6 steps to a great reputation management plan

If you Google ‘PR disaster’ right now you might receive results ranging from Elon Musk to Israel, United to the NFL, Trump in the UK to Papa John’s. The point being a reputation crisis can hit any brand— from individuals to nations— at any time. And when mud flies it sticks, sometimes for a long time, so how do you prepare a great reputation management plan?

People will tell you different things, which isn’t particularly surprising when you consider the nature of a crisis. If we expected them, they probably wouldn’t be considered a crisis at all.

This doesn’t mean reputation management should be entirely reactive, though. In fact, far from it. The better brands are at ongoing reputation management the better placed they are to put out fires at the first spark, rather than jumping to find a decent bucket and tap once things are ablaze.

Earlier this year we wrote on how valuable PR is to reputation management, and would obviously recommend getting experts on your side to handle this aspect of business. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to understand how this aspect of comms works yourself, and so here are 6 steps to a great reputation management plan— useful for monitoring brand sentiment and increasing loyalty when times are good, vital for dealing with crises if they arise (God forbid)…

1. Read everything about your brand, listen and analyse 

This is the most obvious step in the world, but nevertheless so many brands seem to approach it with apathy and laziness. How can you master reputation management if you don’t monitor your reputation on an ongoing basis?

Review sites, social media platforms, press, blogs… there are various tools that can help you assess sentiment online, while print and broadcast comes down to actually keeping your eyes and ears open.

2. Create a comprehensive response plan 

You need to consider every possible way your good name could be burnt, based on the industry you do business in. Then start thinking about all the impossible ways things could fall apart. Consumers have never been better at digging up dirt than they are today, and dig they will, before spreading it.

Any aspect of the company that isn’t whiter than white— even if it’s impossible to be whiter than white— should be factored into a response plan, and a core part of that plan should be readiness to accept responsibility.

3. Never, ever allow knee-jerk reactions 

Journalists are there to ask questions that need to be asked, and criticise if necessary. Review sites are there to allow the public to voice both positive and negative thoughts. Under no circumstances should anyone representing your brand fire comments and responses back in the heat of the moment, regardless of the legitimacy and factual accuracy of what was originally said.

In short, spend time drafting a suitable, respectful response because it will be far more effective. This Entrepreneur article, ‘4 Ways Your Business Should NOT Respond to an Online Petition’, has some excellent examples companies that didn’t take this advice, and the resulting fallout.

4. Manage the positives, too 

It’s important to take criticism on board, but it’s vital not to ignore the nice things people are saying too, and build on those. Comments, reviews, tweets, posts and pretty much every other form of communication between brands and the public and press can make great campaign content, and these also tell you what you are doing right. Now keep doing those things (or, better yet, do more of them).

6. Understand negatives can be leveraged 

If not now, then in the future, it’s possible for problems to be turned into positives— maybe you can run a campaign in 12 months boasting about how much investment has been made into customer service. Or you could win Most Improved Environmental Player… you get the point.

It’s not just a long-term idea, either— if there are issues people have highlighted then be clear on how these are going to be tackled, if other areas of the business are performing exceptionally and setting a benchmark, refer to these while accepting faults elsewhere.

5. Always fulfil promises and measure outcomes 

You know how much we LOVE measurement and evaluation, and reputation management is no exception. If you tell a complainant you’re going to take action, do it, then let them know what has happened. If you claim there will be improvements, make sure there are. Then assess the tangible impact of this to figure out if it has actually benefitted the business or not.

Read our guide to earned media