One of the primary objectives of internet marketing is to make your business and product so attractive to your target audience that it compels them to follow through on your calls-to-action. However, your digital marketing efforts would be futile if they aren’t underpinned by a good reputation and desirable brand.
Reputation is an intangible yet invaluable asset. Any reputational damage can have a dramatic and long-lasting negative impact on your organization’s prospects. Online reputation risk is anything that threatens your brand’s good name. It often happens when the ethics or character of your business is called into question.
In the worst case, reputation loss can threaten the very survival of your enterprise. Fortunately, you don’t have to leave your online brand’s reputation to chance. There are ways you can protect yourself from reputation risk. We look at these below.
1. Prevent and Manage Data Breaches
Hackers are constantly looking for opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities and penetrate corporate networks in order to access confidential customer, employee and business data. Such data breaches can exert substantial damage to your brand. The best way of dealing with data breaches is to work on preventing their occurrence in the first place. Nevertheless, that won’t always work.
Sometimes, due to a previously unknown exploit or the careless actions of an employee, your business’ sensitive information could find itself in the wrong hands. How you react after the fact is crucial in determining whether your business can ride the scandal or will be overwhelmed by it.
Start by being upfront and proactively inform everyone whose data was compromised. It’s a demonstration of transparency and a sign that you are on top of the issue.
Share the actions you’ve taken and changes you’ve made to prevent a similar incident in the future. These include employee training, updating controls, applying security patches, contracting cybersecurity experts and buying cyber-insurance.
2. Avoid Customer Service Disasters
Social media has by and large been great for business. However, it has also given disgruntled customers a powerful, viral tool to spread the word on any disappointing experience they’ve had with your product or employee.
Worse still, online reviews can be a permanent digital record that’s difficult to erase. People who search for your business online in the future could see the negative reviews among the first set of results and this would make it harder for them to choose you over your competition.
You can prevent such customer service mishaps through several techniques. First, provide customer service training to all staff and not just those in front-facing departments. Customer awareness is the foundation of quality service and this should be ever-present throughout the enterprise.
Send staff regular reminders emphasizing why good service will generate positive reviews which in turn draws in more business.
Second, empower customer-facing staff to make quick decisions that would be necessary to conclusively resolve a complaint. Let them know that preserving customer relationships is crucial.
Third, employ the right people. Hire candidates who demonstrate a customer-centric view of their role. No matter how technically competent a candidate maybe, they’re not good for business if they are disrespectful and arrogant toward customers and colleagues.
3. Keep Staff Motivated
The relationship between an organization and its employees is at its core quid pro quo. They work for you, and you pay them a pre-agreed wage for their work.
So it’s not surprising that many business owners and managers assume that as long as they are paying their staff the agreed remuneration, then the employee should exert themselves fully in discharging their duties. It’s never that simple, though.
There’s a substantial difference in the quality of work between an employee who’s doing the bare minimum and one who’s keen on consistently exceeding customer expectations. Keeping your staff excited about work is therefore paramount.
Whereas remuneration is important, there are other ways you can motivate employees. Ensure workers are treated fairly and that your decisions on reward, recognition, and promotion are beyond reproach.
Enthusiastic employees are likely to treat your customers well, thus strengthening their reputation and brand.
4. Make Values Operational
It’s all good to have an impressive statement of your company’s ethos on your website. However, do your staff actually believe in your values and do they demonstrate this in their everyday actions?
A contradiction between what you claim to stand for and what your employees portray can tarnish your reputation. It brings into question your business’ credibility and whether people can count on you to follow through on your promises.
You can mitigate against such reputation risk by making your organization’s values operational. It starts at the very top. Lower-level workers won’t take the company’s ethos seriously if the leadership doesn’t do so.
All top-level managers must model the values before requiring their direct reports to follow suit. The behavior should thereafter be cascaded down the employee hierarchy. Once the model behavior is established, develop a means of continuously checking for any misalignment between behavior and ethos.
Inconsistencies identified should be rectified as quickly as possible since any chink in the armor can render the commendable efforts of everyone else ineffective. Quick action also sends a powerful message to the rest of the team that values aren’t cosmetic, but that they will be a factor during performance appraisal.
5. Encourage Ethical Conduct
Businesses exist to make money. A profitable business is a good business because it has higher chances of survival over the long-term. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t let this profit motive cloud your ability to make ethical decisions.
Ethics isn’t just about taking actions that are legal. Some things are legal but not necessarily ethical (or their ethics may be controversial and divisive). A perceived lack of ethics can ruin your business reputation.
To make sure everyone in your workforce is on the same page, create a code of conduct. For example, the code should address the terms and conditions for giving and receiving gifts from customers, vendors or regulators.
6. Manage Offline Risks
Your offline branding can have a positive impact on your online reputation. For example, if you procure custom branded coffee cup sleeves from HotShot Coffee Sleeves, some of the people who see the cups will want to visit your website for more information.
In the same way, though, your offline branding blunders and reputation mistakes can have a negative impact on your brand online.
Customers shouldn’t enjoy the first-class quality of service when they interact with your customer service representatives on your website or social media pages but have a repulsive experience when they visit your offices. Don’t view your online brand in isolation but rather as part of a wider brand ecosystem.
Sam Makad is a business consultant. He helps small & medium enterprises to grow their businesses and overall ROI. You can follow Sam on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.