In the digital age, no one has complete control of their image,
whether we’re talking about a company or an individual. If you’ve thought of
personal privacy as a line that can’t be crossed, hearing that individuals
aren’t even in complete control of their image might be distressing. Unfortunately,
in the era of social media and Internet trolls everyone can be a target.
I won’t spend this time discussing how to combat Internet trolls.
Frankly, they’re the great white sharks of the internet. It’s best to stay
calm, swim away and avoid interaction when possible.
However, for corporations and organizations trolls aren’t really
the main threat to a brand. It’s typically the savvy consumer. That’s why it is
imperative for an organization to monitor what is being said about their brand
online, every single day.
Over the years, SA has helped many organizations monitor their
brands and win back their audiences when something jeopardizes their
reputation. We’ve seen it all—good, bad and ugly. In this post, I’ll teach you
some lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Starting with the ugly and working our way back, I will present
three scenarios that illustrate the importance of reputation management. Two
scenarios involved a SA client. Because of client confidentiality, I am not
able to name the clients, but I’ll give you enough to get an understanding of
The Ugly: Carson King and The Des Moines Register
I began this blog telling myself that readers are tired of hearing
about this story. There are plenty of other examples to illustrate my point
here. And yet…
Nothing comes close. This is about as bad as it gets. Here’s the
short version for those outside of Iowa. Carson King’s sign asking for
donations to his Busch beer fund went viral after appearing on ESPN’s Game Day.
Donations poured in, and King decided to give the money to the children’s
hospital at University of Iowa—his alma mater’s main rival. However, during a
background check for a story with The Des Moines Register, a reporter uncovered
tweets that were racist in nature that King posted when he was a teenager.
Instead of allowing the Register to publish the information about the tweets as
part of their story, King chose to go public and apologize prior to
King was the only one who seemed to make the right decision. He
got ahead of the story and held a press conference before publishing. The real
victim of poor reputation management is the Register. They didn’t know the
reporter who wrote the story had similar tweets in his past. And they promptly
let the employee go—which brought a mixed reaction with strong opinions from
both supporters and people who opposed the firing.
Poor decisions fueled this fire, and there was no stopping the
runaway train once the reporter’s tweets became public. News broke on social
media prior to publication. The Des Moines Register lost control of the story
even before it ran online. That is why monitoring social is so, so vital. The
damage to The Des Moines Register and Gannett is devastating, not just to their
reputation but their revenue. They lost both subscribers and employees.
The Bad: A Bad Smell and a Little Misguidance
A few years ago, we received a call from a Central Iowa
agricultural company at the center of a news story relating to a strong,
unpleasant smell coming from one of their facilities in a small community
outside of the metro. They wanted help combatting the news story.
Our process started by understanding how they planned to fix the
problem in order to eliminate the smell. They wanted us to focus our efforts on
a clarifying news story that could counter the one that was already making the
rounds. However, we counseled them the media was not their core audience – the
town’s citizens were.
We helped draft a letter for all community residents. In it, the
company’s CEO took responsibility and promised quick action to resolve the
issue. A second news story aired with just one station in the market, and then
nothing further surfaced.
The Good: A Lesson in Being Proactive
this year, a local nonprofit we work with experienced the impact of a negative
story. At an affiliated organization, a staff member was arrested under
unfortunate circumstances. However, the story was reported in a way that caused
confusion. Readers assumed the arrest happened at our client’s
organization—when, in fact, it occurred outside the metro area.
action from the CEO and our PR team prompted media to correct stories published
online. By the afternoon on the day the story originally broke, a clarifying statement
from the client was released to metro news, prior to evening newscasts and
print editions the next day. No further stories were published that
inaccurately named our client.
scenarios illustrate the importance of thoughtful, well-timed action. How and
when organizations respond to an issue greatly impact how quickly a company can
take back control of the story. Doing nothing is no longer an option. Not
acting is the first step toward an ugly situation. It eventually brings you to
a point where point where a company’s reputation is permanently damaged.
When you are proactive, you keep control of your brand, your image
and your narrative—and you get to be Clint Eastwood in that narrative.