3. Reputation – the ‘jury is still out’ on the extent social media plays in managing reputation. Depending on the type of business, or sector a business operates in the uptake of social media varies considerably, although stepping into 2012 financial year, many organisations have begun to investigate what social media can contribute given the leading role it played in the many global newsworthy events throughout 2011.
In terms of the individual, social media provides the opportunity to make your personality felt, and its users range from A-list celebrities, to sportsmen and women, prominent business people, small business owners, and students kick-starting their careers all endorse its value. ‘Being known and valued’ is better than being unknown. From a business point of view, being seen to embrace and use social media appropriately gives a clear message to the market and customers that you’re keen to embrace new developments and move with the times. However, the way you use social media and share content will create an impression, and will very quickly define you in the minds of others.
Managing how others perceive us has always posed a challenge to the most skilled of communications professionals. Presenting a consistent identity and set of values that reinforce a positive reputation have demanded the input of the some of the most astute minds as organisations encounter crises, change of management, the impact of their culture/products/services, responses to shifts in the market, maintain legislative and industry compliance, while addressing the daily buffeting of share price performance and stakeholder demands – just a few of the aspects that require constant attention and impact upon reputation.
With the penetration of social media, responding appropriately has even wrong-footed established communications specialists. Social media has brought with it a new set of rules, culture, and accepted do’s and don’ts. Ignoring these has precipitated the downfall of some individuals, and caused red faces, retractions, and apologies from well known brand owners and their agencies who haven’t come to terms with the nuances, immediacy, and scale of connectedness through the social media channels. What isn’t clear is the long-term impact upon the reputation of those who commit those faux pas. Are the howls of derision and excited critiquing by the social media community of brand X’s attempt at a Facebook campaign indicative of the change in the market’s perception and behaviour towards that brand or organisation?
Reputation management now demands working under a spotlight that demands transparency, engaging proactively with customers and followers in the social media channels. This requires recognizing that dialogue about the organisation, its brand, products and services is less controlled, and needs to be both flexible and deliver content that augments the conversation and is valued by those reading it. Providing useful insight, encouraging responses, and avoiding overt selling are all key components in building the brand affinity and online relationships that enhance reputation. It also requires educating and empowering employees in the responsible use of social media, because as ambassadors of their organisation they will need guidance on how to engage and bolster reputation by their contributions. The Dept of Justice in Victoria, Australia demonstrates how to positively engage employees using video , explaining to staff members how and why they should embrace their social media policy.
Maintaining a healthy reputation now demands organisations to be visibly engaging with customer conversations in public across social media platforms. It requires being open, quick to respond, and being seen to value dialogue, feedback, and the (existing and potential) customers commitment to engage and maintain a relationship with the organisation, its brands, and its offerings. Key guidance points for successfully managing reputation are;
- Where success has been achieved – share it, where mistakes have been made, apologise and put it right.
- Where changes are afoot – take stakeholders and customers with you on the journey, and get their input.
- Where tough decisions need to be made – make them, and explain clearly your rationale for doing so.
- Finally, be constantly monitoring and responding to the world around you, remain engaged and continue to exchange value.