Handling Reputation Breaches
First understand that a reputation breach is ANY incident that smudges the image you want to project of your company. These aren’t always originating from outside the company.
For example, if you want to project the image that you’re a company that listens, but you never answer your blog posts, that’s still a breach.
They’re also not always hostile or malicious. If your customers are unhappy because you changed something they like about your product, and they say so on your Facebook page – a lack of response is also a breach.
But of course, these breaches also include times when you look up your company name and find spam sites listed.
So what do you do?
- Handle the Incident Directly and ImmediatelyThe second you see a breach, it should be addressed. Make sure someone in every level of your organization is empowered to speak on behalf on the company within an hour of a breach, even if it’s just to say “thanks for pointing that out, we’re having an internal discussion about that, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
- If you’ve made a mistake, own it.Saving face is 20th century. Own up to mistakes. Simply having a person in power say “We’re sorry. What can we do to make it better.” is enough. In the case of a breach of your search results, skip the finger-pointing stage. Everyone involved in working on the web side of the company identity should accept responsibility for preventing future breaches, and get to work on making existing owned and leased web properties more appetizing than the spam results or false information. Go back over suggestions from internal staff and service companies – recommendations that may have seemed trivial at the time may have been made to prevent the situation you’re in now. If you have those minds in place already, eat the humble pie and get those brains back on your side.
- Take action not just to recover from the current breach, but to prevent future breaches.Why did this happen? Were you looking at competitors in terms of making a better product, not just having better marketing? Did you attempt to build a better mouse trap without including the input of present mouse trap owners? Is the community angry because they asked you to keep the one feature that you changed? Where is the bad press coming from? Is it one company responding to your success or is this an industry-wide problem that other companies like yours are facing due to public fears?
- Implement a test bed.Of course, you don’t want to post negative commentary against your own company to see how it holds up. Even when things don’t pop up in search, they can spread quickly in social if you don’t have some kind of strategy in place to address false rumors and the like. What you will want to do is continue to publish articles, images, videos, etc, on properties you own (your blog or press room) as well as those you only own a piece of (YouTube, Facebook), and pay attention to the traction they get naturally, in contrast to the results from an organized effort to have published items disseminated. It’s useful to understand how these communities work and what the signs of viral spread are, as well as to monitor your company and product name using Google and Yahoo alerts.
Reputation management isn’t just about keeping inaccurate data from false representing your company. It’s about presenting the best picture of your company that you can, and quickly addressing all the alternate views that may present themselves.