Reputation management is at the heart of what comms and PR professionals do.

Building a brand reputation – how a business or organisation is defined by others – is a painstaking process that needs constant and consistent attention.

A sudden negative event can see a 180 degree shift in a brand’s reputation in moments. Repairing and restoring it can be hugely challenging or, in some cases, virtually impossible.

With that in mind, reputation management must be a priority for all businesses and organisations, all of the time.

What is reputation management?

Reputation management is the work businesses and organisations do to ensure they and the brand is viewed in a positive light.

Reputation management has always been vital for businesses large and small. But, with today’s world of 24 hour communication streams and social media, it is more important and more challenging than ever.

Comms teams are constantly juggling a situation of information overload, making monitoring more challenging and time consuming than ever – without the right tools. With all the different sources of constantly evolving chatter, output and comment, there are many more sources of potential damage to a reputation too. Plus, once a damaging or negative event or conversation is flowing it gathers pace and escalates quicker than ever.

It means that although PR teams now need to monitor and stay abreast of far more news and communications than ever, without respite, they also need to do it better and quicker than ever.

Many comms teams now find that Boolean search strings, Google and Twitter alerts are not accurate, responsive or efficient enough. AI tools improve accuracy, enable quick and easy shifts in the terms being monitored with quicker, more effective sifting of information.

Reputation management is far more than crisis management. Sometimes a crisis will arise and not all crises can be avoided. However, reputation management is the whole package of work that goes in to try to ensure fewer, if any, crises hit and that when they do the damage can be more easily minimised.

Six top tips for effective reputation management

Proactivity is the key to reputation management, meaning the establishment of systems to ensure businesses are well informed and can make key decisions to protect, develop and defend positive regard for a brand, business or organisation.

Communications professionals need to be alert to issues that may arise within a business or industry that may impact on the reputation of their organisation (or the organisation they represent). That means being abreast of things like world events, upcoming legislation and public mood as well as conversation, news stories and social media comment about the organisation or brand.

PR teams need to be alert to unfolding events that may require response or action, with systems in place to ensure they receive the information they need. They also need to have a robust system in place through which they can relay their organisation’s ‘position’ on a matter. That message needs to be conveyed effectively to employees and other stakeholders as well as to third parties.

The following six steps are integral to effective reputation management.

Steps of effective reputation management Further explanation Tools required by PR teams
1. Build excellent systems to gather, process and share information internally and externally

A well informed comms team with excellent internal communication channels and feedback loops leads to a well-informed business and C-suite.

Comms and PR teams that are abreast of all information relating to their industry – as well as their brand and business – can keep the whole organisation well informed, not just of what is currently happening but of things that may develop. They can also hear what their stakeholders are saying in response and ensure messaging is accurate and coherent.

Used well, this information can help shape business decisions and help dodge potentially reputation-damaging situations. At the very least, this can foster an awareness of the potential reputational impact from a decision so that this can be managed proactively.

This information can be used to inform PR campaigns and manage ad-hoc or responsive communications.

Comms and PR teams need the reputation management and media monitoring tools that allow immediate gathering and fast sifting of information.

Boolean search strings, Twitter and Google alerts and cuttings services are methods often used. With AI tools, the right information can be found, delivered in real-time alerts and analysed much faster to provide actionable insights.

2. Ensure teams are well informed about the business 

Communications teams need an open, honest, secure and continuous two way flow of information between themselves and stakeholders.

This means stakeholders, employees and the business or organisation as a whole need to see the value and contribution of the comms team. Communications professionals need to gain the trust of their stakeholders and show their worth.

Excellent reporting tools.

Communications can achieve trust and show value within their organisation via internal reporting.  They need to be able to provide succinct and effective reports of valuable information to stakeholders and teams – not just about coverage achieved but the impact of that coverage, the sentiment behind brand mentions and wider industry insight.

3. Develop a plan to spot and handle feedback – negative or positive

Effective listening within a company creates opportunities for improvement and growth.

Successful reputation management is not about avoiding all negative feedback. PR teams should aim to anticipate and even avoid negative comment, but  that is not always possible.

Reputation management is also about being aware of negative comment immediately and reacting in the right way as quickly as possible. There are occasions where that means acknowledging what has been said, apologising and acting to investigate and make changes where necessary, then communicating all that action in a timely way.

Media monitoring tools and comms expertise.

Comms teams can contribute to – and encourage – an open culture with the tools and systems in place to effectively monitor and sift the mammoth amount of web and media output and to do so quickly and effectively.

Empowering staff and stakeholders  to be part of the conversation in the right way is also part of the puzzle.

4. Stay on top of what’s going on in your industry and of things that might affect it 

Comms teams need to be able to effectively scan for information that is vital to the business.

That means being aware of brand mentions, but also industry news, wider trends that may be important and competitor news.

This requires detailed thought to ensure the right searches are put in place if using traditional alert systems. Or creating the necessary ‘entities’ with AI (the search terms it uses).
5. Ensure top quality media and online monitoring Comms teams need to be able to use the instinct outline above to constantly scan, sift and analyse what is being said about the industry as a whole – and certainly about the brand. Knowing what to do is one thing, doing it effectively, to a high standard is also crucial. Media monitoring tools
6. Encourage your leadership team to value communications and include it in decision making  

Comms teams can demonstrate their value and make themselves indispensable to the wider organisation by offering useful and timely industry and competitor insight as well as succinct reports on the value and outcomes of their own efforts.

PRs that show this kind of added value will naturally be considered as integral to decision making and inclusion in all business matters that could conceivably have an impact, positive or negative, on reputation. Discussions can then include how this impact can be mitigated or even capitalised upon.

A combination of media monitoring and sentiment analysis tools, reporting systems and effective communications channels.

Travel technology firm Amadeus implemented Signal’s AI solution to inform its overall business strategy and ensure news coverage as well as potential issues and opportunities are shared to optimum effect. Read more about how it implemented this technology here.

Getting reputation management right – and wrong

There are constant examples of good and poor reputation management that we can all learn from.

Of course it is the poor examples that are most notable and memorable. Much of the good reputation management happens behind closed doors – by its nature it’s less noticed if it’s successful. The quiet building of positive brand feeling and the exhaustive and ongoing task of carefully maintaining it are normally things to be noticed and appreciated over a longer term – although the important foundation work shines through in many cases.

Boohoo’s reputational challenge

Fast fashion clothing brand Boohoo faced a huge reputational crisis after the publication of a Sunday Times undercover investigation around worker exploitation in supplier factories. On social media #boycottboohoo gathered pace.

The retailer announced an independent review of its supply chain, but its response was not enough according to one of its major shareholders. Standard Life Aberdeen was reported to have called Boohoo’s response “inadequate in scope, timeliness and gravity“.

Next, Asos and Zalando announced they had stopped selling Boohoo clothes on their websites.

A couple of weeks later, however, the Evening Standard was reporting that influencers were returning to promote the brand and there was little social media residual effect. The report predicted 5% would be knocked off the previously predicted sales growth for the firm.

While Boohoo’s reputation clearly suffered, there was some ‘behind the scenes’ groundwork – and understanding of the industry. The Evening Standard report said discussions had been going on behind the scenes to reassure social media influencers that firm action was being taken to ensure suppliers looked after workers. There was also suggestion that Boohoo had benefited from a downward economy that had led to a downshift in the number of brands offering paid work to influencers at that point.

Choosing the right tools

AI provides the immediacy necessary to view and review the constant global information output that comms teams need to have a handle on for effective reputation management.

Our eGuide ‘How AI is revolutionising PR’ offers more insight.

Comms teams need to be able to monitor and quickly understand industry and relevant world trends and news, brand mentions and the sentiment behind those – that is whether those mentions are positive, negative or neutral.

Having the right software allows PR professionals to focus time on spotting opportunities, strategising and advising the C-suite on how to avoid negative comment and coverage and making quick and effective decisions when negativity does arise. Otherwise hours can be wasted on the process of collating the information, which prevents comms teams using their expertise to best effect.

To demonstrate the value of their input and to ensure effort is being directed well, comms teams also need to be able to measure brand reputation and report on it.

Lauren Jane Heller, Director of Communications at venture capital firm Real Ventures, implemented AI to remove the worry over keeping on top of everything and streamline media monitoring.

“There was so much information constantly coming,” she said of starting the role without the benefit of an AI solution in place. “It was the responsibility of having to get the right things onto social media, into our newsletter, communicate it with our team, make sure that everybody was as excited as they should be about the different things that were happening so it was sort of a low level panicked feeling most of the time.

“Since we started using Signal AI to keep track of all the media monitoring and help us to compile our newsletter and our social media, I have been able to focus more of my attention and energy on our branded content, so what we’re putting out there and really helping the tech ecosystem in Canada, helping our entrepreneurs build better companies essentially so spending more time doing thought leadership kind of work.

“We were looking at hiring two interns in communications. One who would be more focused on marketing and one who would be more focused on PR and after I looked at the Signal platform I realised we wouldn’t really need the PR person because we wouldn’t need a person to sit and sift through all of the content. We would have a platform doing it for us.”

Discover more about what Signal AI’s reputation management platform can do for you.