Most companies understand that reputation is an intangible business asset that needs to be nurtured, defended and protected to ensure that it maintains and grows in value. That is why we have seen the traditional disciplines of media and public relations morph into a field called ‘reputation management’, says Diane Charton.
At its heart, the discipline of reputation management is all about managing risks to the organisation’s good name. In the past, reputation management used to be all about managing the organisation’s reputation with a few key stakeholders such as the media, regulators, industry bodies, the government and so on.
Today, the rise of social media and the rapid spread of information throughout the online world have made that thinking outdated. Today, you don’t just need to manage your reputation with a small community of information gatekeepers, but with an active and boisterous community of Internet users.
You can’t stop the chatter
A wide range of Internet users – your customers, employees, shareholders, people who have an axe to grind with your brand – are online talking about your products and services using channels such as Twitter, Facebook, consumer activist sites, comments on news sites, forums and so on.
Whether you choose to engage with them or not, they will discuss your company and brand online. They will comment when they receive good service and complain when they don’t; they’ll be vocal about their opinions on your corporate ethics and financial results; and they’ll often spread rumours they have heard about your company, whether they are true or not.
As a result, your business faces a range of new reputational threats that it needs to monitor carefully and manage systematically. Something that starts out with an offhand comment from a Twitter user who had a run-in with one of your call centre agents can be tweeted and re-tweeted to thousands of others within a matter of minutes.
From there, the mainstream media may pick it up, and then it will feed back into the social media world as people blog, tweet and post about the stories they have picked up from the news portals. And then the negative comments and posts may show up in Google search results months or years later.
What this means is that you need to be prepared for online reputation crisis, in the same way as you have resources that you can quickly rally for traditional crisis management. Managing online reputation risk is all about watching the horizon for signs of trouble and then acting quickly when the storm arrives. Many companies only think about online reputation risk when they are in the middle of a crisis. It is better to understand your reputational risks and to put plans and processes in place to respond when your online reputation is under attack. This is where the discipline of online reputation management (ORM) comes into play.
This is a process of listening to what your customers are saying about you online, monitoring and analysing these conservations, and then engaging with customers by taking part in the conversation.
ORM is an early warning system that allows you to track your online reputation and pick up threats (and opportunities!) early. You can use it to act quickly on customer service complaints, nip online rumours in the bud and to address malicious or inaccurate information that is spreading across the Web.
A strategy to manage reputational risk today is almost meaningless unless it also takes online reputation into account. You need to manage the risk of real-world reputational issues bleeding into social media as well as of online reputational crises affecting your business through mainstream media coverage, loss of customer trust, and so on. Among its many other uses, ORM is an essential element of risk management today and into the future.
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