Despite the title, I am not sending out this post just to be a shit disturber (though it is a role I have embraced with enthusiasm in the past). What I intend to do here is to provide a much needed reality check on the limits of online reputation management. Most articles on reputation management and digital branding focus on the form and quality of online corporate communications. However, even a seasoned communications professional will secretly admit that the best approaches only go so far when a client’s business practices, or core business itself, are widely viewed as problematic.
Am I saying that you should stop trying to engage with online communities if you represent a company that pollutes heavily, or is otherwise perceived as a social pariah?
If you’re out there to fight public perceptions, you’re wasting your time…
The answer to the question above is yes if your company’s decision makers believe that the public is ignorant and needs to be set straight. In our newly-networked society, where individuals and advocates are well aware of their collective power online, nothing is as tempting a target as an arrogant villain, who defies the masses to a showdown. If you plan to go out there swinging when extensive documentation on your brand’s social, economic or environmental ills is out there, and a groundswell of opposition has already formed, then be prepared to spend all of your time online doing damage control and crisis management -Not especially profitable communications activities, nor ones that will help your brand image in the long run.
If you want to discuss how you could do better, you’ll find engaged audiences
However, if your brand or industry has come to a point where it recognizes that it has some work to do to clean up its act, then you have a compelling reason to engage with the public online. Begin by laying your cards on the table and acknowledging public concerns. This will lower the temperature and start things off on a productive note. Then, let people know what you plan to do to change your practices, reduce harm etc. And finally, if you want to earn scads of goodwill and greatly improve your brand capital, ask people for their ideas on how you could do better and show them that you are retaining their advice and acting on it.
Here is the complete chapter text from the #Social Survival Manifesto:
Principle for Survival #9:
TRY BEING LESS EVIL
Now we’re coming to the core of things. I’ll be the first to admit that no communications strategy, no matter how well it is conceived, can protect from reputation risks if you have major skeletons in your closet. There’s no hiding dirty truths anymore if you are a social or environmental villain.
If you’re less than perfect, be upfront about it and let people know what you are doing to fix the issues. Maybe they will want to help.
By addressing your flaws, you will certainly pre-empt their ‘outing’ by pressure groups and be more in charge of the solution finding process.
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