In this digital, viral age, reputation management is more important than ever. The opinion of the masses is in constant flux and even minor errors can often cause a wave of bad press that can be damaging to even large companies.

Following a PR misstep, it’s important to understand how narratives are created if you want to regain control. To help, today we will discuss online reputation management. Then we give some tips to start guiding the public towards your point of view and make amends for any perceived slights.

What Makes Bad Press?

Most executives and managers understand that one can generate bad or even disastrous press. The wrong narrative can damage or even destroy companies if left uncontrolled.

Harder is understanding what makes for truly bad press. There is a difference between a small group of irate customers and thousands of angry messages. Generally speaking, the difference comes down to virality.

Virality is a descriptor given to stories that manage to spread with immense speed, usually through the internet. It is not itself negative; a positive story about your company going viral can be quite beneficial. 

The issue is that many negative stories often hold the potential to go viral. Content that sparks strong emotions, good or bad, has been shown to make content spread faster and to be more engaging to the public.

If your company has done something that strikes at a common fear or source of anger, the news is likely to spread if news outlets or internet influencers create content about the story.

A story that is divisive can be even more viral. Actions that will be viewed positively by one side of the political spectrum and negatively by the other generate a lot of attention. Both sides will share the story, but for different reasons.

Whether such a scenario would do your company more harm than good will depend on your target demographic. You cannot please everyone, but angering your core demographic will have real consequences.

A Proportional Response

As most executives know, the response to bad PR generally should be proportional to the negativity the company (or individuals within the company) has sparked.

On a long enough timeframe, almost any company will anger at least some portion of their customer base. Anything from minor shipping delays to discontinuing products to outright invented slights can cause some individuals to lose faith in your company.

Losing a small portion of your customer base is not unimportant. At the same time, you also cannot always justify sweeping changes and PR campaigns to regain their trust. The more people are angered, the less effective this becomes.

It is reasonable for a company to hold itself accountable for mistakes even when only a small group is angered. Making this a habit can even turn bad press into good press. However, it is when the negative press goes viral that a true crisis has begun.

When dealing with thousands or more angry customers, a company must begin engaging in true crisis communication. A response team should be formed and your company should consider hiring online reputation management services if your team is inexperienced in this form of PR management.

Make Social Media Your Primary Focus

Over 72% of American adults use at least one social media platform. These numbers also more or less hold for most developed nations. It is on these platforms most Americans get their news and express their concerns.

Different platforms attract different demographics and have different algorithms for content engagement. For example, according to data from the Pew Research Center, Instagram has a low rate of use among adults aged 50 or older.

A valuable piece of online reputation management advice is to make the platforms popular with your target audience the primary arenas you interact with. The larger your company, the more resources you can also devote to more secondary platforms.

This all said stories can and often do “jump” platforms as they grow more viral. If negative press is spreading rapidly on a platform not relevant to your target audience, you cannot ignore it completely.

Gaining Control of the Narrative

As touched on, the first step to gaining control over the anger of your consumers is to first identify the scale of the problem and then the platforms you should focus on. From there, it is a matter of proper messaging.

For both large and small business reputation management, the process of messaging begins with identifying what has upset your customers. Why are they angry? Is this anger justified or the result of a miscommunication?

Without understanding the root of their anger, you cannot formulate a management strategy. It is critical your messaging comes off as genuine, rather than hollow and corporate.

When the Anger is Justified

Crisis management requires self-reflection. Businesses are capable of making mistakes. They might empower the wrong people or hurt groups without intention. 

It is easy to shy away from admitting such mistakes. It can seem counterproductive to accept blame. However, it is rare that a company can escape the public eye in that way; denying actions can even attract more attention to them.

By admitting to your mistakes, you seize control of the narrative from bad actors. You can put out a statement accepting blame. Then detail how the actions did not reflect company values, stating what you will do to correct the issue in the future.

While this won’t erase mistakes your company made, it shows remorse and repentance. This in turn tends to reduce the level of outrage your company experiences. Even better is if you can demonstrate policy changes or similar activity that will prevent such mistakes in the future.

When the Anger Stems From Miscommunication

Sometimes anger stems not from any malice or serious error on your company’s part. The internet can sometimes grow angry due to rumors or miscommunication.

For example, consider a situation where a bad actor hacks your social media accounts. They then spread hateful messages, pretending to speak for your company.

In such a situation, people may think your company holds values it simply does not. Simply clarifying what occurred can be the bulk of your management strategy.

Once again, the primary goal is to step in front of the narrative. First, post on the various major social media platforms a statement meant to clarify the issue, tailoring the message to the platform’s medium.

From there, try to formulate a strategy for stopping such errors in the future. This may mean increasing account security, having a social media manager verify posts before they go out, or otherwise implementing changes to stop the same kind of miscommunication from occurring again.

The Damage of Poor Reputation Management

A social media crisis can quickly spiral into massive damage to your reputation and finances. Each year, numerous companies experience substantial loss due to PR missteps and improper management thereafter.

The wrong mistake can lead to unwanted stakeholder activism, boycotts, and even government intervention. All the while your company may experience a barrage of hateful content on social media, often from people arguing in bad faith.

Consider the recent barrage of bad PR generated by Activision Blizzard. Through mismanagement, a failure to realize the severity of their errors, and a subsequent fumbling of their messaging, the company has now experienced damage from which it may never recover.

If your company is unfamiliar with crisis management, hire a credible online reputation management firm and heed their advice. It may literally be the deciding factor in whether your company survives the incident.

Improving Your Messaging

Clear, timely messaging is not always an easy skill to learn. It is one even many industry veterans lack. For professionals who rose to success before this era of social media, it is easy to be blindsided by the nature of modern communication.

Many old strategies no longer work the way they once did. Your model must adapt to the internet and the globalization of information. 

If you’re trying to master reputation management, I recommend my workshop. There you’ll learn how to analyze the situation, identify threats and opportunities, and seize the narrative.

A PR crisis is a stressful experience. It is also the worst time to start learning the skills you need to survive one. Preparation both makes the crisis less draining while also giving you the best chance of reducing its potential damage.

I also offer my book and online reputation management guide, Indestructible. It is a great resource for those who want to learn more about my crisis survival and communication strategies in a concise, actionable way.

In addition to the great info that the book offers, a purchase will also give you access to my podcast. There I deliver real-world case studies and even more online reputation management tips useful for veterans and newcomers alike.

For Further Help With Reputation Management

If you have questions about reputation management, are interested in appearing on my podcast, or simply want to leave a comment, contact me.

It’s my goal to help executives and managers learn the skills needed to survive in an era where the wrong words have the potential to ruin a company. All you need to get started is to begin exploring our site.