Reputation. Every company has one, like it or not, and almost everyone would agree that reputation is a business asset. Many business leaders, however, particularly within SMEs, are leaving the management of their reputation to accident. At best, this is a wasted opportunity to differentiate the company from the competition and build commercially useful profile; at worst it leaves the company vulnerable to the vagaries of public opinion, with potentially damaging results. The following five actions should, therefore, be on the ‘to do’ list of every business leader.
Work out the reputation you want.
Reputation creation and management is, ideally, a deliberate process. It is like constructing a building. You don’t just start laying bricks without having a good idea of the intended structure. The same is true of your reputation. What do you want to be known for? What do you definitely not want associated with the company? What differences about your company do you need people to understand? How will all this help your business? If you can’t answer these questions, get your management team together and have the discussion. Armed with the answers you can then build your reputation management plan.
How do you know what people think of you? You may believe that you are well reputed but without some measurement in place to check the traditional and social media, you are just guessing. The good news is that setting up basic monitoring is extremely easy and practically free. Google is your friend and should give you a basic understanding almost immediately. Just work out your key words and away you go.
Train your spokespeople.
At some point, if you haven’t already, you are going to have to speak to the media. Journalists are an important interface between the business and its key audiences. Positive or negative stories can help or harm and therefore conversations with the press should not be left to chance. Investing in media training, therefore, and (importantly) having regular refreshers, is worth doing. In many ways it is like learning to drive – the more you do it, the better you get.
Prepare for the worst.
Crises are, by definition, both unexpected and inconvenient. They can upend your business, ruin your relationship with customers, upset your staff and, in the worst cases, lead to legal breaches, dismissal of senior managers and prison. Crisis preparation is, therefore, insurance. Management teams should be scenario planning, determining roles and responsibilities, thinking through key messages, preparing core communications materials and practicing all of the above now. If you wait until the crisis hits it will be too late.
Get a social life.
Finally, it is very hard to build a credible, valuable reputation if you are not prepared to talk. Luckily, it has never been easier and cheaper to have a voice if you are brave enough to jump in. Successful businesses are increasingly using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like to connect with their target audience, attract new recruits, show off their good works, fight their corner, build support for causes, and generally create an engaging, attractive voice. It takes time and a willingness to play, although asking for advice before you jump in is probably a good idea.
Nick Andrews is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Leader for EMEA. You can reach him at Nick.Andrews@fleishmaneurope.com
This article was originally published in Business Matters Magazine (web) – Sept 21, 2016