By Merrill Freund, MD & EVP, San Francisco, MSLGROUP
Establishing a great reputation used to be a slow moving exercise – it was more akin to the turtle than the hare. Sure, there have always been extreme instances in which respected brands have taken major hits from huge crises – think the Tylenol scare of the 1980s – but by and large it has been possible to control and sustain reputations if a company had a great product and a consistent and compelling branding and communications strategy.
In the era of social media, short attention spans and one click hops, this isn’t the case anymore. With 500 channels, thousands of blogs and billions of Tweets, how important do the New York Times, CNN or Advertising Age remain for maintaining a pristine image? For example, a few years ago, Internet and cable TV provider Comcast received notoriety and fame when service problems on its network were the subject of ongoing attacks on Twitter after which they developed a rapid response to address these damaging tweets.
Companies are adopting influencer programs to drive greater user integration into communications programs. While not overtly co-opting users, it demonstrates the new focus on “Dave the Geek from Orlando” rather than David Pogue as the taste masters driving the brand and reputation.
5 Rules to Manage your Reputation in the Social Age
So given this new state of conventional wisdom, what rules should you apply to maintain, improve or change your reputation or brand? Here are five to consider:
1) Don’t throw out the baby (let alone the bathtub) with the bathwater.
Unless 2 million readers a day mean nothing, The New York Times is going nowhere (even if they are giving away millions of dollars a year due to a lack of a cohesive online monetization strategy) and what they publish still matters. Ignore them at your peril.
2) But it’s not just a game of volume – focus counts.
A review of an online coupon site on the Huffington Post is great but a mention in a mommy blog with only thousands of subscribers can be even better since they are all socially vocal.
3) Whether Verizon wants to hear this or not, churn is inevitable in almost every industry.
Losing a customer happens in less time than it takes to read this sentence. It’s the price you pay in an online world – your competitor is only one click away so any micro-change to your brand, reputation or experience and a loyal customer could be gone. Learn to take this in stride and better anticipate your customers expectations and reactions.
4) You have to maintain the appeal of a shiny object.
New social networks, gaming apps, gourmet burger joints and airlines launch every day and unless you maintain the aura of innovation in your business, you will lose much of what originally attracted users. Social media and media is a beast that requires constant feeding –you have to give people something to discuss or silence will follow. A new feature, new look and feel, new stunt. Just keep moving. Preferably in the direction that people are nudging you towards.
5) The world is now a 24 hour network.
Reputation management has ceased to be an eight hour, five-day-a-week exercise. You never know when you a crisis will erupt on Twitter that will demand your attention (e.g. when an IAC PR executive tweeted a racist comment and then disappeared on a plane with no internet access for 12 hours) or a golden opportunity appears out of nowhere (e.g., Oreo’s brilliant “dunk in the dark” social media campaign during Super Bowl blackout).
Strategic brand campaigns still work but the spontaneous events can end up being far more important. Cutting edge communications teams are building always-on newsrooms not just to look hip but because they need them.
Changes in the media and medium will continue to impact reputation management and brand control and today’s best practices will quickly become obsolete and nostalgically irrelevant. With everyone now having a voice, controlling your reputation is kind of like skiing – you can fool yourself into thinking you control the ride. But that’s half the fun.
This post is part of the People’s Insights magazine “The Future of Reputation“