There’s a truth we live by in the online reputation management world: Your brand is not your own, but a social construct decided by many actors. What people say about you, who’s saying it, and where they’re saying it, are all factors that come together to paint a picture of who you are.
Who you say you are is not necessarily going to line up. We take our job seriously, and that’s because we know the consequences if we don’t. Brands live or die by the reputation they build on the Internet. A negative image, or no image at all, can damage a company and keep them from reaching their goals.
Before you can assess how you look to your competitors, prospects, and employees, you need to understand what they’re seeing. Perceptions of your brand aren’t tied to a single person or entity—they’re complex structures composed of your business’s practices, perceived trustworthiness, behaviors, employees, and more.
This is where the old management adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” comes in. At ReputationX, we begin by developing a clear snapshot of how your reputation currently stands, thereby enabling our team members to craft plans that meet your specific needs.
Your business's reputation has several distinct but interrelated components. Each has the potential to affect the other, with problems in one area creating ripple effects that threaten the others.
Here are a few of the components and influences we examine when crafting an outline of your perception online:
Employees. From upper management and the C-suite to employees on the lower end of the totem pole, all of the people who work for your company also act as representations of it. Once an employee shares with the Internet that they work for you their online behavior stands to affect your reputation.
Ownership. Business owners are always under the microscope, with scrutiny tending to heighten in the run-up to big deals, public filings, and other key events. More so than most employees, a business owner’s behaviors and actions can become the brand.
Associations. Your reputation is both directly and indirectly influenced by the reputations of your suppliers, celebrity spokespeople, and prominent customers. It doesn’t take a psychic to understand why Nike cut ties with Lance Armstrong (doping) and Ray Rice (domestic abuse) in a hurry.
Let’s look at a company that faced a real-life reputation crisis online. A closer look at the individual components reveals the many working parts that can cause a perception disaster.
In 2005, the infamous “Wendy’s finger hoax” cost the fast food chain $2.5 million in sales. Plaintiff Anna Ayala claimed to have found a severed finger at a San Jose Wendy's and subsequently brought a civil lawsuit against the chain. It turned out to be a hoax, but it was still a hit to the Wendy’s brand.
The public’s online perceptions of the event was negatively influenced by many factors, despite the entire case being a false accusation. These include, but aren’t limited to:
Police reports. Legal filings involving owners and key employees, or in Wendy’s case, a severed finger, are usually public. Unsurprisingly, people on the Internet are quick to react to anything unusual or shocking.
Negative news. Stories about the company and anyone associated with it spread quickly. Even after it became clear the plaintiff had made up the claim the false stories remained online.
Negative reviews. No other customers experienced a finger in their food, but Ayala’s alleged experience tainted their own nonetheless.
Negative social media. From Facebook to YouTube, there was no shortage of social commentary on Wendy’s apparent misstep.
Hate sites. Sites dedicated to damaging Wendy’s reputation popped up quickly, all with the goal of taking down the company, its owners, and key employees.
It all comes down to this: Anything that can appear in a search query about your company has the potential to damage your online reputation. How you’re seen online directly affects how you’re seen offline. Reputation defense isn’t just another thing on your to-do list—it’s mandatory.