Viewpoint – Vikki Chowney, editor at Reputation Online

The internet and in particular social networking sites have changed the rules of handling a branding crisis, yet most companies – Toyota being one of the latest examples – are risking their brands’ reputations by failing to adapt their defence strategies to the real-time and candid nature of the online environment.

  • To read the cover story relating this this ’Bringing your brand back from the brink’ click here
  • To read the case study on First Direct click here
  • To read about Toyota and Tiger Woods sponsorship click here
Vikki Chowney
Vikki Chowney

Over the past few months, what began as basic customer service failures from the likes of Eurostar and Paperchase [following allegations that it plagiarised an artist’s work] became far bigger issues than they might have been, due to the influence of online chatter.

Once upon a time, complaints about delays and plagiarism might have been swept under the carpet, never to be uncovered. Now news of a brand’s bad behaviour can reach a global audience with frightening speed. With so many horror stories circulating in the press and scaring other businesses into a corner, the concept of proactive reputation management has never been so front of mind.

Is there any way to engage with the social media space and fix a problem? Can you employ traditional crisis management rules, or does the very nature of the internet change the game entirely?

The bottom line is that traditional rules still apply; you’re just dealing with a different environment. With proactive monitoring in place, it’s easier to look immediately at what’s being said, then put out a holding statement before allocating a spokesperson to ensure a consistent message. Post-evaluation is critical – especially within the social media space – where good or bad news spreads instantly.

Brands must think about the audience first when responding to an issue online – the message and the medium must come second. Using appropriate language and aligning any activity to overarching communications objectives is key. A brand that prides itself on being transparent shouldn’t shut up shop the moment something bad happens. That jars against the perceived personality of the company.

“Brands must think about the audience first when responding to an issue online – the message and the medium must come second.”
Vikki Chowney, Reputation Online

Ensuring that legal aspects are covered is always more time-consuming than a communications team thinks it should be, so getting people in the same room speeds this up. Ticking all of these boxes makes sure that the company being attacked becomes the credible source of information about the issue, which prevents speculation and the Twitter whispers from getting out of hand.

From a business perspective, customer service should be made second to none because it will be called upon – very publicly. You should be monitoring mentions of your brand constantly so you can react swiftly when something happens, even if it’s only with a holding statement.

Being seen to do something in a crisis is almost as important as actually doing it.

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