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A Test of Character: How to Manage your firm's online rep

Cover of  by Jennifer Janson

Reputation is a company?s greatest asset ? but, as our guest columnist points out, the challenges it is facing in the digital age can be daunting.

The fundamental principles of reputation management may be well established and well proven ? but today?s social media landscape means that the potential for damage to your company?s reputation can now unfold in real time, at any time.

A decade ago, one unhappy customer may have told something like 10 people about their negative experience with your brand. But today, with the use of social media, one unhappy customer can tell tens of thousands of people in an instant. Reputation management has never been a nine-to-five job ? but now, more than ever, companies must learn to adapt to the increasing risks and opportunities that the digital world presents.

Fundamentally, it comes down to ensuring that your company?s behaviour is what you say it is ? and articulating that in whatever way is appropriate, both online and off. Indeed, today?s all-communicating world creates an opportunity to help shape what people think of you, to the benefit your business.

But how do you do it?

Getting to the core

It?s important to make sure that your core values are hardwired into your business?s DNA. The greatest risk to company reputation exists where a business says one thing about its values and behaves in a way that is ?Jencontrary to them. That risk can be mitigated in many ways ? but as a starting point, aiming to have a ?reputation-driven? culture is a great start.

That means ensuring your purpose and values are evident in employee behaviour at every level in the organisation. Look at it from every angle ? for example, are you making the most of millennials? They are the biggest, incoming wave to the workforce, and they have a very different way of working.

Also ask yourself: are you rewarding employees specifically for positive behaviour, and ?living? your values?
Plan ahead

While many CEOs recognise the importance of reputation, few of them actually have reputation strategies in place. Reputation is a company?s greatest asset, and as such it?s important to keep your strategy tight ? not least to prevent a digital wildfire from spreading when things go wrong. Naturally, the goal will be to prevent a crisis in the first place ? but it?s important to have a contingency plan just in case.

And you shouldn?t just plan for when things go wrong. Your reputation strategy should also include everything from your target audience to your company?s personality and tone of voice, to give you a better sense of how, when and where to reach those people.

When it comes to building a resilient and positive reputation in the digital age, there is a formula you can bear in mind to help you focus on the essentials: (purpose+values) x behaviour + communications = reputation. Notably, behaviour is the great multiplier, so before you even think about communicating, it?s worth looking a little deeper into your business.
Measuring up

In reputation planning, your greatest asset is knowledge ? and in today?s ?big data? world, there?s a lot out there. The availability of data can be daunting, so think carefully about what you need to know, and focus on just a handful of areas at any given time.

At a minimum, every company should be monitoring what is being said about itself, its products, its industry and the key issues it faces in the online world: if you don?t know what?s being said, you cannot react to it (for good or bad).

Importantly, your reputation strategy won?t just be a one-off plan, but an evolving scheme that will require constant monitoring. You?ll need to constantly re-evaluate, re-plan and rethink it according to changes in the market, developments in social media and changes within your own company. In order to do this, it?s vital that you have a structured measurement plan in place, and that you are on top of what?s being said about your brand ? both on and offline.

There are countless measurement tools on the market, but ultimately, for your reputation strategy to be successful, you need to identify what things matter most for your company, and measure them in a way that makes sense for you.

Jennifer Janson is managing director of Six Degrees PR, a specialist reputation management agency serving the science, engineering and technology field, and is author of The Reputation Playbook.
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