There are two reasons for a company or brand to make use of social media. The first, and most obvious, is to increase interest in their services and products and to build brand recognition and loyalty. But there is a more important role that social media can take, that of reputation protection.
In the digital age, with so many people connected using mobile devices, the reputation of a brand becomes even more fragile. There is less and less down time — time when consumers and media are out of touch with each other, with the brand, with any person who chooses to complain. It now takes truly moments to destroy a good reputation that may have taken years, or decades, to build.
In the “good ole days” before the internet, companies had the ability to control all messages about their brand. Today, anyone with a device can share a bad review, post a damaging photo or share a detrimental video that can bring down a reputation in a matter of hours or even minutes. It’s happened time and time again to brands as big as Dell, Netflix, and United Airlines.
Social media, if used consistently and strategically, can be a key line of defense in the protection and restoration of a damaged reputation.
All brands should take steps before any problem arises. With any luck, no crisis will occur, but it is always best to be prepared. This can be accomplished in two simple steps.
- establish and maintain appropriate social media channels that provide open communication with customers and the public at large
2. create a crisis management plan with clearly defined actions and division of labor and keep it up-to-date as social media channels expand and change
Each industry and, in fact, each company is going to choose different social media channels based on where their customers and potential customers hang out. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram, Google+, and dozens of other social media outlets exist, each with slightly different content, audience, and format. Companies need to choose which are appropriate for their needs and make consistent use of them. They need to build a crisis plan around those channels and regularly review both the channels used and the plan itself. Remember, Pintrest didn’t exist three years ago and MySpace was once the ruler of social media.
In the event that a reputation crisis does happen, the key is to offer a speedy response. This is where having an established social presence and a clear plan of attack is crucial. Institute the plan, taking into account the nature of the specific crisis.
Here are the main steps involved in addressing a reputation problem using social media:
- Acknowledge there is a problem
2. Take responsibility for errors/failures
3. Offer a sincere response rather than lip-service
4. Make amends, including backtracking on position, if appropriate
By following these guidelines and maintaining open, honest communication with customers, most brands will find that they can minimize the damage caused to their reputation and regain the trust and loyalty of their customers. Maybe not overnight, but sooner rather than later.
Because professional reputations aren’t the only ones at risk, here are a few tips for individuals who want to protect their personal reputation:
Caren Peterson is a web journalist who contributes blog posts on a wide variety of topics including public relations and brand management for celebrities, athletes and other public figures. During her 12 year career she has profiled racing champions, movie stars and politicians.