Whilst this is evidently unsettling for many organisations used to at least the illusion of control, in fact there is mostly an upside to those interested in managing their reputation. In the past, reputation management was as much management by accident as by design. Organisations understood their reputations poorly, surveying was occasional and expensive, and a great deal of emphasis was placed on media comment. The ‘book’ of coverage was the common currency of public relations and the assumption was that advertising drove much of a company’s ‘image.’
Now, real time information pervades the practice of reputation management. Any organisation paying attention can use the digital world as a seismograph, picking up reputational tremors quickly and accurately. This in turn enables “managing” and ‘directing” to become “nudging,” “engaging,” “community building” and “conversing.” It makes reputation management an on-going, 24/7 process but it also makes it based on real information. It takes the guesswork out of something which used to rely a great part on experience and intuition.
This is not to say that science now trumps art when it comes to reputation management. Fundamentally, good reputations are forged from relationships and, as the French philosopher Diderot once remarked to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, “the skins of men are ticklish.” Nonetheless, it does mark the end of managing an organisation’s greatest asset, its reputation, by accident.
Nick Andrews is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Leader for EMEA. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.