Reputation Management and 15 questions to avoid a crisis

The story of reputation management in a crisis is fairly common: a businesses finds themselves in the center of a controversy spinning out of control on the web.
The  generally begins with an executive who happily fell asleep one night, only to awake the next morning with dozens of emails in the inbox and a team anxiously awaiting a “master plan” that will save them. The executive finds themselves wasting valuable time researching facts they should have known, trying to educate themselves on basic best practices, and hesitating to take action due to a fundamental lack of understanding.

This article takes a good look at why real reputation management is not just SEO, but an integrated and holistic communication strategy that ties into multiple parts of a business. By examining questions regarding reputation management to avoid a crisis elements, a business can have a healthy and positive online footprint that grows into a strong business asset.

In a crisis, the simplest actions become the most important ones.

While this exercise is written for a larger organization, all of the questions leading towards a good reputation management plan are valid regardless of whether your company has $25k or $500m in revenue.

“Prepare: the time to win your battle is before it starts.”
~Frederick W Lewis

Is your business prepared to operate without your web site?

There are a number of reasons why a site may go offline and you should consider ‘what if’ scenarios to ensure foreseeable events are taken care of. Failure to have a consistent presence during a crisis is a quick path to derail your reputation management strategy.

  • The most obvious is a simple hardware failure for the server.
    Make sure to have ample back-ups of the site (and keep them off location.)
  • Review if your site capable of having a major spike in traffic
    (can it handle 100k people using it?)
  • Have a site disaster plan in place (loss of power, flooding, fire, earthquake.)
  • Create a communication plan in case your web presence becomes compromised
    (I.E. hacked or crashed)

Who on your team is capable of answering specific issues about your high value assets?

Create a list of all the topical experts on your team.

Stack rank them in order.

If they are handling a very important asset, indicate a list of back-up personnel in case they can’t be reached. It is important to have an executive discussion and make a decision of who has responsibility before a crisis occurs.

Is your brand and mission statement integrated into a crisis plan?

In the digital world of reputation management and crisis control, responding quickly and transparently has huge benefits.

The simplest way to enable your team to act is to give them a direct brand and mission statement. By integrating this into the first step of your crisis plan, any employee in your organization should be able to ask a basic YES / NO question of “Do my actions support our brand and mission statement?”

This is critical for allowing an organization to have a consistent message at all levels.

“Not to know is bad: Not to wish to know is worse.”
~Nigerian Proverb

Do you know what assets you need to protect?

Like a good game of chess, you need to know the difference between pawns and your king. Sit down with an asset sheet and define all of your valuable assets.

This is the heavy lifting part of a reputation management project.

Write down every brand name, executive, and product your company offers.

You also want to include a list of top clients and high-value business partners.
Stack rank all of them in order of importance.

How can you monitor your important assets online for current and potential threats?

There are a wide variety of options ranging from free to paid systems.

  • For conversation monitoring there are tools like Google Alerts, Trackur, and Radian6.
  • For site monitoring there are tools like Google Analytics, Postrank, and Woopra.

Who is responsible for monitoring the web for early signs of a crisis?

If someone doesn’t have an official responsibility to monitor for signs of problems (and opportunities) – you will be doomed to a very jaded moment of finger pointing when the executive team all shrugs and says “I thought you were handling it…”

“You can either take action, or you can hang back and hope for a miracle.”
~Peter Drucker

Do you have a spokesperson capable of dealing with online communication?

The web can be a strange place: it involves blogs, article sites, consumer reviews, tweet streams, video critics, and community mobs. The spokesperson for your company needs to have a little bit of faith, a good amount of aptitude, an arsenal of technical education, and a whole lot of support. They also have to have a an attitude and a good character under pressure – the wrong statement at the wrong time (or taken out of context to the wrong place) can fuel a fire out of control.

Does your company currently have a system to push out a message to multiple social media channels?

When social media goes wrong, it can happen in a variety of places.

Think about the ways you can quickly create content and distribute it to channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Slideshare, your blog, and the newswire.

This means having a ‘web brand kit’ ready that has the needed elements such as graphic visuals and video animations ready for use. The last thing you want to be doing during a crisis is waiting for your graphic designer to e-mail you a high resolution copy of your logo.

Does your company own its online brand assets?

There are dozens of important sites and profile accounts that your company should own. This prevents cyber-squatting on trademarked terms and important keywords that may be searched for online.

  • This includes accounts on services such as Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook.
  • It includes multiple domain variations (.com, .info, .org, etc)
  • It potentially includes common mis-spellings
  • It includes company, brand, product, service, and executive names.

“Problems become opportunities when the right people come together”
~Robert Redford

Do you have a real “web master” ?

All joking aside, you need to define someone who has both a business brain and an aptitude for the web.

In a real crisis, time is a very valuable and costly commodity. The faster you can initiate a proper response, the greater the chance you have of minimizing potential damages.

This person should also serve as the person who ‘double checks’ all of the basic preventative elements. When you are dealing with a potentially dangerous situation, you don’t want novice mistakes damaging your only lifeline.

(*Shameless plug : if you need someone who can handle this, drop me a line.)

Do you have an incident response plan?

This is really important. Everyone “in the know” should have a list of cell phones and e-mails to make sure that critical personnel can be reached quickly.

In an ideal situation, a private blog or employee portal can serve as a command center to coordinate information.

How can you help your business partners and how can they help you?

Share these questions with your business partners both internally and externally.

When forming a good reputation management strategy, the more the merrier.You don’t want to be trying to find the right communication person in a partner company or explaining the basics of this article during a crisis. You want to be able to pick up the phone and make a simple request to take specific action on behalf of your partnership.

This is a good opportunity for business partners to strengthen relationships. In the social media conversation, it is often more effective for your partners to lend defense and support. This can be incredibly important if the case happens to be oriented towards reputation management regarding search engine optimization (a few links from relevant partner sites can do a world of wonder.)

“When you create your own destiny you prevent others from doing it for you.”

How have you enabled your fans to support you?

Social media has some amazing benefits that extend outside of your immediate employees and business relationships. You have access to several different layers of social networks that can be activated to help you out.

  • Friends and Family – do a survey of your immediate relationships and find out what influential connections exist within your friends and family network. These users/decision makers/influencers can radically alter the way your business is viewed online (and in the real world.) While you may be planning a reputation management strategy for a crisis, this list is also a very valuable asset to be leveraged during good times (new product launches, special announcements, brand studies, etc.)
  • Happy clients and brand evangelists – these individuals may have no real reason to do something for you… except for the fact that they like your business, what you do, or who you are. This layer of fans has numerous advantages when dealing with the ‘digital mob’ that can arise during an online crisis. Understanding how to communicate correct information to this group quickly and effectively allows them to distribute it.

What happens when someone goes rogue?

It may sound harsh, but what happens when a trusted employee does something stupid? Perhaps they found a better job or they found out about a lay-off too early. Maybe they simply have too much personal stress and decided to push a couple of buttons…

Part of a good plan needs to have some consideration for back-up and redundancy. You never know who will be removed from the equation.

Do you have a social media policy in place?

This is a critical communication piece for your organization. Employees need to know how to act during both good times and bad. When looking at special assets and topics, your strategy may include exclusions for specific items that are ‘no comment’ items. This is commonly seen in traditional communication and crisis plans, yet online versions are often severely lacking.

*If you would like to develop a policy – read my recent eight part social media policy series.


If your company is publicly traded, how do you monitor threats that affect your financial value?

reputaion-management-ratingsA recent study by a researcher at Indiana University found Twitter has a predictive correlation to stock price (with 86.7 percent accuracy)

There are dozens of new platforms encouraging entirely new conversations online. The audiences involved in these crowds produce a massive amount of data that can often be correlated to revenue points within your business. It is critical that you think about what marketplace conversations are happening, what types of data are being created, and whether or not you can use that information to draw better business insight.

If you have survived a reputation management crisis,
what is one question you wished you would have asked
before it happened?

Read some of my other articles on reputation management here.

12 thoughts on “Reputation Management and 15 questions to avoid a crisis”

  1. Hey Barry, I’m a Community Manager at Radian6, great post and thanks for the mention. You covered a ton of stuff and make some great points, I like the Happy Clients and Brand Advocates caveat, I’ve seen this many times. During a crisis your advocates turn into your big brother on the play ground, they help correct any misscommunication and stand up for your brand. Without them it makes a big job tougher. Thanks agian, have a great week.

  2. Thanks for the comment Cory.

    Out of all the lessons in this article, I believe this is the most important. I don’t think too many professionals know how to active a ‘buddy system’ to help out in a crisis and it is something that is incredibly difficult to organize when a crisis is already underway.

  3. This is a great post Barry! Reputation management is becoming increasingly relevant with businesses and consumers going online to research and read reviews before conducting business or making a purchase. We at chatmeter have found that our clients are very concerned about the damage that online content can do to their reputation.

    Btw, chatmeter also has some free online tools that help businesses monitor reviews, get listed, and track their social media pages. Feel free to give our software a test-drive.

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