Can a single social media post create a national firestorm that threatens to take down your businessís reputation - and, with it, your livelihood? The owner of the Oasis Cafe, a beloved Midwestern diner known for huge stacks of pancakes and delicious, locally sourced burgers, probably never thought so. But that was before they added a new line item - a 'minimum wage fee' to his receipts. Their state legislature had just voted through a sizable increase in the minimum wage, and they anticipated losing $10,000 or more annually as a result of the change.
What they thought would be an innocent, if political, statement snowballed into an epic reputation nightmare after a customer publicly posted a picture of her receipt with the new fee. Within a week, the restaurant’s social media pages had drawn thousands of posts from indignant members of the public, many of whom lived thousands of miles away and had never eaten at the restaurant. Locals boycotted the business, draining dollars from a tight-knit community. The controversy got airtime on national news programs, with online descriptions of the programming and blog posts about the issue creating a cacophony of negative digital noise.
And, most damaging of all, the first page of Oasis Cafe’s search results displayed a seemingly permanent record of the carnage for all to see. Anyone who plugged in its name saw vitriolic Yelp reviews, negative local news stories, and links to the social media pages that started it all.
Oasis Cafe’s story isn’t unique. Businesses large and small experience reputation nightmares every day, often due to mistakes or decisions that don’t seem to be a big deal at first. That’s because the public’s trust in digital information, including tidbits provided by their peers and - more often than not - people they've never met, is at an all-time high.
63% of consumers need to hear something at least three times
before they believe it
According to the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, the gold standard for gauging the public’s relationship with information, 65% of people consider online search to be a source, more than any other online or offline outlet. It’s also the most popular source for breaking news (28%), general information (30%), and confirmation/validation of other information sources (36%). Social media, trusted by 47% of all respondents, isn’t far behind. Online reputation has become the defacto source of decision making, and as professional reputation defenders we can tell you from experience that its absolutely true.
Unfortunately, these sources of information are often consumed by a public that’s predisposed to skepticism. The survey found that just 26% of respondents trust business owners and leaders to fix issues affecting their company or industry. Just 21% trust them to make ethical and moral decisions. And only 20% are confident that business leaders “tell...the truth, regardless of how complex or unpopular it is.”
Whatever happened to the benefit of the doubt?
The need to control the conversation about your business has never been clearer. That certainly means being careful about what your company and its employees do in the offline world. But a truly comprehensive reputation management program requires a deep understanding of how information is created, dispersed and catalogued online — and how current and prospective customers react to it.
This isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Sure, managing your company’s reputation is a customized, ongoing process that requires regular monitoring. According to Edelman, 63% of consumers need to hear something at least three times before they believe it.
But, like many good things, internet reputation management has a tendency to build on its own successes and create positive momentum that can overcome whatever setbacks you’ve experienced in the past as well as protect search results in the future.
In fact, over time, sound reputation management practices don’t just neutralize the negative mentions and sentiments that caught your attention in the first place. They actually create an ever-strengthening fortress of positivity around your company’s online presence, positioning it — and you, as its leader — as a top industry authority.
So, in the following page, we’re going to take a look at how online reputation management works in the trenches.
And since reputation defense is about the long game, we’ll discuss preventing future harm and protecting your online reputation (and identity) from those who would do you harm.