If you’ve got your own business, you’ll know exactly how much blood, sweat, tears and hours have been poured into your brand so far.
Now, imagine your business name plastered all over social media and beyond as you plunge helplessly into some disastrous PR situation similar to the huge public backlash brands as big as United Airlines, Pepsi and Uber have recently faced. Regardless of whether it’s your fault or within your control, you’re suddenly known for all the wrong reasons.
You might be thinking, “There’s no way that would happen to my business!” but I’ve worked with many business operators who’ve found themselves embroiled in negative issues, and I can guarantee every one of them thought exactly that just before disaster hit.
“Everything starts with having a clear picture of what your business stands for; its DNA, the one thing that really captures its essence.”
Instead, business owners need to be proactive, every day, in building the fundamentals that create “reputation capital”. Not only will that reduce the risk of a reputation crisis, it will also make a big difference to your recovery if – heaven forbid – something does go wrong.
While your reputation is everyone else’s collective perception of you, it has its origins in elements of your business that go well beyond marketing, sales and your public face. Reputation is fuelled by culture and what you stand for and how that bursts forth in everything you do.
Here’s how to do right by your brand, inside and out.
Know exactly what your company stands for
Everything starts with having a clear picture of what your business stands for; its DNA, the one thing that really captures its essence. That includes specific objectives projecting where you’re hoping to be in one year, two years’, five, and so on. This must include a strategy for proactive, consistent, positive communication that demonstrates the essence of the business. No matter what your company aims, one of them should always be to build a culture where you and your team strive every day to make sure your customers’ experience completely matches what you say you’re going to deliver and that their expectations are met and exceeded.
If you’re not the same inside as you are outside, expect to one day be found out.
Focus on face-to-face interactions, not just social media
Amid today’s dizzying whirlwind of technology, it’s easy to forget that great person-to-person communication and outstanding customer service is just as, if not more, important than a positive exchange on social media.
“Build a culture where you and your team strive to make sure your customers’ experience completely matches what you say you’re going to deliver.”
While this has always been vital for business success, it’s now a non-negotiable considering that one negative comment can go global in a heartbeat, taking to ruins the reputation-driven economy we currently operate in.
Rather than losing sleep over potentially damaging Facebook posts, it makes more sense to invest in your own communication skills and those of anyone you employ; after all, they are your most potent PR weapon. Research shows that regular team members now have a huge influence when they communicate with your customers, because having people represent your brand with a “someone like me” approach is considered to be much more credible than that of your CEO, for example. Consider this the next time you sit down for an interview with a new staff member.
Showcase the human aspect behind your brand
Once, fancy titles and credentials helped bring about credibility. Now, that idea is rapidly going out the window, especially with the popularised introduction of peer-to-peer review sites.
Just as travellers are highly influenced by review sites like TripAdvisor featuring the opinions of other travellers, and diners read restaurant reviews from people they’ve never met before they choose a place to eat on a Saturday, you and your staff are walking testimonials for your business.
Every word, every action is noticed, absorbed and a powerful impression formed that surges into your business reputation. People are less interested in what you call yourself – they’re keen to know what you, the actual person inside the business owner, thinks and feels. What are you conveying to customers through your body language and attitude? What are you saying to friends, family, casual connections about what’s happening at work? How are you treating your staff? Are you leading by example? Focusing on this could be the most important step in building your positive reputation.
Dr Neryl East is a highly qualified and experienced expert on media, communication, credibility and reputation with over 30 years’ experience. She has a Master of Arts and PhD in Journalism and is also the author of The Headline Edge.