In a digital world managing your online reputation is vital for success

In a digital world managing your online reputation is vital for success

Simon Wadsworth is a global reputation management expert. He is the Founder of Igniyte, a reputation management company, and has recently been asked to contribute to a book called Scale for Success, which is aimed at entrepreneurs as a comprehensive guide to growing their business. He explains how an online reputation is fundamental to business success.

We live online. Whether we like it or not, the world of business is digital. This means everything we do, say and communicate affects our reputation. And that goes for our personal, individual reputation and the reputation of our business.

For business leaders, the two are inextricably intertwined. Online reputation is fundamental to the survival and the success of your business.

Even the biggest names can pay the price for a poor online reputation

We’ve all seen the online viral response to a high-level individual’s error. And we all know just how fast these things spread. The results vary from forced resignations to attempts to ignore the reputation damage.

In the 21st century business arena, there is no room for reputational damage. The biggest names have fallen foul of this, with some reputation disasters causing serious long-term damage to brands. COVID-19 threw us all into a new world with the moves of big businesses under scrutiny more than ever.

How businesses are perceived to treat their employees and their customers matters. It matters a lot. And in times of crisis, it’s easy for business leaders and big names to make catastrophic errors of judgement. Social media gives the public a platform to call out individuals and brands that they disapprove of and ‘cancel them’.

In a time when outrage can be communicated instantly to millions of people, it’s never been more important for businesses to think about their online reputation. Back in the time of the first national UK lockdown due to the pandemic, ‘blacklists’ of offending businesses were quick to circulate. This mass outrage was a direct result of a C-Suite business leader saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Lockdown losers in the online reputation stakes

Examples that spring to mind include Sports Direct. Following the announcement of the first lockdown in March 2020, Sports Direct continued to remain open. To do so, CEO, Mike Ashley, argued that the sports equipment multinational counted as ‘essential’. At the same time, the brand hiked home gym equipment up in price by 50%. Immediate reactions from the public were made very clear on social media, with people vowing to spend money elsewhere.

And to show just how mainstream social media outrage is, Piers Morgan took it to Good Morning Britain, saying on air: “We will remember the companies who stepped up to care for their employees and customers and we’ll remember those who abused their employees.” A public apology from Mr Ashley quickly followed, but the damage was done.

Wetherspoons owner, Tim Martin, risked immense damage to his brand around the same time. Following Mr Martin’s decision not to pay his staff during lockdown, the public were suitably outraged. And in a move that shows how not to clear up a reputation disaster, Mr Martin then recorded a video message for his staff to tell them they should get a job elsewhere if they’re struggling. Cue a fresh wave of outrage and disgust and boycott Wetherspoons hashtags on Twitter.

Do you know what people think of you and your company?

The corporate reputation of a company is the overall view people have of your brand. This view is based on the actions of people who work for the company, and this is usually the CEO or owner. A positive reputation goes a long way to building trust in your business. Even if you’re fairly certain your business has never come under fire, it’s a good idea to Google your brand name. Include anyone who is quoted in the press and particularly the CEO/owner.

What people see when they Google your business is a list of links. From these links, people will form an opinion about your business based on what representatives have said in the past. They will also easily find online reviews of your business or brand from past customers. Here’s what you need to know about Google searches and your corporate reputation:

• 90% of people searching your company name will only look at the first page of results to form their opinion.

• Google controls around 92% of all searches on the Internet.
• Around 64% fully trust search engines like Google when looking for information about a business.
If you’re wondering how this translates to offline impacts on businesses:
• Almost half (46%) of businesses have been damaged by online search results or are concerned about the negative coverage they’ve had in the press.
• A third of businesses say that negative online content has damaged their name and bottom line.
• A further third of businesses believe that negativity spread via social media channels poses the greatest threat to their reputation.

Negative online content about your business potentially damages your good name, how potential customers view you and the bottom line.

Control the narrative and you will withstand online problems

Online content targets brands, businesses and individuals. And while it can be tempting to assume that only very high-profile individuals can truly be impacted by negative content, the truth is everyone should work to protect their reputation. It could be the difference between progressing in your career and finding that your face doesn’t fit. Or between your business soaring to success or crashing and burning.

Any business and any individual can find themselves at the heart of a public relations crisis. No-one is immune to the scrutiny of the public, the media, peers and stakeholders. And while some industries are more at risk of reputational damage, it’s a potential issue for every business. And on a personal level, politicians, celebrities and high-level media friendly CEOs who build on their business through their reputation are at risk.

Online reviews form part of the perception of your corporate reputation. In fact, reviews have become so important that they actively change consumer behaviour:

• 90% of people say they look at online reviews before using a business or service.
• 85% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as a recommendation from a friend.
• A business with lots of positive reviews can boost consumer trust in 73% of consumers.
• Buying decisions are impacted by online reviews, according to 93% of consumers.

So, whether it’s media coverage, social media chat, online reviews or any other content, it’s worth everyone’s while to maintain a positive online reputation. The damage done can be devastating. For example,

• One negative article about your business on the first page of a search engine’s results could lose you 22% of potential new business.
• This leaps to 70% of potential business with four or more negative hits on the first page of search results about you, your business or your brand.
• More than half of all businesses say that their company has been negatively impacted in one way or another by unsubstantiated online reviews.

Here’s how to respond to a reputation crisis

A single negative article about your business can cause untold damage to your reputation. Whether it’s true or not. Actively managing your online reputation is about counteracting any negativity online and promoting the things the press and consumers love about your business. It’s about showing the very best of yourself and your business.

This helps consumers trust your business, attracts the best staff and future-proofs your name and brand from any unwarranted media or social media attacks in the future. Here’s how to deal with a personal or business reputation crisis online:

  1. Take ownership and hold your hands up to the problem
    The first – and most crucial – step is to publicly acknowledge that a mistake has been made. Show that you know it’s happened and that you are now working to fix it. Reputations can bounce back very quickly by talking directly to the people involved. This shows that you care and that you will commit to putting it right. Staying quiet just isn’t an option. Trying to ignore this kind of reputation crisis invites in untethered speculation that will do further damage.
  2. Talk about your company values
    Now is the time to show what your business cares about. Underline your values to bring the focus back to the strength of your company’s ideals. This loops back to showing you are committed to customer service and acting on issues when they happen.
  3. Communicate empathy and action
    If the crisis has victims or potential victims, speak up about them. Show that you empathise with them. This shows the media and the public that you are taking full responsibility. Talk about what action you will take to address the problem. This grabs control back and shows how you’re handling the situation.
  4. Take preventative steps before a crisis even hits
    If you take pre-emptive steps you will naturally limit the impact of any reputation crisis. This means having a crisis management strategy ready to go. But it also means having strong and positive relationships with stakeholders, employees, customers, clients and the media. Set up Google Alerts so you are always on top of any coverage of your business or your name.
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