What to Do When Your Online Reputation Takes a Nasty Hit
The harsh reality these days is that no person, business, or entity is safe from a scandal. So what do you do in the unfortunate scenario that your online reputation takes a nasty turn? Well, hopefully you never have to use it, but there needs to be a defined protocol in place for when a sticky situation arises. Let’s go over the basics.
We live in a time when online reputation management is a 24/7 gig. Thanks to social media and this era of constant connectedness, it seems like every little detail (especially the negative ones) are always being magnified to offend people and cause an uproar. Moreover, everyone now has a digital voice that can be heard across the world.
Bad sentiment can stem from just about anything and quickly snowball into a full-on crisis. Perhaps it started with a bad customer interaction, a poorly thought-out marketing message, or maybe it was simply an internet troll fabricating a story to get attention.
This is by far the most important part of online reputation management and one that is all too often overlooked.
Unfortunately, businesses these days are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, the insanely fast-paced stream of information has essentially robbed organizations of time in the process of responding to a crisis. On the other, a rushed response can potentially do even more damage.
When online sentiment doesn’t go your way, the last thing in the world you want to be is impulsive. Impulsiveness almost always leads to mistakes, which can be extremely detrimental in the very public online arena. Whatever happened, let it marinate for at least a couple of hours. The last thing you want to do is make a rash response when emotions are running high.
Remember Amy’s Baking Company?
It was a restaurant featured on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares several years ago. The show ended up cutting ties with the restaurant for being difficult to work with. Once this happened, a plethora of public problems arose - ranging from stealing servers’ tips to serving frozen food. In the face of a huge number of bad reviews on Facebook and Yelp, this was the company’s infamous string of responses:
This is probably the best (worst) example as you can get of responding with emotion. DO NOT DO THIS.
While you definitely shouldn’t take days to address the problem(s). You need to give yourself enough time to get your head right before making a public response.
Own Your Mistakes
In the situation that your online reputation is in trouble, the way you craft your response often times says more about your brand than the actual problem. The most important part of the process is looking at the story objectively and consciously identifying your mistakes. More importantly, you need to own them in your response.
As something we’ve seen all too often, companies or leaders mess this critical part up by passing off blame or trying to deflect.
You probably remember BP’s spectacular PR nightmare following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (that ended in 11 deaths and a colossal environmental hazard). In one of CEO Tony Hayward’s initial responses, he tried to pass the blame to another company. Here is what he said:
“The responsibility for safety on the drilling rig is Transocean’s. It is their rig, their equipment, their people, their safety processes.
We deal with these issues in the fullness of time. Today, we’re focusing on the response. But as I’ve said, these systems’ processes on a drilling rig are the accountability of the drilling rig company.”
Hayward’s series of responses were so bad that South Park created a parody of it.
When you are facing any sort of backlash, or even a less than stellar review, your ability to empathize is going to reign supreme in how you steer public perception. Take a look at this response to one of these Trustpilot reviews for example:
Keep in mind, the online world is VERY opinionated and quick to judge. If you play your cards right, empathize, and genuinely do your best to resolve the issue while keeping your class intact, you can turn negative sentiment into positive perception.
Depending on the severity of the problem, the recovery process typically involves pushing out positive brand content to turn the perception around. Now, if it seems like you have been casted into the pit of despair, it might seem logical to pump out as much positive content as humanly possible.
The key here is not to go overboard.
Given the current standpoint and evolution of the online world, most people have gotten pretty good at spotting BS and inauthenticity. As a hypothetical example, let’s say you own a restaurant and got a bunch of negative reviews because a handful of customers had terrible experiences with your wait staff. If there is a drastic spike in glowing, 5-star reviews over the next few days/weeks talking about how amazing the waiters are, it’s going to raise some eyebrows.
While there definitely needs to be a solid effort to get perception-changing content published, there is a fine line between being genuine and a blatant PR stunt. Be logical here. You obviously want to come off as genuine in your rebuttal.
Understand There is No Instant-Solution
There is a common saying in the world of online reputation management, “A reputation can take 30 years to build, yet be destroyed in 30 seconds.”
This is a reality that many know all too well.
When your reputation takes a hit, you need to understand that the process to repair the damage is not completed overnight. Moreover, there is very rarely a “quick fix” to a shattered reputation.
Take Uber for example. Just a few years ago, the company was plagued with public image problems. This included everything from sexual assault allegations to corporate fraud. The result was that people were ditching Uber in droves. The world-wide scandals led the company to essentially clean house, starting with the CEO.
Currently, while Uber has certainly made some great strides in winning customers back and controlling the media narrative, many would argue it has a long way to go. Some might even say that the reputation is unrepairable.
The moral of the story is that rebuilding a tarnished image usually involves deep-seated, fundamental changes from the ground up. As you could imagine, this is a long process that can often take years to accomplish in the eyes of the public.
Managing an online reputation is one of the most important responsibilities in the digital business era. When disaster hits, you need to have a process that keeps you grounded, objective, and strategic in how you respond.
To reiterate, the way you handle a PR crisis almost always says more about the business than the crisis itself.