Telling the truth about SME life today

Managing your firm’s online reputation

Bullhorn‘s vice president of global communications, Vinda Souza, delves into the challenges and necessities of managing your firm’s reputation in the digital age.

A business’s reputation is everything: disrepute can crater sales, deter prospective customers, make recruitment a struggle, and demoralise employees, just to name a few impacts. Guarding a company’s reputation in the modern era is a task that takes place largely online. The internet provides channels for anybody to make their opinions known, and the challenges that businesses must overcome to protect their reputation are more contentious than ever.

Social media means that customers have a platform to publicly issue feedback, which has largely been a boon to companies that go out of their way to serve customers.

Former employees, meanwhile, can turn to sites like Glassdoor to praise or criticise a company’s culture and internal practices.

However, businesses sometimes need to make difficult and unpopular decisions, including pay-cuts, financial misunderstandings, and acrimonious firings, which can leave people feeling frustrated. These jilted employees and customers or competitors in their guise can seriously damage a business” reputation by levelling internet-amplified criticism against them.

The clear first step to ensuring that nobody is recounting bad experiences with the company online is to minimise the number of people who have bad experiences. However, that only gets a business so far, and beyond that it will need to build a strategy for communicating online in a genuine, approachable way that is consistent with their brand.

Sincere and honest communication

Many companies default to corporate or otherwise robotic-sounding communications. At best, these messages are viewed as overly formal, but more often they are met with apathy or ignored altogether. Strong online messaging, on the other hand, has a clear voice and is empathic, clearly relating to the reader.

Demonstrating empathy is particularly crucial in times of crisis, whether the issue is specific to your business or industry, or, as with now, the world at large. The perception that a business is ignoring, or worse, trivialising current events is incredibly damaging to its image.

Although it may be tempting to twist the truth, honesty and transparency always win out in the long run. The facts almost always come out eventually, and it’s better to take a small hit to your reputation by getting out in front of a damaging story than to risk a large hit and potentially even accusations of a cover up later on. As with communications in general, empathy here is invaluable.

In addition to matching content with the situation, business communications must also strike an appropriate tone. For examples of the fine line here, you need look no further than tweets that the original author insists were ?taken out of context?. A company’s tone is a subtle yet profound element of its branding, and it should be collaboratively agreed upon and consistently adhered to.

Things best left unsaid

Businesses must also be considerate in their larger strategies. For instance, gaining a reputation for ambulance-chasing leveraging an unfortunate event as an opportunity to sell or gain attention can really mar a company’s reputation, even if they?re doing good work otherwise.

In PR, it’s just as important to know when not to pitch to press, even if it is ostensibly an ideal scenario for your product. If your customers are facing hard times, for example, your communications should reflect this.

When many companies are struggling, rose-coloured PR can come off as insincere and attacking competitors seems petty and braggadocio is in poor taste.

Instead, offer resources and advice to support your customers, and trust that this, not a flashy ad, is a strong foundation for an ongoing relationship.

Similarly, a smart strategy should extend beyond simply pushing ads for existing products. Modern businesses have access to an unprecedented number of venues and opportunities to interact with their communities online, and they should take every chance to gather feedback, address customer concerns and respond to requests for advice. With a small budget, companies can go even further and host or participate in events either in-person or, for the foreseeable future, online.

The value of your online reputation

In many cases, it’s easy to take your company’s reputation for granted. However, any business that has weathered a scandal will tell you that a reputation is hard-earned and easily lost. Now more than ever, with businesses issuing communications constantly, it’s crucial to your business’s image that messages are thoughtful, empathetic and honest.


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