As a discipline, reputation management is still nascent in the Asia Pacific region. Caught up in the rallying cry to go digital, many brands are eager to appear in search results, but they are comparatively less focused on the realities of what exactly consumers see.
To the extent that some brands in the region do practice reputation management, most relegate it to a single person or department, such as customer service, digital marketing, or human resources. While engaging in any form of reputation management is a good start, it should not be compartmentalized into a specific box on the organizational chart.
Reputation management should be a companywide responsibility that affects several, if not all, external-facing departments. Many founders or C-level executives balk at the idea of committing significant resources to what they might assume is merely a cosmetic benefit. But this stereotype could not be farther from the truth.
First Impressions Go Digital
When a stakeholder hears about your brand for the first time—be they a potential customer, employee, partner, or investor—they will almost always Google your company to learn more. What they see in the search results is essentially their first impression, except it’s even weightier than the first impressions we make as businesspeople at meetings, events, or conferences.
Unlike in-person meetings, where you can offset an initially bad first impression as you share more about yourself over the course of a conversation, there are no such opportunities online. Stakeholders who are put off by a negative employee review or a critical feature from a journalist when searching your brand will not give you a chance to explain yourself. They’ll simply click away from your site. Our attention spans online last a couple seconds at most, and you just wasted the few that someone gave you.
A negative or erroneous perception on the internet can stagnate growth and immediately compromise sales and marketing efforts. It can also scare away an investor or cause the perfect candidate to apply to a competitor. Despite the importance of reputation management, the only way for employees to understand its significance is to get it from the top down. Company leaders must communicate the importance of reputation management and operationalize it into a key performance indicator.
Each department should be assigned relevant channels for reputation management. For example, human resources can monitor Glassdoor and LinkedIn; digital marketing can keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter, and Google; and public relations can watch media outlets. The responsible departments must report on their assigned channels. The sharing of such vital information is a constant reminder that everyone must work together to build, improve and protect their brand’s online reputation. A key point to note here is that companies often fail because they don’t consult experts. Imagine a company engaging their HR team to do financial audits without having them trained or monitored by a finance expert. Similarly, it is important to engage digital reputation experts in your strategy development process.
In galvanizing the entire organization to practice reputation management, leaders must emphasize a proactive rather than reactive approach. The latter is all too common, especially in Asia. Brands will only take action around their reputation crisis or when a dissenting view appears online. Only then will they spring to action, summoning whatever resources they can to respond to the critical opinion, bury it amid more positive content, or work to delete the negativity if libelous or otherwise erroneous.
Rather than just responding to online issues as they arise, brands must be proactive, beginning with developing an overall online branding: What is it that they want to be known for? Determining a company’s messaging is just as important for reputation management as it is for public relations or any other communications function. Skipping this step—as many companies do in their rush to respond to dissenting online voices—also leads to poor branding and subsequent performance. Your company will come across as just another entity in a business world eager to uphold appearances rather than an organization responding` from a place of genuine authenticity.
The messaging that you devise for your reputation management should be treated as a living document. Your company should evaluate how its mission, vision, and values are reflected on the internet every quarter, or even more frequently if your company is experiencing rapid growth. Done correctly, proactive reputation management will create an online brand that all of your team members will be proud of. It will also mobilize your community of employees, clients, partners, and other stakeholders to further support the success of your company.