According to recent stats, more than four billion people now have access to the internet. That’s almost the entire population of the world during the mid-1970s, all able to connect with each other in one way or another through a screen. Back then, no one had even heard of an “online reputation”, let alone the need to manage one, and conveying a message to an audience en masse and connecting with the public only happened through a handful of channels.

Having an online presence is an essential part of a business’s operations and a key communication tool at present. It allows us to broadcast messages to a wide audience at any time of the day, connect with customers and stakeholders directly, no matter where they are in the world, and target specific pockets of communities and personas to influence their thinking. It’s definitely a minefield, and when it’s as easy as typing out a Tweet or a blog post and posting it at the click of a button for everyone to see instantly and comment on, it can be challenging to maintain a strong, consistent reputation. And there’s no doubt that organisations and individuals will come across hurdles from time to time when it comes to handling an online reputation.

Here are Firefly, we’ve been shaping reputations for more than 30 years. And in that time, we’ve sailed through the online communicative waves. From website copy, to social media strategies, to, more recently, virtual events. We know that mistakes can happen. Companies might overthink crisis strategies, by thinking that they can control every bit of what is said about them online and trying to only target a certain group of people. Here’s my take on the common myths about online reputations and how to get the best out of your online resources.

  1. It only concerns crisis management

Remember that online reputation management is a long-term, usually positive campaign involving many different stakeholders and third parties. It might seem like you’re dealing with negativity a lot, particularly when it involves dealing with tricky customers via social media or negative press articles, but largely, online reputation campaigns are about finding ways to directly connect with your audience. “Reading the room” might be a bit more challenging because the room is a lot bigger online, of course, but that only makes it more interesting.  

2. We only need to focus on what customers, prospects, and shareholders care about

They might be the people that bring in the sales, but third parties such as press, analysts, even your own staff and partners can make or break a reputation. And with a keyboard, mouse, and the internet at most people’s disposal, one Tweet from an employee or an online press article can be enough to cause a stir. Think about the recent BrewDog employee backlash scandal, for example. Ensure that you’re thinking about each and every stakeholder and anyone that might be associated with your company and ensure your tailoring online communications to all these different groups.

3. It can’t be measured

It’s not always easy to measure a reputation, but it’s always possible. Often, the easiest way is qualitative and quantitative surveys to the various groups that are important, but there are many other (often free, often easy) ways as well. For example, if you’re looking for your company’s reputation amongst staff, look on Glassdoor!

4. You can control everything

You can shape a reputation, but it sits inside people’s heads. At best, you can strongly influence it, but don’t always think you can control every single thing that is said about you on the internet, because, largely, you won’t be able to. Be strategic with how you play out your online communications. Are your spokespeople regularly interacting on LinkedIn? What are your employees saying on social media and how can you encourage them to speak positively about the company?

5. Everything requires a fast reaction

Finally, if you do have a reputational crisis, respect the fine balance between responding quickly enough and acting hastily. Consider, be quick, but don’t always go with your gut.

There was a quote from Matt Damon earlier this month in GQ where he expressed his feeling on the return to Hollywood: “It has just been a lot, like from zero to hundred again. I was excited to kind of reengage with the world, but I forgot how fast it moves.”

It’s the same story across every industry; and comms certainly had a hectic summer.

This September, The London Underground saw the busiest Monday back since the start of the pandemic, as the rush hour roars back. Bars, restaurants, and cafes have bustled to life with eager customers; the wait for a table at your favourite spot is back. A frenzied summer of global dealmaking and transactions has set records, with almost $4 trillion of deals already signed on the dotted line. The job market is busy, with the second highest monthly increase in new employment coupled with a booming number of vacancies.

Headlines are dominated now by funding news, companies committed to growing their workforce and launches of new innovations. It’s exciting, it’s hectic, but it is worth taking a moment to reflect on what we’ve just been through.

When the pandemic blended our professional and personal lives, we learned valuable lessons in authenticity and vulnerability as the world changed around us. Whilst we ride the wave of economic prosperity and reopening, these resilient characteristics will be vastly beneficial.

Zooming out to see the bigger picture

As the crisis of the pandemic hit, conversations became more meaningful as we all stood on common ground. It facilitated more open and authentic discussion as we chatted home lives, mental health, and everything in between. Not only did we see inside people’s homes, including their bookshelves, but opportunities for more introspection and empathy across every industry were revealed.

Some changes were hugely impactful on our daily lives and some more subtle, but we developed a wider and more thoughtful perspective, reframing what we see in the ‘picture frame of life’. A crisis often helps us develop a wider point of view as we question the way we live and what is important to us. However, for many people, it was a challenge as industries ground to a halt or plans were cancelled completely. For those lucky enough to have job security and the freedom and space to dream big, zooming out to see the bigger picture can present brilliant opportunities for improving growth and communications within your organisation.

By breaking free of the prior rigidity of routine, we found ourselves to be more vulnerable. Everyone has experienced the past 18 months vastly similarly and vastly differently; we can resonate and sympathise with our neighbours and colleagues. Beyond seeing the glass as half full, we see new imagined and realistic ideals: moving to a new city, a new career change or a new passion.

The power of authentic and human communication

Whilst it may be tempting for businesses to focus on comms demonstrating growth, success, and innovation, it must be balanced with authentic stories highlighting the impact and human side to your brand. The power to bounce back is more paramount than ever, especially how we set forth with this ability.  This can be showcased with reputational assets- thought leaders, delighted clients, resilient workforces- the important part is to continue to build purpose-led authentic communications. Be wary of following what the rest of the crowd is doing  though, and make sure to march to the beat of your own drum. Audiences are sharp and they know when they are being duped with a manufactured story or a cliched idiom. To avoid these blunders, provide your audience with relatable, passion and enthusiastic messaging without overthinking.

Being vulnerable to stand out in the crowd

In a vast sea of communications, stick out withpersonable and honest stories. For example, the file sharing service WeTransfer had a viral, offbeat campaign entitled ‘Please Leave’, narrated by poet Roxane Gay, reminding audiences of their values of putting people first, and the importance of creativity.

You may feel like Matt Damon and have forgotten how fast pre-pandemic life zooms by, but don’t forget pandemic life either. We learnt a lot, and as hard as it was, in many ways it made us better and more human.

Last month I attended a debate in the Houses of Parliament. You may ask, “Lucinda, why on earth would you want to go to that place of misery during this time of political lunacy?”. Well, in an attempt to escape the total farce of Brexit, I decided to step directly into its home and attend a 90-minute committee room discussion, not on the legalities of the Withdrawal Bill, but on cryptocurrency and blockchain.

At first, I was surprised that a discussion on cryptocurrency and blockchain would only take an hour and a half considering that, although blockchain technology powers cryptocurrency, the terms are not synonymous. Alas, I was still intrigued and wanted to learn more about the technology that is set to ‘change the world.’

A mission to educate

While listening to a panel of leading figures in the industry I couldn’t help but notice that really, no one could confirm or deny anything they said. It’s clear that blockchain has the potential to dramatically change industries and I don’t deny the potential impact that blockchain technology has is huge, but it is still nascent, and industries are struggling to understand the technology.

Think about it: the first application of blockchain technology is digital currency in the form of Bitcoin. But governments and industries alike are still failing to regulate it and are struggling to move fast enough to catch up with the speed of development. Bearing in mind that Bitcoin was launched ten years ago, it’s clear that education needs to be a priority if we want to use this technology any time soon.

Last month, however, the EU made a step in the right direction — it launched the International Association of Trusted Blockchain Applications (INATBA). The 100-plus member list includes the likes of IBM and Accenture and has the aim of “supporting interoperability, developing specifications, promoting standards and regulatory convergence to support the development and exploitation of innovative blockchain technologies.” Overall, the INATBA’s goal is to create an amalgamated framework for the development and implementation of blockchain technology. This is wholly a positive step towards regulation and will provide greater clarity for organisations in the blockchain industry.

It’s not all fairy dust and rainbows

The overriding feeling I get from reading or listening to anything on the topic of blockchain is that it’s this magical fairy dust, and that if you sprinkle it all over a problem, it will supernaturally fix it —  economic crises, climate change and even poverty have all been challenges that blockchain can supposedly overcome. Recently, blockchain technology has even been cited as a solution to Brexit. (N.B., I realise I said previously that I wanted to escape from Brexit, but clearly, it is inescapable).

Unfortunately, for most of these challenges, you need to cross borders and even continents in order to implement solutions that could tackle these issues. In a recent article on blockchain and Brexit, Pindar Wong wrote that ‘cryptographic certainty’ (i.e. blockchain can be borderless) could help alleviate the issues surrounding Brexit. But what Wong fails to do is consider that an unapproved technology that barely has any regulation would be impossible to implement. On the topic of the Irish border issue, Matthew Hughes wrote recently, “This, simply, isn’t something that blockchain can fix. The problem isn’t the technology or the implementation, but the fact that the fundamentals of the problem are simply too complicated. The issue isn’t technology, but a bubbling cauldron of society, history, heritage, and geography.” It is clear that we cannot apply blockchain to every problem that we face — social, economic or political problems, like Brexit, often cannot be solved purely with the flick of a technological wand.

A light at the end of the tunnel

Blockchain is a digital ledger with, essentially, built-in security that records transactions indelibly. It allows businesses to develop smart contracts without a central authority and helps with business efficiency. In an age where uncertainty and the need for transparency rule, blockchain can provide that sense of certainty and security. But adapting it to fit in with tomorrow’s ecosystems requires a lot of thought and consideration, something which we have struggled with.

Although blockchain is painted to be the technological equivalent of the Avengers, it’s more like Spiderman — an important piece of the puzzle and useful by itself, but far stronger when it has the right support and is part of a wider team. Blockchain technology needs more thorough, well-developed regulations, and both industries and government bodies need more education on the benefits of this technology. Many people associate blockchain with cryptocurrency, which in turn represents market volatility and risk. Businesses are reluctant to implement applications of blockchain due to the unstable regulatory environment which results in an overall lack of trust.

Blockchain technology promises a lot but delivers very little at this stage in its evolution. There is real potential for this technology to revolutionise industries, but until our understanding gets better, blockchain won’t be able to solve any problems at all.

As client demand for influencer mapping, community building and engagement increases, I came across some interesting statistics that help prove such campaigns are worth their while.

A new study announced yesterday by ExactTargethighlights that consumers active on Twitter are the most influential online. The report reveals that Tweeters are three times more likely to impact a brand’s reputation through syndicated tweets, blog posts, articles and product reviews than the average consumer. This provides a strong argument that online influencer research and digital PR campaigns are of value to brands.

ExactTarget’s principle Morgan Stewart points out that “while the number of active Twitter users is less thanFacebook, the concentration of highly engaged and influential content creators is unrivalled” noting that it’s becoming the “gathering place for content creators whose influence spills over into every corner of the internet.”

Some useful, persuasive stats:

72% of Twitter users publish blog posts at least monthly
70% comment on blogs
61% write at least one monthly product review
61% comment on news sites

Providing further evidence of the value of opening up a Twitter channel, the report reveals the principle reason for consumers to follow a brand on Twitter is to get information about the company and consequently their products.  If your audience is online and you’re not, you are clearly missing a trick.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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