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By Tshepo Sefotlhelo

 

The advent of the digital era has revolutionised the way we communicate and brought information to our fingertips about any conceivable topic. While this vast network has also allowed us to connect with other users all over the world, both socially and commercially, it is becoming increasingly challenging to manage one’s reputation.

While the public relations professionals of yesteryear could effectively respond to negative publicity in the media in a fairly targeted and structured way, today a single tweet or comment can cause a business to undergo a trial by social media before anyone can react, effectively unravelling a reputation that has been established over decades.

Social media has become, in a sense, an untameable beast. While this medium is useful to corporates for interactions with brand consumers, it can also be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Despite the effort organisations have spent building trust with consumers and maintaining their reputation over many years.

It is increasingly challenging for anyone, whether they are corporates or an individual, to protect their reputations. We are all an ill-judged comment away from going viral and undoing decades of reputation building.

A study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows that on average, approximately 25% of a company’s market value is directly attributable to its reputation. Reputation is an organization’s most valuable asset, but also the easiest to lose. Over my many years as a reputation specialist, I have witnessed many companies lose their seemingly solid reputations overnight. With nearly a staggering three billion people active on social media channels around the world, news (whether true of fake) tends to spread like wildfire leaving organisations scrambling to pick up the pieces.

Brands go through a trial by social media, long before the rumours, speculations or comments are proven or invalidated. It is in these moments of crisis that companies strategize on how to respond appropriately. More often than not though, the damage is already done. The unfortunate reality is that despite a myriad of case studies showing how quickly a company’s reputation can be tainted, most companies are still doing an inadequate job of managing their reputations.

Organisations are forced to take a reactive approach to reputation management time and again. Companies must become more diligent when it comes to managing their reputations. This task cannot be left to head office or top management.

In fact, any organization has a responsibility to provide social media training for the entire staff. This will help to protect an organization’s public image. This means that those responsible for the management of a company’s reputation should be thinking of how they are going to keep their entire organization in good standing. In our profession, when we consult with the Board or the Executive Committee of any company about reputation management, we often have to punt the importance of including every staff member in social media training. One wrong turn by an employee can put an entire organization into disrepute.

A dedicated Public Relations firm is also essential to protecting any organization from a reputation crisis. PR firms have the tools and the expertise to scour the internet and help a company find potential reputational crises and react accordingly. Indeed, it is a full-time job managing the media and social media environment, with content being published 24/7.

Proactively managing your reputation allows you to cultivate positive reviews and content, instead of only focusing on combating negative information. This also allows an organization to prevent a containable event spiralling out of control.

In fact, managing your company’s reputation should not be left to the last minute when a crisis befalls you. Preparation is crucial to preventing major pitfalls. Even if a company has a relatively strong reputation, it is advisable to stay in the driver’s seat and proactively maintain that relationship.

While I concede that over the years, the challenges that come with the digital era are understood better, there is still significant room for improvement in relation to how corporates understand the digital environment. Remember, you do not have to tackle these issues alone, as reputation mavericks we live to impart knowledge, anticipate these kinds of issues and provide tailormade solutions.

Dare I say, we all need to be prepared or lose it all in a heartbeat.

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