The 11 Unwritten Laws of Reputation Management

Source: Forbes
Date: Jan 4, 2011
By: Andy Beal
Link: Online Story

The 11 Unwritten Laws of Reputation Management

It’s that time of year when us pundits make bold predictions about upcoming trends in 2011. I had considered putting on my Nostradamus cap and making some reputation management predictions, but then I discovered my fellow reputationista Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross had already staked-out that turf!

Oh well, I’ve never been one for predictions, anyway. So, how about some certainties instead? Some solid, often unwritten, rules of reputation management that will pervade 2011–and beyond?

OK, here goes!

Law #1 – Everyone has an online reputation

We all have an online reputation to maintain. Don’t believe me, go ahead and “Google Yourself”–I promise you won’t go blind! Even if you don’t find anything written about you, then that’s still your reputation–or lack thereof. In 2011, you should make sure that what’s found in Google, Facebook, Twitter et al is something you’d be equally comfortable showing your mom or your boss!

Law #2 – Your reputation is an extension of your character

It doesn’t matter how hard you work on managing your reputation, it will only ever be as solid as your actual character. Tiger Woods had a reputation of being the greatest golfer–and a family man. His character revealed otherwise. As Abraham Lincoln once said,

“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Law #3 – Every reputation has an achilles heel

While Toyota may have spent years telling us that its cars are the most reliable in the world, sticking gas pedals told a different story. In fact, even though Toyota tried to deny the increasing incidents of sticking accelerators, its customers were the ones steering the car manufacturer’s reputation in another direction. Instead of denying the issue, Toyota should have been the first to recognize it! When you recognize and acknowledge your weaknesses, before your customers, you have the opportunity to craft a response before the public outcry. Do you know your reputation’s weakness?

Law #4 – Listen twice, act once

OK, so I’ve plagiarized this from the saying “measure twice, cut once,” but it’s appropriate, when it comes to listening to your customers. I tell our customers at Trackur that they should spend twice as much effort on listening as they do responding. It’s too easy to simply jump in and reply to that tweet or Facebook post–without fixing the underlying problem. Instead, you should spend time actively listening to the feedback you’re collecting about your reputation. Listen for trends. Listen for opportunities. Listen, listen, listen–ok, that was three listens, but you get my point. When you actually take onboard what your stakeholders are saying about your reputation, you do more than just fix a problem, you make sure you fix the underlying issue that created the problem in the first place! GAP’s customers weren’t so much angry that the company’s logo was changed, they were mad that the company hadn’t initially thought to listen to their feedback–a decision the apparel company quickly reversed!

Law #5 – A crowd is louder than a solitary voice

At some point every company realizes the power of the crowd. You’ve heard of “crowd sourcing” right? Well, I call this “crowd voicing.” Simply put, your reputation is going to be far greater shaped by a crowd of opinions than one single voice. Your choice in 2011 is to determine whether you want that crowd to be a choir or a lynch mob? By being proactive, by loving and nurturing your online community, you can build a harmony of satisfied customers–all willing to say great things about you. Alternatively, you can ignore your customers and wait until they become so angry, so disgusted by your actions, that they rise up against you. Just ask P&G which it would have preferred in hindsight!

Law #6 – If you build it, they will come

It’s 2011, do you know where your customers are? Have you built them a thriving Facebook community? Can they receive customer service via Twitter? Do you have a blog that keeps them updated on all the changes with your products? If you build an official, company supported social network, then your customers will know exactly where to head, should they have a question or complaint. When I had an issue with a FedEx delivery, I was delighted to find dedicated support on Twitter!

Law #7 – If you don’t build it, they will

If you decide not to embrace your reputation stakeholders, then you run a huge risk that they’ll create their own community. Not so bad, if you happen to have a strong reputation–Apple gets by with no official social media effort. But, it’s generally not a good idea to stick you head in the sand and ignore those that want to share their experiences with you. If your customer wants to complain about your abusive customer service reps they may well head to Facebook or Yelp. If you don’t have an official presence then you are leaving these dissatisfied customers to define your reputation for you! In 2011, resolve to discover where your customers like to “hang out” and then make sure you’re hanging with them!

Law #8 – Your reputation WILL come under attack

No matter how hard you try, your reputation will someday come under attack. It’s happened to me–and I’m a reputation management consultant! In fact, Oxford Metrica warns that during the next five years, 83 percent of companies will face a crisis that will negatively impact its share price by 20 to 30 percent. I’m pretty sure BP didn’t think such a crisis could happen to it–and that’s a lot of profit at stake!

Law #9 – Being stubborn is more expensive than saying “sorry”

Oh United Airlines, what in the world were you thinking? Seriously! It would have cost you $1,200 to fix Dave Carroll’s guitar, but instead you refused to take responsibility. Two music videos and 10 million views later, you ended up with a tarnished reputation and apologized anyway. Don’t make the same mistake as United. When you receive a complaint from a customer, look beyond your pride. Look beyond the immediate expense of making the customer happy. Instead, ask yourself, what’s the worst case scenario here? What’s the lifetime value of this customer–value that would be lost. How could this hurt future sales, new customer acquisition, and your reputation? I’m pretty sure United Airlines wishes it could go back in time and cough-up the $1,200.

Law #10 – Three strikes and you’re out

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time and you may as well kiss your reputation goodbye. The unwritten law here is that most customers will forgive you the first time you screw-up. Some, will forgive you a second time it happens. Get to the third screw-up and yerrrrr out! Seriously, how many times has Comcast come under fire? A gazillion? I’ve lost track, but it’s gotten so bad that the company is now undergoing a massive re-branding–arguably due to its negative reputation. Companies rarely re-brand when they have a great reputation! When you make a mistake, make sure you learn from it, tell your customers you have learned from it, and make sure you never repeat it!

Law #11 – The laws of reputation management will change

There’s a reason I didn’t call this article “The 11 Irrefutable Laws…” or “The 11 Immutable Laws…” and that’s because these laws will change at some point. Reputation management is still a kindergartener as far as marketing and public relations niches go. I’ve been writing about this stuff for half a decade and every year a new wrinkle is added to the tactics I recommend. It’s for that reason that I’m not making any predictions for 2011. What changes can you expect? I think Dr. Gaines-Ross will see some of her predictions come true–if not in 2011 then within the next five years. One thing is for certain–you can count on me to walk you through the “laws” of reputation management in 2011!

OK, over to you. What laws of reputation management would you add?