I recently sat down, virtually, with Warren Cooper, Senior PR Lead at Evergreen Partners, Inc. to ask him about Online Reputation, and Reputation Management. I wanted to learn from him what online reputation means for an organization, how us flacks can stay informed and abreast of their organization's online reputation, and how we can respond to issues as they develop. Warren shared some very interesting thoughts on both of these important topics below.
What's the importance of a company's online reputation?
Maintaining a great reputation isn't just the concern of individuals any longer. It has become a central topic of concern for corporations, religious organizations, educational institutions, hospitals and healthcare providers, nonprofits, and public and private entities of all types. CEOs and Boards of Directors have come to recognize that a hit to the company's (or its officers') online reputation threatens the brand - and that means it can impact customer loyalty and ultimately profits. As a result, reputational risk, posed by online threats particularly, has become a regular agenda item at the highest levels of the organization. Often the entity's risk analysts will turn to their public relations team to help identify and address the issue.
How do PR firms stay abreast of their clients' online reputation?
Reputation management, crisis communications and litigation support go hand in hand... and few traditional Public Relations firms specialize in such efforts. One problem is that it's not clear how to effectively measure reputational risk, or even quantify an entity's reputation. In fact, how to assess, protect and enhance reputation, and demonstrate quantitatively that you've done so, is a major concern among those of us who do this work.
What can companies do to stay abreast of how they are reported online?
There is a growing group of companies producing software that enables PR firms that do this work to monitor online and social media platforms for negative sentiment about a brand — the first step in addressing any reputational threat. But right now that really involves tracking online discourse daily, hourly and, during a crisis event, even minute by minute.
What can companies do to respond and fix issues that arise?
A quick response at the first sign of trouble is typically the best approach, communicating directly with the individual posting the negative contact and seeking to neutralize the attack by being genuinely appreciative that the individual brought the problem to the attention of the company then resolving it. It's important also to monitor online petition sites and sites that offer opportunities to raise funds to fight the organization on a variety of grounds.
If the impact of media coverage of a problem makes handling online complaints or concerns impractical (consider Wells Fargo or Chipotle as good recent examples), more aggressive media — and social media — campaigns have to be launched to share the company's response (not just to the coverage, but to the incident or problem itself). The tricky part of that response is coordinating with the company's attorneys. This is so as to not produce materials that would put the company at further risk should the initial incident spur litigation.
Here at Evergreen Partners we typically work through and with the entity's attorney or outside counsel to provide litigation support while guiding strategic internal and external communications that optimize the odds of effectively rebuilding or repairing its reputation over time.