Critical questions for managing reputation online

Last week I attended the excellent Managing Online Reputation conference organised by CorpComms magazine. Helen Dunne had booked some great speakers and below are some of the questions I was left ruminating about afterwards:

Are organisations doing enough to prevent online crises from happening?

Chris Scott, a partner at Schillings law firm, presented research which indicated that analysts and investors view many social media crises as preventable and as a result will punish management teams that do not defend themselves adequately when one occurs. Here are some of the common social media crises that organisations need to be prepared for:

  • Information leak – whistleblowing happens when organisations are felt to have ignored complaints from employee activists. The answer is for companies to ensure that such complaints are heard and investigated fully. An independent whistleblowing hotlline is a must in my opinion. Chris also suggested getting an independent lawyer to investigate any such claims because they have the benefit of both propriety and legal privilege (thus also helping the PR team if they subsequently need to tell journalists that the issue was dealt with seriously).
  • Campaigns against the Board – activist investors are becoming more adept at attacking CEO and Board performance through online channels. Chris suggested that in some cases companies will be able to fall back on market manipulation rules. In other cases personal privacy laws might help if the attack is against an individual.
  • Embarrassing staff – (i) Staff hijacking social media accounts – When a HMV employee liveblogged the firing ofShould posting this have been a sackable offence?

    several staff on the company’s official Twitter feed it was one of the first high profile examples of brandjacking in this country. It is important to ensure that social media passwords are routinely changed when staff with access to them leave. (ii) Employees speaking out on social media -There are now a plethora of examples of employees speaking or acting out of turn on social media and harming the company’s reputation. Some, like the Burger King employee who stood on lettuce, are rogue staff committing sackable offences. There are a number of other examples though of employers who have acted hastily to snuff out a social media issue and have found themselves dealing with a tribunal, like this Georgia school which sacked a teacher for posting pictures of herself drinking online. It is a reminder to all organisations to have up to date social media guidelines so staff are clear what online behaviour will be deemed acceptable and unacceptable.

Are the online profiles of executives actively managed? 

Author Jon Ronson whose latest book is about online public shamings.

Dave King, CEO of Digitalis, argued in his presentation that the CEO’s reputation is synonymous with that of the company in the digital age. He revealed that at least one newspaper is tracking all the social media activity of every CEO and Chairman in the FTSE 250 – and their families – looking for embarrassing stories such as the Daily Mail exclusive about the Head of MI6 whose judgment was questioned based on what his wife posted on Facebook. As author Jon Ronson told the conference, the worst thing an individual can be seen to be doing now online is abusing privileged status.

What about your organisation’s online profile?

Dave King also noted the importance of a search engine’s first page results in determining the reputation of your company (trusted by 81% of respondents in a You Gov opinion formers omnibus).

BA's knowledge graph on the right of the first page of search engine results.

Ensuring Wikipedia pages about an organisation and key executives are accurate is therefore becoming more important since its ‘knowledge graph’ is increasingly showing up on Google’s first page. Stevie Benton from the Wikimedia Foundation recommended emailing as a starting point if you want to discuss changing an entry.

Who are your brand’s most influential employees?

Finally, Lou Vaughan from Blue Rubicon suggested that some enlightened companies, like Adobe are starting to train employees on how to build a social media profile.

As part of an external comms strategy this makes complete sense. Edelman’s Trust Barometer found that the average employee is trusted much more than a CEO. Furthermore, most organisations will already have engaged employees with good follower bases who may be willing to amplify some of the company’s positive messages if asked to.

Building trust in a transparent world

Five years ago the internet was an interesting sideshow for PR. Now it is increasingly the main event. What this conference indicated is that there are a now a number of tested tools and strategies to use to manage reputation online. Furthermore, analysts and investors will not forgive companies that do not use them.


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