Managing your reputation in a digital age

03 August 2017

It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to earn, but losing it all is just the click of a mouse away.

Yes, I’m referring to your online reputation. If you’re not prepared for a worst case scenario in the online space, your chance of bouncing back will be next to zero.

So, how can we best guide our clients in this digital age?

By now, everyone is familiar with the fake “MiWay email”. Fabricated by a disgruntled client, it detailed a memo to staff to deny claims based on race criteria.

Considering our country’s history, the social media storm that erupted was not surprising. Responding decisively and proving the email was fake, went some way to calm the storm; but online commentators had already begun directing their comments at other aspects of the insurer’s business that made them vulnerable to attack.

If not managed quickly, sensitively and comprehensively, it had the potential to do severe damage to the business.

MiWay acknowledged the situation immediately and started an investigation. It communicated openly and stayed on message. The one thing it certainly did not do – and sadly, is the one thing that destroys many reputations – is to say nothing and wait out the storm.

Even just a hint of scandal can tarnish a good reputation, but the manner in which the problem is handled – or mishandled – has the potential to make or break a brand.

So what are the lessons?

1. Invest proactively in building your online profile. Monitor your environment and take note of what competitors and peers are doing – don’t underestimate the work it takes to stay ahead.
2. Nurture your fans and loyal customers: ensure your CRM is up to standard because word of mouth is credibility.
3. Understand and prepare for all the possible crisis and reputational risk scenarios you might have to face.
4. Make sure your communications team is ready to act swiftly when disaster strikes: a standard holding statement will only get your through the first hour or two.
5. Only one spokesperson deals with the matter in the public domain: make this clear internally and issue a directive for everyone else in the organisation to escalate enquiries and pass comments through the right channels.
6. Manage the rumour mill and set the record straight as facts become available during the investigation.
7. Give a time frame for action and keep to it.
8. Act! Don’t just issue a close-out release. Use the opportunity to create something positive; make changes to improve the way you do things and make sure the world knows about it.
9. Wrap it up: Post mortems are never pleasant, but are necessary to avoid making the same mistakes again.

MiWay has done so much more than show us how to handle an online crisis. Their response is a lesson in forgiveness and reconciliation for all South Africans.

– The author, Martin Slabbert-Capper, is part of the newsroom team at HWB Communications Pty Ltd. He also counsels clients on the development and implementation of social media and digital strategies. Tweet your questions to @HWBComm

NOTE: It is worth also reading these stories on the MiWay events:
Why MiWay is not prosecuting hoax author
Fake or Real: Twitter reacts to racist MiWay email

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