No matter how successful, any business can be struck down in minutes – Warren Buffett warned us all about that.
Google, Facebook, Uber, many of the tech giants have been facing scandals and feeling the ill-effects of a damaged reputation. It’s a good reminder that a great reputation is a company’s most valuable, if intangible, asset and not to underestimate the effect it can have on your business success and bottom line. The fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal caused major damage to Facebook’s reputation, not to mention a 30% loss in value. Your ‘intangible’ reputation has a ‘tangible’ effect on your profit margins and makes up a significant portion of your market value. With the business landscape becoming increasingly competitive, it’s an excellent reputation that will set you apart.
Fear not! A damaged reputation or slipped halo doesn’t have to mark the end for your business, you can fix it. I won’t lie, it could be difficult, painful, possibly costly, and it will certainly take time, but you never know, it could even present an opportunity.
First, let’s be clear, what constitutes your reputation?
Reputation is not image. You can be image conscious but still have a questionable reputation – is Amazon known for its generous environmental and social policies and is Facebook known for its careful protection of private data? Your image is what you try to portray, your reputation is how you’re held in people’s esteem. It’s made up of a multitude of different aspects, including elements that many businesses can forget or neglect – from your actual services and products, workplace culture and charity work to company vision and financial performance.
Ultimately, these elements all feed into emotional appeal and trust – that’s the crux of your reputation. If a client or potential customer doesn’t like, trust or value your company, would they buy from you? If you are in doubt, your halo has slipped. So how can it be straightened?
Assess (honestly) and analyse
You know your company values, vision and business goals. You also know your marketing strategy – the messaging that you put out and how you want to be perceived. But there’s a difference between what you ‘say’ and what people ‘see’. And let’s not forget, you can’t easily or quickly talk your way out of a pickle that you’ve behaved yourself into.
Remember that your reputation is affected by elements that you cannot so easily control. The media can still be held accountable for defamation but on social media forums, any user is free to say as they wish (to a certain extent) and it’s not just public opinions, but also those of your current and former employees on sites like Glassdoor.
You need to take an honest look at your company. Scan and review the conversations about your company, what is and isn’t being spoken about, where is it being discussed, what’s the scale and breadth of coverage? A deep dive into your Google Analytics, reviewing those spikes in website traffic, can also help reveal the source of an issue.
This reputational review shouldn’t be a one-off. If you’re trying to build your reputation back up, it’s even more important to constantly stay on top of all those mentions and discussions in real-time. Crank your monitoring up a gear. Set up those Google and social media alerts, not just for your company name, but your identified key words, industry phrases and any ‘danger’ words that will immediately raise a red flag. But don’t get too focused on yourself, make sure to also benchmark your reputation against your competitors and monitor them as well.
Top tip: Don’t mark your own homework. Ask an outsider to conduct your reputation review – they may find things you never even would have thought of.
Address and take action
So, now you know the reality, what’s next?
First, if the situation calls for it, apologise, but make it sincere. Nothing is more likely to further damage a reputation than saying sorry and not meaning it. Authenticity is key, so make sure that you’re aligning what you’re saying externally with your internal principles and if you’ve made a mistake, be transparent about it. Where appropriate, for example if an issue is personally affecting your customers, engage and make sure that you listen and respond to concerns. You don’t want to make TSB’s mistake.
Likewise, offer more than words. if you tell your investors, employees, customers or the public that you are going to change something, do it! Following a ‘cheeky’ apology, KFC made sure to try and resolve the poultry pandemonium caused by operational issues, switching to a new delivery company. Failing to follow through is only going to put you lower in people’s esteem. Instead, you need to help create a sense of consistency and reliability. As the quotation from Henry Ford goes “you can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”
Next, it’s out with the bad and in with the good. Having addressed and confronted the problem, it’s time to be more vocal and visible again. Get back to business as usual, but you’ll need to give your message an extra boost. Push out those ‘good’ news stories to start new conversations on the topics you do want to be involved in, pushing down the unwanted and negative. Make sure your messages are clear – you don’t want murky waters to open up the potential for negativity to creep back in – and don’t forget to maximise your use of third parties and back links or, if needed, you can even turn to that right to be forgotten.
One word of caution, if you’re trying to deal with bad employee reviews on Glassdoor, simply encouraging some current employees to write glowing reviews is not the best way forward. People aren’t so easily fooled – fix the problem, and ask people to comment on the fix, keep it authentic.
Accept and adjust
However much you may be working on re-building that reputation, in our digital world, past problems can still re-surface, and you are likely be under greater scrutiny.
Embrace it and re-invent yourself. I’m certainly not suggesting a total rebrand, far from it. When it comes to trying to overcome a damaged reputation, a change of name could in fact undo your hard work and you’ll end up right back where you started. Stick to your core values and vision (remember consistency and reliability are so important) but consider that a tarnished reputation could become an opportunity to change a company image for the better – it could even end up being a positive.
Back to those tech giants and the most recent scandal at Google. Normally, you’d associate Google with phones, laptops, algorithms, or maybe, at a push, it will conjure up redesigns of the Google logo to support a special day, but the recent walkouts have shown the public the ‘human’ face of Google. Google’s next move is critical. They have now ended forced arbitration, but it’s time to take it further, addressing their management problems, moving to the forefront of a bigger movement and becoming an example to lead and revolutionise – showing it’s not all just nap pods and bean bags but taking real issues seriously and helping induce societal change.
Hopefully you’re not in a Google situation but this strategy can be applied to any company, and to any degree of seriousness. It may be remembered that you made a mistake, but it’ll be known that you not only rectified it, but also helped transform and develop the whole industry – and that could give your reputation a huge upwards turn.
Straightening up that slipped halo might be a quick fix. Picking that halo up off the floor will take a whole lot longer. However tough the challenge, it requires facing the truth, a plan and patience.