that strong customer service is what makes a brand’s social best in class. Beyond social following and website metrics, companies risk losing $62 billion per year because of poor customer service due to 13% of global sales being attributed to word of mouth. It pays to provide a strong customer experience. 

Remember your invisible PR

If you follow Steven Bartlett on social media, you’ll probably have heard him banding around the term ‘Invisible PR’ which focuses on the little things that matter. It’s the small, insignificant moments that you don’t think will have an impact, but it’s those incremental details that create the biggest impact in the long term. From your digital reputation management through online activity (including social media, emails, blogs and beyond) or ongoing media relations, to the experience your team delivers in face-to-face environments, your reputation is the summation of those ‘invisible PR’ moments. That’s why everyone in your organisation must be clear about your brand’s values, voice, and the representation you’re hoping to convey to the rest of the world. Here’s where a strong internal communications strategy comes into full force (but that’s a whole other blog).

When things go wrong…examples of bad reputation management

Reputation management is a communications specialism for good reason. Sometimes, even the most seasoned professionals get it wrong and 2022 so far has been plagued by negative reputation management incidents. We’ve highlighted three of our biggest ‘oh no’ moments below:

Boris Johnson and the Downing Street parties

We won’t get political here, but the fallout from the Downing Street parties has been one of the most prominent examples of negative reputation management in 2022. A scandal that generated countless social memes, significant party resignations and ultimately, feelings of betrayal and a negative response to the party across the country, it has been a notable communications crisis. Despite clear evidence and calls for accountability from the public, the communications response was one of avoidance and denial, which inevitably caused more reputational damage. 

P&O Ferries

With a history dating back to the 19th century, P&O Ferries honed a positive reputation over a long period. But this reputation took a significant hit earlier this year when it was announced that the company would lay off 800 workers in favour of cheaper agency staff. Not only did it sack staff with immediate effect through a three-minute video announcing their final day of employment, but it left customers stranded in various ports globally due to a lack of staff. Not only did this see the hashtag #boycottpando trend on social media with a reach of 3.5million in 24 hours, but it caused a huge impact to their reputation. 

Will Smith and the Oscars

The 2022 Oscars will be a year that no one will forget, and not for good reason. In case you missed it (where were you?), the awards were plagued with coverage around Will Smith who stormed the stage to assault the award host, Chris Rock, following the comedian’s joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Despite asking Smith to leave the event (which the actor refused) and issuing a statement following the event in which it expresses its upset and disappointment, the Academy was slow to provide a meaningful response to the incident. It was only after Smith resigned from the Academy on April 1st that the organisation issued a Friday statement (a timeslot crisis communications specialists will know is usually held for news that organisations hope to bury) banning him for the next 10 years. By this point, the impact of this decision was entirely watered down due to Smith’s actions, and it does not restrict his films from being nominated for awards, meaning he can still achieve this prestigious accolade despite his actions. A slow response with little impact is rarely a recipe for success in reputation management.

Ready to implement a reputation management strategy that will help create lasting positive impacts for your brand? You’ve come to the right place. If you’d like to understand how our PR experts can support you and your organisation, get in touch